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NSF Funding Boost Rolled into America Competes Act

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A US House of Representatives Committee has approved adding several provisions and amendments to the America Competes Act, including a five-year funding boost to the National Science Foundation, as well as plans for NSF partnerships and prizes.

This draft of the America Competes Act, which would reauthorize the original bipartisan 2007 law that supported basic science and mathematics education, yesterday emerged from a markup by the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.

As GenomeWeb Daily News reported on April 6 the bill has already passed the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, where it received support for genomic sequencing and computational biology programs at the Department of Energy.

The Research and Education Committee draft of the act rolls in the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010, introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D – Ill.), which would increase NSF funding between 2011 and 2015, and which specifies that the NSF budget be broken down into requisite amounts for research, infrastructure, and other uses.

The bill would give NSF $8.2 billion for fiscal-year 2011, compared to the $7.4 billion the White House asked for in its budget proposal for next year. The Obama Administration's budget would enhance NSF funding by 8 percent in 2011 from the $6.9 billion it received for 2010, while this act would increase funding by nearly 20 percent.

The bill seeks incremental increases for NSF over the next five years, with the budget reaching $10.7 billion by 2015.

Each year is broken down into funding areas. For example, in 2011 the bill would mandate that $6.6 billion go to research and related activities, $1.4 billion would go to education and human resources, $166 million would be tabbed for equipment and facilities construction, $330 million would be for management, and so on.

The bill also specifically states that the NSF director would establish a policy requiring the foundation to use at least five percent of its research budget for basic, high-risk, high-reward research proposals.

"The Subcommittee has held a series of hearings on topics ranging from the state of [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education at all levels, to the need to promote high-risk/high-reward research, to ensuring a sustainable research infrastructure," Lipinski, who also conducted "a number of listening sessions" on NSF research, said in a statement.

"The result of the listening sessions and the Subcommittee hearings is a bill that will accelerate the growth of scientific knowledge, promote knowledge transfer and innovation, build a 21st Century STEM workforce, and spur economic development," he continued.

The bill also includes a plan to start the Partnerships for Innovation Grant program, which would give competitive grant awards to institutions of higher education partnering with the private sector. These public-private partnerships should aim to promote innovation and increase the economic and social impact of their research by developing tools and resources to link discoveries to practical uses, according to the legislation.

"The grant would encourage faculty and students to build partnerships with private companies and local businesses to ensure the resources and talent that are already in place at the United States' institutions of higher education are utilized to educate younger Americans and help create new jobs," explained Representative Baron Hill (D – Ind.), who introduced the program

The Subcommittee additions to the America Competes Act also include a Lipinski amendment to create a pilot program that would award cash prizes in any area of NSF-funded research, particularly challenging high-risk, high-reward studies that could help boost US competitiveness and generate awareness of the NSF.

The act would fund five such competitions through the end of FY2013, and the awards would range between $1 million and $3 million. The government would not have the rights to any intellectual property developed under these awards, but it would be able to negotiate for license agreements with the prize contestants.

"Unlike a traditional grant proposal, which necessarily focuses on incremental challenges that can be solved during the grant period, a prize contest can highlight important problems that nobody knows how to solve," Lipinski said. He said that such a program could "generate excitement and interest in the frontiers of science.

"Ultimately the goal is to further diversify our approach to funding science and engineering. There are a number of potential benefits, and a pilot program is the right way to see exactly how useful innovation inducement prizes can be," Lipinski added.

The America Competes Act in its current form, with the recent markup additions, is scheduled to be reviewed by the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee on April 21, and the Committee on Science and Technology aims to bring the package through the full committee and to the House of Representatives by around Memorial Day.

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