NSF reauthorization keeps budget on doubling path, rolls into COMPETES Act

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Last week one of the subcommittees of the House House Committee on Science and Technology held a markup session and agree to include the NSF reauthorization in the America COMPETES Act reauthorization activity currently underway in the House (this is the second of three; the first on March 25th covered the Energy and Environment Subcommittee’s markup, and the next is on April 21 for the Technology & Innovation Subcommittee’s markup).

There is a lot of news in the draft bill at this point, and it is well summarized (including the amendments) at the Committee’s web page. Here are a few blurbs to give you the flavor for what was proposed

US Capitol DomeToday, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a markup and favorably reported a Committee Print of the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010.  The Committee Print was comprised of legislative language from H.R. 4997, introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL).

The bill keeps the National Science Foundation (NSF) on a doubling path, as was recommended in Rising Above the Gathering Storm and set in the 2007 COMPETES.  It aims to:  help scientists and engineers funded by NSF to serve as more effective leaders and participants in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; broaden participation in STEM at all levels; and ensure U.S. competitiveness and national security through technology transfer and commercialization.

Other good news in the draft is language that directs the NSF to spend money on high-risk projects

The reauthorization directs NSF to spend at least five percent of its research budget to fund high-risk, high-reward research proposals.  This was based on reports and recommendations from: the 2005 National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the 2007 National Science Board’s Enhancing Support of Transformative Research at the National Science Foundation, the 2008 American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ ARISE: Advancing Research in Science and Engineering, and witness testimony at a hearing on the subject last October.

This, coupled with the promise of a new attitude over at DARPA, might set the US on a path to engaging in the kinds of activities that usually fail but, when the do succeed, often do so spectacularly.