FIRST at Last: Controversial Bill Introduced to Guide U.S. Science Policies

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

It’s been nearly 1 year since Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, first circulated his ideas on replacing a 2010 law that touches on key aspects of federal policy toward research and science education. Its draft provisions to alter the National Science Foundation’s (NSF's) peer-review process and restrict funding for social science research elicited howls of protests from the community (also here), and Smith has said repeatedly that he welcomes constructive criticism. Last fall, he held a hearing to solicit outside comment.

Today that bill was formally introduced, and on Thursday the committee’s research panel is expected to debate and then vote on the measure. Here are some of the provisions of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act (H.R. 4186) that seem certain to trigger angry reaction among Democrats on the panel.

  •  A 2-year authorization that holds spending for NSF to its current level of $7.17 billion in 2014 and only $24 million above the administration’s request in 2015.

  •  A 40% reduction in funding for NSF’s social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorate.

  •  A requirement for “greater accountability” in how NSF manages its research portfolio, including “written justification” from NSF that every grant serves the national interest by strengthening the economy and national defense, advancing health and welfare, building ties with industry, and augmenting the scientific workforce and public literacy.

  •  A statement from every grantee that any forthcoming publication based on NSF-research will be free of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.

  •   A maximum of five citations in any grant proposal.

  •   The cost of using so-called rotators—scientists on loan from their institutions—shall not exceed 110% of the cost of a permanent federal employee doing the same job.

  •   A requirement that any growth in NSF’s graduate research fellowships be matched by growth in its traineeship program (previously called IGERT, now NRT).

  •   Free, online public access to publications based on NSF-funded research after a delay of between 2 and 3 years, depending on agency decisions. That is longer than the 12 months now backed by many publishers, scientific societies, and the White House.

Come back to ScienceInsider for continuing coverage of the legislation.

Posted in Policy FIRST Act