• September 4, 2015

House Republicans Block Bid to Increase Federal Support for Scientific Research

A Democrat-led effort to expand federal support for university research hit a roadblock on Thursday when the House of Representatives accepted a Republican proposal to trim spending levels and impose new conditions on the government and on institutions.

The House voted, 292 to 126, in favor of the Republican proposal, effectively halting Democratic plans to pass a five-year renewal of the America Competes Act. Congress first approved the bill in 2007 with the goal of doubling within seven years the total amount of federal spending on long-term basic research.

The current law expires in October, and the proposed renewal would have cut back the rate of spending increases in the 2007 plan by more than 10 percent, meaning the doubling instead would occur over a 10-year period. That still wasn't enough to satisfy Republicans at a time of economic turmoil.

The reauthorization measure represents "excessive spending," said Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, the top Republican on the House science committee, who offered the proposal. Almost half of all House Democrats voted for Mr. Hall's amendment, leading Democratic leaders to postpone further action on the bill.

The science committee had approved the measure on April 28 by a vote of 29 to 8, though Mr. Hall promised at the time to revisit his objections on the House floor.

Mr. Hall's successful amendment included a variety of provisions that attracted support from House members, including language requiring the firing of any federally sponsored employee found viewing pornography on a government computer. Mr. Hall complained that the National Science Foundation last year reported that it only briefly suspended NSF employees found to spend large portions of their workdays looking at pornography.

Mr. Hall's amendment also would require all universities accepting federal research money to permit military recruiters on their campuses, and would provide additional federal resources to colleges serving large numbers of soldiers in scientific fields.

Congress passed the original America Competes Act after the National Academies issued a report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," that warned the country was risking its long-term economic health by failing to spend enough money on science education.

The NSF would get $7.5-billion in the 2011 fiscal year, which begins in October, and $10.2-billion in 2015, according to the version of the bill approved last month by the House science committee. The original Competes Act of 2007 had projected that the NSF would get $9-billion in 2011 and $13.7-billion in 2015, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The second-largest portion of the bill, the Energy Department's Office of Science, would get $5.2-billion in 2011 and $6.9-billion in 2015. It had been scheduled for $6.5-billion in 2011 and $10.2-billion in 2015, according to the association's analysis.

Mr. Hall's amendment would cut spending levels down to amounts authorized for the current fiscal year, and would reduce the duration of the act's renewal to three years rather than five years.

'You Should Be Embarrassed'

The chairman of the science committee, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, said he understood the federal government faced urgent budget problems but warned that such problems could be even worse in the future if the country failed to invest in its technological pre-eminence.

Mr. Gordon said he was especially frustrated by the apparent success of Mr. Hall in using the issue of pornography to help defeat higher spending levels for scientific research. "Nobody seriously thinks that we don't want to deal with pornography here, for God sakes," Mr. Gordon told lawmakers at the conclusion of the House debate. "If you vote for this," he said of Mr. Hall's amendment, "you should be embarrassed."

Despite the opposition among Republicans, the bill was largely supported by industry, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers among hundreds of organizations writing in support of the measure.

The Chamber of Commerce's senior vice president in charge of education and work-force development, Arthur J. Rothkopf, said he hoped Congress would reconsider the matter, while acknowledging the effectiveness of politically emotional issues such as pornography. "It's an election year," Mr. Rothkopf said.

Earlier in the debate over the bill, the House voted, 250 to 174, in support of an amendment by Rep. George Miller of California, chairman of the House education committee, that would require public universities receiving money through the bill to comply with union requests for information. The amendment was an attempt by Mr. Miller to help a union representing postdoctoral students negotiate a contract with the University of California.


1. lcrandal - May 13, 2010 at 04:32 pm

Who needs science? Right Mr. Hall? Why, I'm sure America can stay prosperous in the future by making cheap plastic toys and fireworks. There should be an opportunity there because Japan and China will be devoting their productive capacity to the kind of science and technology based products that once were the hallmark of America.

If we have learned anything in this decade it is that Texas politicians are all hat and no cattle!

2. _perplexed_ - May 13, 2010 at 04:43 pm

Our republic at work...cut science funding (Hall-R)and add strings to what remains (Miller-D). How's that for bipartisanship!

3. bobroehr - May 13, 2010 at 05:06 pm

Contrary to the article which painted things in strictly partisan shades, the motion to recommit passed with decidedly bipartican support: Republicans 171, Democrats 121.

4. bluesfiddle - May 13, 2010 at 06:15 pm

Was "pornography" really used as a reason to limit spending? Some anecdotes about technicians wasting time and bandwidth? It would make more sense to revive the "Golden Fleece" awards.

5. patrapp - May 13, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Ralph Hall, with Barton and the other Texans, was the strongest and most vociferous proponent for the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas, even when it was facing cost overruns in the tens of billions. At that time he made a lot of statements about the crucial significance of US leadership in science, no matter what the cost. I guess it all depends, whether you're buying or selling, Ralph?

6. trterry - May 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm

People out in the country are not happy. In their view their money was taken by the government to bail out bankers and others who now will not cut them some slack on their car loan, credit card, and home mortgage and who took home more pay in one year than they would see in 10 lives.

The internet has replaced the news stand; allowing formerly easily to police wastes of time to go on more or less undisturbed. NSF & NIH are easy going places. Someone getting caught viewing prono and only getting a slap on the wrist gives "weighted cause" to these unhappy people to lash out at such as NSF & NIH.

It should not suprise anyone who thinks about it.

And, you don't want someone supported by your grant money sitting around playing cards on the computer of viewing porno. You just would not cut funding because someone caught doing it was not immediately fired. Write the congressman and tell him to include video, card, and other games; e-bay and similar trading; porno; and any other personal use in the immediate firing offense catagory. Anyone needing to do those things can get their own air card, laptop/notebook, or iPhone and do them during breaks.

That will place a rock by the side of the road to tempt those legislators without sin to pick it up!

T Rankin Terry, Jr.

7. barban - May 14, 2010 at 06:35 am

The Chronicle needs to really try a little nonpartisanship in its reporting. Far from it being the evil Republicans who blocked this measure, it was one of the strongest bipartisan votes in recent congressional memory. Democrats as well as Republicans joined together in sending a message to academics living in their protected bubbles that America is at war, and the young men and women who are fighting, and dying, to protect academia's freedoms deserve their support. This foolish nonsense blocking recruiters from campuses needs to end. Anyone who feels the U.S. military is so evil should spend a day voicing their opinions in Taliban occupied Afghanistan, Venezuala, Cuba or other truly repressive states.

8. megginson - May 14, 2010 at 07:04 am

As a fairly staunch Democrat and supporter of the America Competes Act, I do worry about the way that the political conversation in this country has become so polarized that we are jumping to characterize matters as purely Republican or Democratic. Last night Vernon Ehlers, the Republican congressman from Grand Rapids, MI (and nuclear physicist; his Ph.D. is from Berkeley) gave a moving talk in DC to a collection of folks from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in which he indicated his support for the act and his confidence that it would eventually get passed. I am guessing that he was speaking to a collection of people whose political leanings in general match mine pretty well, but he received a standing ovation at the end of his talk. Yeah, there are certainly different tendencies on these issues coming from the parties, but if we continue to tar everyone with certain brushes by just jumping to statements that this or that is what Republicans or Democrats do, without looking more closely at the finer details, then we're as much the ones setting the caustic tone of political discourse in this nation as anyone.

9. bluesfiddle - May 14, 2010 at 07:22 am


I think the polarization is between people who use logic and people who rely on emotion. Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of US science research and education is difficult. The report quoted in Scientific American says that "tens of thousands of dollars" were wasted by the actions of seven dysfunctional employees. The order of magnitude of the funding is tens of billions. It's been pointed out many times that we need political representatives, regardless of which party they're in, who know the difference between a million and a billion, let alone a thousand and a billion.

10. 22041412 - May 14, 2010 at 08:43 am

The Miller amendment seems to be a gratuitous addition to the Act, spurred on by local political pressures, and is woefully out of place in this legislation. State labor laws should govern the relationship between public sector institutions and their unionized employees. Moreover, I don't know of a single state that does not already provide, either statutorily or through case law, that an employer must provide necesssary and relevant information to a certified union in order for that organization to carry out its collective bargaining and contract administration functions. No need for this amendment whatsoever, except as an additional club for unions to use when they do not instantly receive requested information. Unfortunately, it is a club that can hurt the very people they represent by placing reimbursement funds in jeopardy.

11. tridaddy - May 14, 2010 at 09:05 am

Everyone (also read group) wants a raise. As a scientist I want to see more dollars flow to university researchers and scientists who push the edge of discovery. However, we need to at least be realistic and understand that our country is overspending in almost all areas. I want to see our research efforts continue and grow but not at the expense of my children and future grandchildren. I'm peeved and angry regarding the bailout of banks and the like who continue to live "high on the hog" at our expense. Increases will come; however, the timing has to be right and we have to have an overall higher percentage of our citizens employed.

12. thomas_wilson - May 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

This concern over viewing porno while on the fed $ somewhat reminds me of the recent spate of laws against the use of cell phones while driving...to some degree it misses the point. The problem there is that the concern should be about being productive; and anything that detracts from being productive is problematic. Whether it be viewing porno, playing games, taking excessive smoking breaks, extended lunches, lack of appropriate skills, attitudinal issues, etc., the result is the same, loss of productivity. This is a moral concern of a different order. Yes, it is appropriate for funders to want to make sure they are getting the most bang for the buck, even if the funder is the federal govt. And unfortunately for us in HE, we don't have a stellar track record of dealing with the lack of productivity on the part of some. We should not, however, be surprised by these attempts to reign us in.

On the issues of military recruiters, I have no problem with permitting them on campus, as long as they are treated in the same manner as any other recruiter. If they wish to be seen as providing career opportunities, then they should not have a problem with that. There are, however, issues over which we should have an extended conversation...which leads to my final point....

We haven't had an extended issue-based conversation in this country for some time. The political debate here tends to be emotionally based, sound-bite driven, and couched in terms that do not allow citizens to learn from each other. The result: polarization and lack of communication. I'd love to see a discussion in which science policy is fairly debated with multiple perspectives, including those from people for whom science is not a strong suit. Yes, I believe we need to spend more on basic and advanced scientific research...and as I read it, this amendment would still move more dollars in that direction. Those of us in HE do need to be able to present our needs in a way that fosters support, not disdain (ours or others).

13. richardtaborgreene - May 14, 2010 at 11:19 am

The American religious public richly deserve the second rateness and poverty their children will suffer from via elevating naked lady viewing over basic science investment. Such ugly souls deserve themselves as their own worst revenge but it is a shame that they condemn nameless tens of millions to suffering and poverty and respect-less-ness in so strutting their own petty peeves. Peeves made into policy are the way civilizations commit suicide. Not with a bang but a prayer.

14. acetylcholine - May 14, 2010 at 02:27 pm

"Democrats as well as Republicans joined together in sending a message to academics living in their protected bubbles that America is at war, and the young men and women who are fighting, and dying, to protect academia's freedoms deserve their support. This foolish nonsense blocking recruiters from campuses needs to end. Anyone who feels the U.S. military is so evil should spend a day voicing their opinions in Taliban occupied Afghanistan, Venezuala, Cuba or other truly repressive states."

Enjoy your non-progress, barban.

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