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America Competes Act Passes Congress Providing Science Funding Boost

By Matt Jones

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Congress has passed a $45 billion reauthorization of the America Competes Act — a bill designed to invest in research and science education, and to fund and foster innovations that will help keep the US competitive in tech-driven industries.

The bill, which has been in legislative limbo throughout the year, sets funding levels for the next three fiscal years for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's research programs, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It also funds education initiatives and a range of other programs.

The legislation provides a total of $23.5 billion for NSF, $16.9 billion for the DOE's Office of Science, $2.9 billion for NIST, $600 million for education efforts, and $1.4 billion for other programs.

The bill had been held up for months since an earlier draft that was nearly double the cost of this one passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday and in the Senate over the past weekend.

A compromise was reached late in this busy lame duck session to cut down the time period of the bill from five to three years, creating most of the of the savings from the original $86 billion draft.

The first America Competes Act became law in 2007 and began in response to a 2005 National Academies of Sciences report called Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which urged the US to work harder to support technological innovation and enhance science, technology, and mathematics education.

"If we are to reverse the trend of the last 20 years, during which our country's technological edge in the world has diminished, we must make the investments necessary today," House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Representative Bart Gordon (D – Tenn.) said in a statement.

"More than half of our economic growth since World War II can be attributed to development and adoption of new technologies. These investments are the path toward sustainable economic recovery and growth and the path toward prosperity for the next 50 years," Gordon said.

Among the new programs in the act, 98 percent of which will fund new scientific research, is the creation of an interagency public access committee in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The committee will coordinate federal science agency policies related to the stewardship and dissemination of research results, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications.

Patrick Clemins, director of The R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, thinks that even the scaled-back bill is important not only because of the innovation it aims to support but because of what it says about legislators' attitudes about funding research.

"Congress thinks that providing these agencies with strong increases even during a tough budget is important," he told GenomeWeb Daily News yesterday.

"I think the passage of this bill emphasizes that fact. They understand that while our money's going to be tight, some of these agencies that do a lot of innovation and research and drive future economic growth are important," Clemins said.

Another aspect of the bill welcomed by the research community is the authorization of the funding boost for NSF, NIST, and DOE, which "puts us on a path towards a continued increasing investment in those programs over the next 10 years," Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations at the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology, told GWDN.

"It's a bipartisan bill, which we're happy about because it sends a signal that investing in science and paying attention to science issues is something that both parties care about," she said.

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