FINAL UPDATE: (5/28/10 3:05 pm) COMPETES passes, sans troublesome MTR language: 262 – 150 with 17 Republicans in support.

Now, on to the Senate!

UPDATE: (5/28/10) – It looks like Rep. Gordon got creative with a solution to the COMPETES Act logjam. In a surprise move, he’s brought the original bill back to the floor just now and asked that the Motion to Recommit language (which essentially gutted the original bill and added the anti-porn language as a trap to insure both sides voted for it) be considered as a “divided question” – a move that allows the House to consider each portion of the motion on its own. So, instead of one up or down vote, it’s nine different votes, then a move for final passage of the bill. So far (through seven sections) the Dems have killed all the attempts to gut COMPETES. I’m guessing at this point that the bill is a done deal, but we’ll know in about 30 mins.

UPDATE: (5/19/2010 1:13 pm ET) The bill did not receive enough votes to pass under suspension. There’s a lot to unpack here and try to understand, but for now we’ll just link to Gordon’s press release, which was clearly written before the vote (it appeared a few minutes after the vote was finalized).

COMPUTING RESEARCH ADVOCACY NETWORK ACTION ALERT!

***ACTION NEEDED NOW: Please contact your representative in Congress *NOW* to urge his or her support for the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act when it comes up for a vote this afternoon!***

The ‘WHAT TO DO’ section below gives specific suggestions and a ready-to-use sample letter for how to quickly contact your representative.

THE SITUATION:

An attempt to pass the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which would authorize significant increases for several key science agencies and include provisions related to the National Information Technology R&D program, was derailed last week by a procedural vote that sent the bill back to the House Science and Technology committee with instructions to strike the increases and eliminate a number of new programs. Rather than comply with the instructions and, in essence, neuter the bill, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bart Gordon, Chair of the House S&T Committee, pulled the bill from consideration in the hope of bringing it back to the floor at a later date. It appears that bill is coming back to the floor this week.

Members of Congress need to be urged to support the bill because federal investment in research remains a key part of the vibrant innovation ecosystem that helps preserve U.S. leadership in an increasingly competitive world. They need to be reminded that the investments in NSF, DOE and NIST will help ensure the U.S. continues the produce the ideas and talent that drive American science and industry, creating new technologies, new industry sectors, and new high value jobs.

BACKGROUND:

The America COMPETES Act of 2007 marked the culmination of a several-years long effort to achieve increased funding for the federal agencies responsible for investments in the “physical sciences” (which, in DC parlance, includes computing research). COMPETES authorized several years of budget increases for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Energy’s Office of Science – increases that put the agencies on a path towards doubling their budgets over the next 7 to 10 years. The  authorizations contained in the 2007 version of the COMPETES Act are expiring, so Chairman Gordon introduced H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to continue the authorizations for the science agencies on roughly the same trajectory as the original bill. In addition, Gordon’s bill includes authorizations for a number of programs designed to increase the participation of U.S. students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, includes two free-standing bills already passed by the full House – the National Nanotechnology Initiative Reauthorization bill and the National Information Technology Research and Development Act – and a number of other programs designed to improve the climate of innovation for U.S. companies.

Given the election-year climate and a Republican minority that sees a chance to pick up dozens of seats in the House in November, it was unlikely from the start that the bill would receive wide bipartisan support. However, the Republican leadership, figuring it would lose a straight party-line vote, utilized a procedural gambit to imperil the bill’s passage and potentially deny the Democrats a legislative “victory.” They seized on last year’s revelations that NSF had disciplined a number of employees, including at least one in senior leadership, for using their government-issued computers to view pornographic material. Republican House S&T Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) used a “Motion to Recommit With Instructions” that would send the bill back to the House S&T Committee with instructions to add language to fire anyone at a federal agency disciplined for viewing pornography, along with a provision that would freeze funding in the bill in any year in which the government ran a deficit (which is essentially every year for the foreseeable future) and cut a number of new programs the bill would have created, mostly designed to spur industrial innovation.

Not wishing to be seen as “pro-pornography,” 121 Democrats broke rank and joined Republicans in supporting the motion. (The only Republican voting against the motion was Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), a former physicist who has already announced his retirement.) Rather than accede to the motion, Gordon pulled the COMPETES reauthorization from the floor.

The Democratic leadership has announced that the bill will return to the floor TODAY. We need to urge support for the funding authorizations including in the COMPETES Act reauthorization bill because those investments are critical in keeping U.S. innovation moving forward. The research supported by the funds in this act create the ideas and develop the talent that will keep the U.S. in a leadership role in an increasingly competitive world.

WHAT TO DO:

The most important thing you can do now is call or fax your representative **NOW** and urge them to support the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. A sample letter you can use can be found at COMPETES_ActionAlert_Sample_letter. Please complete it using your own information and FAX it to your Representative’s office NOW. Please also send a copy of your fax to Melissa Norr at 202.667.1066. Having copies of letters from our community is incredibly helpful in our advocacy activities in Washington.

To identify your Representative visit Write Your Rep.

If you have any trouble figuring out your Member of Congress or his or her contact information, please don’t hesitate to contact Melissa (mnorr@cra.org) for help.

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COMPETES Gets Derailed (Temporarily?)

On May 13, 2010, in Funding, Policy, by Peter Harsha

The COMPETES bill we discussed yesterday just got derailed – at the moment it’s just temporary, but it’s unclear how it goes forward from this point. Republican Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) introduced a “Motion to Recommit with Instructions” that, to just about everyone’s surprise, passed. The motion has had the effect of forcing the Democrats to pull COMPETES from the floor without a vote on final passage, though they suggest it might come back next week.

In short, the motion to recommit with instructions sends the bill back to the committee from whence it came with instructions to amend it in specific ways. In this case, the instructions were to cut a number of “new” programs authorized in the bill (details below), add a provision that prohibits federal funds from being used to pay the salaries of federal employees who have been disciplined for watching porn (spurred on by the NSF pornography controversy), and freeze funding authorizations for NSF, NIST, and DOE – and eliminate funding for ARPA-E – during any year the budget isn’t balanced.

Apparently, it was the porn provision that pushed the votes in favor of the motion. Once there were over 218 votes in favor of the motion, a number of Democrats who had originally voted “no” changed their votes. The final vote on the motion was 292-126, with 121 Democrats voting in support of the motion.

Once the motion passed, Gordon pulled the bill from the floor, presumably because the changes to the bill were too significant for him to support.

So, it’s not clear how Gordon moves this bill forward. In a colloquy after the vote, the leadership suggested that the bill will be back on the floor next week. But I’m not sure how Gordon honors the instructions and still ends up with a bill he wants to pass. We’ll see.

Here’s a list of the programs that would be “cut” from the bill as a result of the motion:
NSF Prize Awards
Innovative Services Initiative
Fed Loan Guarantees for Innovative Technologies in Manufacturing
Regional Innovation Program
Energy Innovation Hubs

More news as I get it…

UPDATE: (5/13/2010) Rep. Gordon was not happy (obviously) with the Motion to Recommit. Here’s a transcript of his remarks on the floor in response, courtesy of CSPAN (I cleaned up the formatting a bit):

THERE WERE 69 CO-SPONSORS OF THE ORIGINAL AUTHORIZATION AND IT PASSED UNANIMOUSLY.

BUT WE RECOGNIZE THESE ARE DIFFICULT ECONOMIC TIMES.

AND SO WE MADE SOME CHANGES.

THIS BILL HAS BEEN CUT BY 10.3% FROM THE BILL THAT YOU VOTED FOR IN 2007.

THAT IS $9.6 BILLION.

NOW TELL ME WHAT AUTHORIZATION HAS BEEN CUT BY OVER 10%?
THIS IS THE ONLY ONE.

MR. HALL HAS A VERY GOOD CONCERNS ABOUT OUR VETERANS AND HE, EVERY DAY WHEN WE SEE HIM, WE SEE HIM AS AN EXAMPLE OF THOSE WORLD WAR II VETERANS.

SO LANGUAGE WAS PUT IN THE BILL BOTH FOR SCHOLARSHIPS FOR THE INDIVIDUAL VETERANS AND ALSO FOR THOSE INSTITUTIONS. LET ME READ THIS TO YOU.

FOR THE PURPOSES OF THE ACTIVITIES AND PROGRAMS REPORTED BY THIS ACT AND AMENDMENTS MADE THIS THIS ACT EDUCATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION OFFERING STEM RESEARCH EDUCATION ACTIVITIES THAT SERVE VETERANS WITH DISAIN’T SHALL RECEIVE SPECIAL CONSIDERATION.

WE HAVE TAKEN CARE OF THAT.

NOW LET’S GET DOWN TO THE HEART OF IT.

QUITE FRANKLY IT SADDENS ME TO HAVE TO GO INTO THIS.

IT SADDENS ME THAT WHEN WE LOOK AT OUR KIDS, I HAVE A 9-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER, AND WHAT ABOUT HER FUTURE? WHAT ABOUT YOUR FAMILY’S FUTURE? WE ARE GOING TO HIDE BEHIND THIS.

WE ARE GOING TO GUT THIS BILL FOR THIS LITTLE BIT A FEW DAYS AGO THERE WAS SOME N.S.F. EMPLOYEES THAT WERE WATCHING PORNOGRAPHY.

OF COURSE THAT WAS BAD.

AND THEY WERE DISCIPLINED.

THERE’S BEEN THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, OFFICES, THERE’S FILTERING ON THAT NOW. NOBODY SERIOUSLY THINKS THAT WE WANT TO DEAL WITH PORNOGRAPHY HERE.

FOR GOD’S SAKES. WHEN IT GETS TO THE CONFERENCE, WE’LL TAKE CARE OF THAT EVEN MORE. BUT EVERYBODY — EVERYBODY RAISE YOUR HAND THAT’S FOR PORNOGRAPHY.

COME ON, RAISE YOUR HAND. NOBODY?

NOBODY IS FOR PORNOGRAPHYY? I’M SHOCKED.

I’M SHOCKED. I GUESS WE NEED THIS LITTLE BITTY PROVISION THAT MEANS NOTHING THAT’S GOING TO GUT THE ENTIRE BILL.

THIS IS AN EMBARRASSMENT.

UPDATE 2: Here’s The Hill on the story.

UPDATE 3: (5/13/2010; 5 pm) Gordon has released a statement:

“I’m disappointed that politics trumped good policy.  The Minority was willing to trade American jobs and our nation’s economic competitiveness for the chance to run a good political ad.

If at any point during the 48 hearings we’ve held on this bill, the Minority brought up their concerns with isolated incidents of federal employees viewing pornography, or if they had made an amendment in order during any of the three Subcommittee markups, the Full Committee Markup, or the Floor Consideration, I would have been happy to vote for that amendment.

We’re all opposed to federal employees watching pornography.  That is not a question; but that’s not what this was about.  The Motion to Recommit was about gutting funding for our science agencies.

I believe in American leadership, and I think COMPETES is too important to let die.  I would like to see it brought up again, but timing is unclear.  Advocates for science, technology, manufacturing, and education—including the 750 organizations that endorsed COMPETES and their memberships—need to make their case to Members of the House and Senate why this bill needs to be signed into law.”

And a statement from Rep. Hall, who introduced the Motion to Recommit:

“I remain committed to the underlying goals of the America COMPETES Act and believe that we should continue to prioritize investments in basic research and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education,” said Ranking Member Hall.  “However, this bill spends too much money and goes far beyond the original intent and scope of the COMPETES legislation.”

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Two weeks after the House Science and Technology Committee approved it, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 will get consideration from the whole House today. The bill, which we’ve discussed previously, would extend funding authorizations through 2015 for a few key science agencies at levels that would double their budgets over ten years, in addition to reauthorizing a number of programs designed to increase the participation of U.S. students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and creating or modifying a few programs designed to assist U.S. businesses commercialize new technologies.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chair of the House S&T Committee, hits the floor with 101 co-sponsors – all but two (by my count) Democrats. Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Judy Biggert (D-IL) are the only GOP Members of Congress to lend their name to the effort. While this is markedly less bipartisan than the original bill (which, though it had fewer overall co-sponsors, had a much higher percentage of GOP endorsers), it’s not terribly surprising given the current election-year politics.

In fact, the House Republican Conference is opposing the bill, and they cite three bases: it expands government spending at a time of large federal deficits; it creates new government (they cite six new programs they feel are duplicative or not related to the original research focus of the bill), and it changes the original focus of COMPETES from the laudable goal of buttressing basic research to a more “technology commercialization” focus, “which many members may consider to be corporate welfare.”

Though it would be nice if the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, like the original version of COMPETES, in this election-year climate, where the GOP has visions of picking up as many as 100 seats, it’s not terribly surprising that a large number (perhaps a large majority) of Republicans will likely vote against it. It should pass, regardless.

CRA has expressed its support for the bill. In a letter to Rep. Gordon, the bill’s sponsor, we wrote:

We believe this bill continues the strong commitment to U.S. innovation and competitiveness set out in the original America COMPETES Act of 2007 by strengthening the federal investment in basic research – including a particular focus on federal government’s investment in information technology research and development – by bolstering programs designed to increase participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and by fostering a environment conducive to innovation for American business.

We are particularly pleased that H.R. 5116 includes the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Act of 2009, which we supported last year when it passed the house as H.R. 2020. We believe the NITRD Act makes the NITRD program stronger by enacting several of the recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) review of the NITRD program in 2007. In particular, we are pleased that the NITRD Act includes a requirement that the NITRD program undergo periodic review and assessment of the program contents and funding, as well as develop and periodically update a strategic plan – both key recommendations of the PCAST and necessary in helping ensure the significant federal investment in IT R&D is used as effectively as possible.

Overall, H.R. 5116 sends a strong signal that Congress remains committed to the belief that federal investment in research remains a key part of the vibrant innovation ecosystem that helps preserve U.S. leadership in an increasingly competitive world – a belief CRA shares. The investments outlined in COMPETES will help ensure we continue to produce the ideas and the talent that drive American science and industry, creating new technologies, new industry sectors, and new high value jobs.

The debate could be long. Quite a large number of amendments were submitted to the Rules Committee, though its likely not all of those will be ruled “in order” or will be offered by the original sponsors. I’d guess that most of the most-worrisome ones – those that freeze authorization levels or eliminate whole titles of the bill – will fail with at least a party-line vote. But we’ll keep an eye on the action and have a final wrap-up here when all is said and done.

UPDATE: (5/13/2010) – The bill has just been derailed.

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