Racing against a looming adjournment, the U.S. Senate today passed a reauthorization bill that endorses the steady growth of research and education programs at three key federal research agencies. In May the House of Representatives passed a slightly different version of the America COMPETES Act, first enacted in 2007. And House supporters hope they can do it again before the current Congress adjourns next week.
"While there have been concessions made, the Senate's amendments preserve the intent of the [U.S. National Academies'] Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and the original COMPETES," says retiring Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), who championed the legislation as chair of the House science committee. "It keeps our basic research agencies on a doubling path, it continues to invest in high-risk, high-reward energy technology development, it will help improve STEM education, and it will help unleash American innovation. "
The Senate's action, by unanimous consent, expands on an earlier draft approved this summer by the Senate commerce and science panel. But it represents a bittersweet victory for supporters of federally funded research, however. It comes one day after the Senate scrapped a 2011 spending bill that would have boosted funding for some of the same agencies, and increased the chances that agencies would be forced to operate at current spending levels. On the other hand, while this bill doesn't provide any money, it does update and expand programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as provide more direction to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
In a press statement, Gordon signaled both his willingness to accept changes to his bill and his concern that it might not make it past the finish line. "I am hopeful that this will come up before the House next week," he said. "I urge my House colleagues to stand with the business community, the academic community, the scientific community, and the Senate to send a strong message that the U.S. must maintain its scientific and economic leadership. I cannot think of anything I would rather do as one of my final acts in Congress than sending this bill, with strong bipartisan support, to the president's desk."