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House passes FY 2015 funding bill for NASA, NIST, NOAA, and NSF

The House passed legislation impacting research on Friday morning by a vote of 321-87. Although scores of amendments were offered, the bill’s provisions regarding the four science agencies were left largely unchanged.

Originally published at FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News.

“A primary area of focus in the bill this year is scientific research, innovation and competitiveness. Investing in basic research is key to growth and job creation, and it is the foundation for the economic security of future generations which enables us to stay ahead of China.”

So said Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee at the start of two days of deliberations by the House on an FY 2015 bill to fund a wide range of federal agencies, including NASA, NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NSF.

The House passed this legislation on Friday morning by a vote of 321–87. Although scores of amendments were offered, the bill’s provisions regarding the four science agencies were left largely unchanged.

While there was discussion about the appropriateness of some NSF grants, the partisan divisions seen at last week’s House Science Committee markup of the FIRST bill were much less apparent. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), ranking member on the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, said, “As for the Democrats, I want to say a number of things. One is that we are very pleased that in this bill the science accounts have been a focus of high priority.”

The subcommittee wrote the FY 2015 bill under difficult circumstances. Overall funding was about $400 million less than the current level. In the last five fiscal years the subcommittee has cut total spending by $13.3 billion or 20%. This bill, H.R. 4660, is the last that Wolf will be writing as he is retiring at the end of this Congress.

Grants made by NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate were discussed, as was the foundation’s grant-making process. In introducing his bill, Wolf said, “With increased funding comes increased responsibility. I respect the NSF to follow through on the commitments it has made to the committee to increase accountability and transparency in its grant decision making. No funny grants is what I am trying to say. The new director must take every necessary step to ensure that research grants are scientifically meritorious, that funding allocations reflect national priorities and that the taxpayer investments in science are being used wisely.” Later in the debate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) offered an amendment to reduce the bill’s FY 2015 funding for the SBE directorate by $15.4 million, resulting in level funding of $256.9 million. This funding would be shifted to NSF physical science and engineering grants. The amendment passed by a vote of 208–201.

The bill’s funding level for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research was increased by $12 million under a successful amendment offered by Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who argued that the increased money would accelerate R&D and the development of new technologies. Bridenstine’s amendment shifted the money from the Census Bureau. Both Wolf and Fattah supported the amendment, and it passed the House by a vote of 340–71. In announcing his support for the amendment, Wolf described H.R. 4660’s “strong funding” for the National Weather Service, explaining the bill’s appropriation was $16 million above the Obama administration’s request. The bill also provided funding above the administration’s requests for information technology officers, the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program, and a tsunami community education awareness program.

Efforts to increase funding for NOAA’s climate research programs were unsuccessful. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) sponsored an amendment to shift $37.5 million, within the bill’s appropriation for NOAA, to maintain the current level of funding. Explained Holt: “This bill would cut critical investments that are needed for ongoing climate research, and failing to provide the resources necessary to study our changing climate won’t make the problem go away; it will just make it harder to predict and more difficult to understand. Denial is the result of ignorance and only deepens our ignorance. We need to support the science behind climate change. We need to develop policies that would help us mitigate and adapt to the threats of climate change.” Four of Holt’s Democratic colleagues offered lengthy remarks supporting the amendment, but it was rejected on a voice vote. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) offered an amendment to fully fund the administration request for NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Acidification research program, but she withdrew it before a vote was called.

Other science-related amendments discussed on the floor included one by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to move $7 million  in NASA funding from space operations to space technology. It was accepted by House members. The House rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) to shift $10 million from NASA’s Exploration program to an international trade enforcement program. An amendment by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) to reduce NSF’s FY 2015 appropriation by $67 million was rejected by voice vote. The amendment by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) to eliminate NSF funding for research on climate-change impacts on Chinese tea was accepted by voice vote. Another amendment that would have affected specific NSF research grants was ruled out of order.

Action now shifts to Senate appropriators. Today Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and her colleagues approved their version of the FY 2015 bill. It will be considered by the full committee, which she also chairs, on Thursday.

Richard M. Jones works in the Government Relations Division at the American Institute of Physics.


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