The STEM Ed bill that would explicitly include CS in the definition of STEM will be on the House floor today on the “suspension” calendar, a status that allows the House to consider it in somewhat expedited fashion. This is reserved for non-controversial bills and limits debate on the bill to 40 minutes, doesn’t allow for amendments, and requires a 2/3 majority to pass. So it’s likely it will pass the House today. Whether it will go anywhere in the Senate isn’t known…
There are a total of 4 bills cobbled together from the ashes of FIRST that will be considered today:
HR 5031 — A bill to define STEM education to include computer science, and to support existing STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation.
HR 5035 — A bill to reauthorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and for other purposes.
HR 5056 — A bill to improve the efficiency of Federal research and development, and for other purposes.
HR 5029 — A bill to provide for the establishment of a body to identify and coordinate international science and technology cooperation that can strengthen the domestic science and technology enterprise and support United States foreign policy goals.
All are non-controversial. HR 5056 sounds ominous, given the committee’s recent efforts to “improve NSF accountability” in FIRST, but it’s just a bill calling on OSTP to put together a working group to study how to “harmonize, streamline, and eliminate duplicative Federal regulations and reporting requirements, and minimize the regulatory burden on US institutions of higher education performing federally funded research while maintaining accountability for Federal tax dollars.”
We’ll let you know how the vote turns out!
Today the chairman of the House Science Committee introduced H.R. 5031, the “STEM Education Act of 2014’”, to promote STEM education at NSF. The computer science community is a direct beneficiary: the first item in the bill would require federal agencies to include computer science in their definition of STEM.
You’ll recall Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) has been trying to move a reauthorization of the COMPETES Act, called the FIRST Act, but had met with much resistance from both the science advocacy community and the Democrats in the committee minority. That bill’s route to passage promised to be challenging, and ever since a rather contentious markup of the bill its progress has stalled.
However, in the interests of still wanting to do something legislatively, Smith decided to work with the Democratic minority on his committee to break out parts of FIRST to use as stand alone bills. These would be the least contentious and most bipartisan parts of the FIRST Act. This STEM bill is the first of possibly three total bills (the other possible bills are NIST reauthorization and international science cooperation).
As for specifics of the bill, it has three parts (it is actually a very short bill). The first part, which is of most importance to the CS community, is the explicit inclusion of Computer Science in the definition of “STEM education.” The inclusion of CS in STEM is aimed at ensuring that CS won’t get left out of future STEM Ed initiatives at the Federal level (at least at NSF, NASA, NOAA, Energy, and NIST…the agencies under the jurisdiction of the Science Committee). The bill also authorizes STEM agencies to fund research that advances the field of informal STEM education and expands the NSF Noyce Scholarship Program to include awardees with bachelor’s degrees (currently only people with master degrees qualify) and provide funding authorization to support NSF Master Teacher Fellows for a year. All three of these provisions are largely bipartisan and funding neutral.
This bill is very good news for the CS community and the science community as a whole, and hopefully indicates a new embrace of bipartisanship on the committee, after a fairly discordant period.
[Editor’s Note: This post marks the debut of CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2014, Yiyang Shen. Yiyang is a sophomore at NYU, with an interest in Mathematics and Computer Science, and will spend this summer with CRA working on science policy issues, including tracking the progress of efforts to reauthorize the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Expect to see more of him on the blog!]
On June 11th the Energy Subcommittee, of the House Science, Technology, & Space Committee, held a markup of the Department of Energy Research and Development Act of 2014. Surprisingly, this hearing was very contentious and Democratic members used procedural tactics to obstruct consideration of this bill to reauthorize research and development (R&D) programs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The hearing was finally adjourned by the Republicans on a party line vote after Democrats refused to waive the reading of the bill.
The markup was originally scheduled at noon, but the subcommittee chairwoman, Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), did not convene the hearing until ~12:10pm. Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) surprisingly started the “parliamentary game” then, interrupting the chairwoman’s opening remarks by requesting a recorded vote to change the official start time in the subcommittee records. His point of order was ultimately tabled by vote but it signaled Democrats’ strong opposition to the bill.
In her opening statement, Lummis stated that, “the draft bill provides a $250 million increase in funding for basic research. The bill provides deficit reduction by making cuts to outdated, wasteful and duplicative programs within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.” The main point, as Republicans hold for the previous FIRST Act of 2014, is to use money wisely, provided the limited resources.
In response, the Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA) conveyed two central problems with this “premature” markup in his opening statement. The first relates to process: the bill was not shared with Democratic members of the Subcommittee until the last Friday before the markup. Given that this 103-page bill proposes to reauthorize all of DOE’s research and development programs, Mr. Swalwell said, “that means we’re being asked to make tough decisions about how to allocate billions of taxpayers’ dollars after having less than three business days to consider the bill.”
Mr. Swalwell then pointed out the second problem the minority has with the bill. The budget for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is substantially cut; ARPA-E funding is largely reduced; and the bill includes burdensome limitations on what research DOE can fund. In addition, it includes particularly objectionable language that bars the results of DOE-funded R&D activity from being, “used for regulatory assessments or determinations by Federal regulatory authorities.” Specifically, this language is meant to keep the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using research data to support their operations and any environmental regulations. Of interest to computing researchers, the bill does include increased authorizations for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research activity, ramping the authorization for the program up to $600 million in FY 2015, $59 million more than the President requested.
After hearing the opening remarks from both sides, Ranking Member of the Full Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) also gave a brief comment on the markup that day. She criticized how dysfunctional the committee has become, and strongly opposed the consideration and passage of the bill.
The markup ended awkwardly. After the opening remarks, the bill is then read into the record, a procedural process which is usually dispensed with under unanimous consent. However, in this instance the Democrats used it to their advantage: they withheld their consent and required that the bill be read, in full, into the record. As this would have tied up the subcommittee for hours, the Republicans instead adjourned the meeting.
The prospect of the bill moving forward this summer is unlikely. The real news from this markup is that the House Science Committee has become increasingly polarized and neither side intends to cooperate with the other. This does not bode well for future science legislation.