COMPETES out of committee in the Senate

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On Thursday of last week the Senate version of the COMPETES Reauthorization Act (S. 3605, text here), made it out of committee with bipartisan support. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the man largely responsible for getting it out of the House over a slew of republican shenanigans aimed at stopping the bill on largely frivolous terms, had this to say

US Capitol Dome“I applaud Senator Rockefeller for his work moving this important piece of legislation. The legislation that the Senators voted on moved the funding levels in line with what passed the House in May.

I applaud their work, balancing importance of these investments with realities of our current fiscal environment. This pragmatic approach—and the bipartisan manner with which it passed—will go a long way toward getting this important piece of legislation signed into law, and protecting our nation’s scientific and economic leadership. I look forward to working with Senator Rockefeller and Senator Hutchison as the process moves along.”

The bill still has to come before the full Senate for a vote, and I’m hearing that is expected to happen before the elections this fall. From coverage at ScienceInsider

A key Senate panel yesterday approved its version of a bill to reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (S.3605) reflects the interests of the panel’s chair, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D–WV), in a broader geographic distribution of federal research grants, and those of ranking member Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R–TX) in reforming undergraduate science and engineering education. At the same time, in an effort to win bipartisan support and hold down costs, it contains few new initiatives and would run for only 3 years.

The bill falls under three committees in the Senate, not 2 as it did in the House, and so the version passed last week does not include any DOE programs or some of the education programs in the House version. According to Senate aides cited by ScienceInsider, the other committees will introduce their contributions if the bill comes to the floor in the Senate.

The bill’s only new program comes courtesy of Hutchison, who wants NSF to begin a $10-million-a-year effort to prepare science and engineering majors to be elementary and secondary school teachers. It’s modeled after the successful UTeach program at her home state’s University of Texas, Austin. To ease the fiscal bite, the bill would require a significant contribution from each university grantee (up to 75% by the end of the 5-year grant).

The bill does have other key differences with the House version, including a funding horizon of only 3 years (not 5), and provisions regarding NASA and NOAA. Interestingly, despite the focus that cybersecurity is getting in some federal R&D sectors, a provision establishing $45M in cybersecurity prize money for student competitions didn’t make it out of committee.