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POLICY UPDATE - Congress Continues to Advance Anti-Science Legislation

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Since the last SPSP policy update, Congress continues to advance bills that will harm the social and behavioral sciences. On May 20th, the House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act by a vote of 217-205. The bill would cut the NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate by nearly 50% if enacted.
Also on May 20th, the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill. The Consortium of Social Science Association (COSSA) has provided an analysis of the bill here. In short, this bill directs NSF to prioritize other sciences above the social and behavioral sciences. By politicizing NSF grant funding, there will likely be substantial cuts to social and behavioral science funding supported by NSF. This bill is expected to be voted on in the full House as early as next week. COSSA and SPSP are urging members to take action here.
You may be asking, what is the difference between the COMPETES Act and the appropriations bill if they both set out to cut social and behavioral science funding? The COMPETES Act authorizes funding, while the appropriations bill appropriates funding. COMPETES places spending caps on SBE funding, while the appropriations bill explicitly prioritizes other sciences. I’ll let our friends from COSSA break this down a bit further:
“The COMPETES bill is authorizing legislation.  H.R. 1806 proposes to cut NSF's SBE directorate by about 45%, more than 50% if you take out funding for the federal statistical agency within SBE (NCSES) and look only at the cuts to social science research programs.  It is important to note that NSF's current authorization expired in September 2013, meaning that the agency has been operating without an authorization for nearly two years (House/Senate rules do not require authorization laws; federal agencies and programs can continue to operate as long as Congress continues to appropriate funding on an annual basis).  Therefore, COMPETES reauthorization is NOT must-pass legislation.  Instead, it provides a general guideline for what is appropriate funding for the agency.  If the bill were to become law, it would still be up to the Appropriations Committee to recommend a funding level for NSF; the committee would take the authorization bill (COMPETES) into consideration as it writes its own bill, but it would not necessarily be bound by it.
The CJS bill that was passed by the House Appropriations Committee last week, on the other hand, IS must-pass legislation.  Congress must pass all of its 12 annual appropriations bills (or some other spending measure like a continuing resolution) each year to keep the various components of the federal government from shutting down.  The cuts proposed for the SBE directorate within NSF, the Census Bureau, and NIJ in the FY 2016 House appropriations bill are a real threat to social and behavioral science funding.  For example, if the House bill were to become law (assuming it passed the full House, Senate, and was signed by the President), we would see an immediate impact on NSF's funding for social science research. As previously reported, President Obama has threatened to veto any appropriations bill that keeps within the spending caps currently governing federal spending, so the likelihood of the CJS bill that passed the Committee last week becoming law is very low. However, the threats to social science funding will continue to loom as we move through this process.“
While this news may be discouraging, many prominent officials have come out in support of the social and behavioral sciences. Take a look at remarks from the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology and an op-ed penned by Reps. Steny Hoyer and Eddie Bernice Johnson.
Moving forward, the COMPETES Act heads to the Senate where action isn’t expected until later in the summer or fall. COSSA has already began working on fielding support for the social and behavioral sciences in the Senate.
Please feel free to share this message with colleagues and others who care about protecting the social and behavioral sciences. I recommend contacting your university's government relations staff to ensure they are focusing on this threat to social science research and are letting members of Congress know the harms that will be done to American universities.
Thanks to all have taken action on these important issues. SPSP will continue to provide regular communication to keep members up to date on legislation that attempts to restrict funding that is imperative to the profession and the public good.  Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Mike Swain
SPSP Communications/Policy Specialist  |  (202) 524-6543
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