Scientific community gets first look at FIRST

Bill mandates that NSF justify each grant as being in the “national interest.”

In advance of a Nov. 13 hearing, Republican majority members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee released a discussion draft of FIRST, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act of 2013. Legislation known as COMPETES from 2007 and 2010 authorized funding levels and activities at key federal science agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. FIRST would reauthorize the NSF and NIST components, but unlike earlier COMPETES bills, it (at least in draft form) does not include funding authority levels. 

One particular new requirement included in FIRST has already garnered significant attention from the scientific community and science media. It mandates that NSF justify each grant awarded as in the "national interest." Program officers would be required to write and post on the NSF website, before an award is made, a description of the research and how it serves the national interest by furthering at least one of six criteria: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress or national defense. 

The American Psychological Association’s  Science Government Relations Office has asked majority staff on the committee for clarification of another section in the draft bill, which focuses on how NSF directorates may prioritize and fund research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences if those fields do not fall within the directorates' primary missions.  

Stay tuned for ongoing coverage of APA’s lobbying efforts related to FIRST and likely challenges to its provisions from the Senate, which held a Nov. 6 hearing to begin discussion of reauthorizing COMPETES. During that hearing, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., testified before the Democrat-led Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and called for a doubling of the budgets of the science agencies within COMPETES, though his GOP colleagues on the committee were more concerned with fiscal constraints. Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and a panel of scientist witnesses made a strong case for investing in fundamental research at NSF, NIST and the Department of Energy.

For more information contact Heather O’Beirne Kelly.