Next week, the Senate is out for a district work period. The House is in and will consider an NSF spending bill, as well as other matters.
Parties Clash over Science Funding, NSF Peer-Review in Key House Committee
This week, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee began debating and amending its most recent iteration of the science-visioning America COMPETES Act—this time, dubbed the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act (FIRST Act). It was not able to complete consideration of the bill amid a back-and-forth partisan volley that featured dozens of contentious amendments and partisan acrimony not usually seen in the committee. At stake: the appropriate level of investment in basic research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the value of social and behavioral (SBE) research, and whether the current peer-review process at NSF yields research that best serves the national interests. One discordant aspect of the bill: its future NSF funding authorization levels are actually lower than the expected level of NSF spending in the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill expected on the House floor next week.
Dueling op-eds in Scientific American and the Washington Post echoed the battle lines drawn in committee, with the Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) contending the bill appropriately elevates priorities such as engineering, biology, mathematics and computer science over SBE research. Meanwhile, current and former university presidents argued that tepid overall funding levels and the drastic cuts to SBE research would widen the “innovation deficit” and limit understanding how to best make use of future discoveries. The leaders also criticized the bill’s unnecessary intrusions into NSF’s vaunted peer-review process as “adding red tape.”
The committee will resume its work next week. No Democrats are expected to support the bill, although there could be some bipartisan agreements on some amendments. One key area of bipartisan consensus was shortening the “open access” period—the time after which federal research agencies require research papers they fund to be freely available to the public—from two years to one year.
‘Patent Troll’ Legislation Shelved in Senate
After multiple delays, and amid strong pushback from universities, the biotech industry, equipment manufacturers and others, a key Senate committee announced that it was giving up on moving “patent troll” legislation this year. While universities support legislation that would address patent troll behavior—people or companies that misuse patents and file commence costly litigation as a business strategy—our community expressed concern that the legislation was so broad that it weakened intellectual property rights for all patent holders, thereby undermining the key role universities play in technology transfer and innovation. In his announcement, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said the process failed to reach a compromise that would “combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions.” Although, he left the door open to more narrowly tailored legislation that more specifically addressed patent troll behavior, no further action is expected this year.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Whip, was a key voice for universities, working closely not only with Illinois research universities, but also with AAU and APLU, as the process unfolded. OGR is grateful to Sen. Durbin and his staff for their efforts.
Key Senator Holds First Sexual Assault Roundtable, Hints at Legislation to Come
This past Monday, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) chaired the first of three scheduled roundtables to examine issues surrrounding sexual violence on college campuses. The primary focus of Monday's DC roundtable was on the Clery Act (legislation requiring disclosure of campus security policy and campus crime statistics) and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act (legislation which amends the Clery Act with increased transparency, education, and victims' rights provisions). Roundtable participants included a survivor of sexual assault, advocates, administrators, and law enforcement representatives.
During the roundtable discussion, Sen. McCaskill expressed interest in several ideas for potential legislation for addressing sexual violence, including mandating annual campus sexual assault climate surveys and incentivizing states to alter their definition of consent, among others. These roundtables are meant to guide Sen. McCaskill in her efforts to draft legislation with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Senate Democrats Rally Around Student Loan Interest Rate Legislation
Senate Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, recently introduced legislation called the "Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act" as part of their effort to give students a "fair shot" to afford college. The legislation, which is anticipated to soon be brought to the Senate floor, would allow student loan borrowers to refinance their federal and private loans at the rate offered to new federal borrowers in the 2013-2014 school year under the student loan interest rate deal enacted last summer. In order to offset the costs that this refinancing would carry, the bill calls for implementing the Buffet rule (eliminating tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires), which stands little to no chance at being considered by House Republicans.
It was announced this week that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Information Trust Institute received a $2.1 million grant from the National Security Agency to create the Science of Security for Systems Lablet to help advance cyber systems security. Congratulations to the Information Trust Institute!
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations