Science Policy & Funding News

Geoscience Community Reacts to Vote on America COMPETES Bill

Legislation that would restrict funding for geoscience at federal agencies raises concerns about the research program budgets.

By

Members of the geoscience community have generally reacted unfavorably to the U.S. House of Representatives’ 20 May passage of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806).

The bill, which would limit the authorization of Earth science funding for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Geosciences and for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, has been labeled by Republican supporters as responsible budgeting and pro-science. Democrats and many geoscience organizations have decried the legislation as anti-science.

On the same day that the House okayed the COMPETES Act, the House Committee on Appropriations approved the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS), and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which would also restrict the appropriation of some funding for the geosciences at NSF, among other measures.

Community Concerns About the Bill

Thomas Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, told Eos, “Geoscience programs such as improved weather forecasts and better understanding of natural hazards have contributed substantially to economic growth in the United States, and they need ongoing and consistent support to keep fueling the nation’s economy. As the bill moves to the Senate, I hope we can address and improve the legislation so it better ensures the stability of funding for the geosciences.”

Erin Heath, associate director of government relations with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), stated, “Two years ago, AAAS joined a broad coalition of scientific and engineering societies, higher education institutions, and private sector businesses in endorsing a set of Guiding Principles for the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. The principles advocated for steady and sustained real growth in funding for major federal research agencies and to maintain a strong foundation of fundamental research across all scientific disciplines. AAAS is concerned that the House bill falls short of these goals.”

“We are concerned about efforts to, in effect, place certain NSF research directorates over others,” Heath continued. “To highlight just one example of important geoscience and social science research, the AAAS Geospatial Technologies Project analyzes data using geographic technologies such as remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and global positioning systems (GPS). This data can provide critical information on the impact of remote, isolated conflicts on civilians; a host of human rights violations; damage to sites of cultural heritage; environmental and social justice issues; cross-border conflicts; and indigenous rights.”

“An Alarming Trend”

Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs with the Association of American Universities, told Eos, “When you consider the COMPETES legislation and the CJS bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee [on 20 May], you see an alarming trend of Congress favoring some areas of science at the expense of others. This would shortchange critical research in such areas as geological and environmental science as well as the social sciences, such as economics and psychology. The fundamental problem here is that Congress needs to allocate more funds for domestic programs. This will make available the resources needed to fund all areas of science in a way that prevents an innovation deficit vis a vis other countries and maximizes the benefits of research to our economy, our health, and our national security.” He added, “These bills are clear examples of why Congress needs to act this year on the larger budget issues that are harming our national interest.”

A few days prior to the vote, Sherri Goodman, president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, told Eos, “We would not concede our military superiority to China or Russia; why would we concede our scientific superiority? That’s what the America COMPETES Act proposes in cutting investment in NSF geosciences, whose funding supports the scientific and technology investment our nation needs for oil and gas development, among other workforce needs.”

Pressure on Department of Energy Funding

Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, addressed concerns related to funding for the DOE, telling Eos that “H.R. 1806 would have a devastating impact on federal funding of research and development [R&D] of energy efficiency technologies, and represents a huge setback for energy efficiency in America. The bill cuts funding for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) R&D by 29% below FY 2015 appropriated levels, and 50% below the president’s FY 2016 request. It would also cut funding for ARPA-E [Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy] by 50%. Other provisions in the bill will block the pursuit of the type of high-risk, high-reward, breakthrough research that ARPA-E was created to support and that is important for American economic competitiveness.”

She added, “Energy efficiency has served for nearly four decades and remains today America’s cheapest, cleanest, and most abundant resource. The energy productivity has doubled over the past three decades. These economic productivity improvements over this period have reduced our national energy bill by about $700 billion. These economy-wide benefits would not have been possible without federal funding of R&D into energy efficiency technologies and practices. Energy efficiency R&D is vitally important to developing and deploying this abundant and cost-effective resource. And the type of R&D supported by ARPA-E is critical for developing breakthrough technologies that will propel [the United States] closer to a leading position in the world as a developer of energy efficiency technologies.” Callahan continued, “H.R. 1806 would reverse the progress we have made in the past 30 years and make it even harder for the United States to compete in technology development in the world marketplace. We strongly oppose H.R. 1806 and will be actively urging the Senate [to] move a very different authorization bill for America COMPETES as this legislation moves forward.”

However, Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which advances the principles of limited government, spoke favorably about the COMPETES Act. He told Eos that the House’s passage of the act “is a strong step toward reducing federal funding for global warming alarmists, green energy boondoggles, and crony capitalists. If enacted, the bill would also require some accountability from universities that receive grants from [NSF]. If major research universities object to being held accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars, they should simply stop begging for federal funding.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), Geoscience community reacts to vote on America COMPETES bill, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO030107. Published on 22 May 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0