Category Archives: Key Science Bills Enacted in the 113th Congress

HR 3547: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014

In mid-January 2014, Congress overwhelmingly approved a $1.012 trillion spending plan to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2014, which ends on 30 September 2014. The plan (HR 3547) will increase funding by $44 billion above the levels agreed to in a 2011 budget deal.

“This agreement will not be viewed as perfect by everyone. It required difficult choices, and nobody got everything they wanted,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “But this agreement is what we need now to move the country forward by funding the critical missions of our government and investing in America’s greatest assets — our people, our infrastructure, and the research and discoveries that will create jobs today and in the future. And at the same time, the agreement ensures the American people get value for their taxpayer dollars by ending dated, duplicative, and dysfunctional programs.”

The law, also called an omnibus, is a package of 12 appropriations bills that collectively fund the entire federal government. This is the first time since 2011 that all 12 bills were enacted; in recent years several sectors of the government have operated under continuing resolutions that maintain the previous year’s budget.

“The Omnibus will fulfill the basic duty of Congress; it provides funding for every aspect of the federal government, from our national defense, to our transportation systems, to the education of our kids,” said Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “The bill reflects careful decisions to realign the nation’s funding priorities and target precious tax dollars to important programs where they are needed the most. At the same time, the legislation will continue the downward trend in federal spending to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.”

Science agencies did well in terms of funding as compared to the FY 2013 post-sequestration level. Increased funding was provided for:

  • National Science Foundation: $7.2 billion (+4.2 percent). The increase will provide 780 more competitive grants in fiscal year 2014.
  • National Institutes of Health: $29.9 billion (+3.5 percent). NIH could offer funding for 385 additional research grants.
  • Department of Energy Office of Science: $5.1 billion (+9.7 percent). This funding level includes $610 million for biological and environmental research.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.3 billion (+10.7 percent)
  • Agricultural Research Service, the intramural research program for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): $1.1 billion (+10.2 percent)
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, USDA’s extramural competitive grants program: $316.4 million (+14.5 percent)
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Science and Technology: $759.2 million (+1.9 percent)
  • U.S. Geological Survey: $1.0 billion (+2.0 percent). This includes $152.8 million for the Ecosystems Activity.

The plan passed with the support of 72 Senators, including all Democrats, both Independents, and 17 Republicans. In the House of Representatives, 367 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill and 67 Representatives voted against. All but three of the ‘nay’ votes came from Republicans. President Obama signed the bill into law on 17 January 2014.

HR 3547 become law on January 17, 2014.

HJ Res 59: Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014

In December 2013, Congress passed a bicameral deal to raise discretionary spending by $63 billion over the next two years. The measure provides less funding than pre-sequester levels, but will increase federal spending from $967 billion to $1.012 trillion this year. The increase will be equally split between defense and non-defense programs. Unlike the across-the-board spending cuts imposed by sequestration, the new agreement allows congressional appropriators to choose specific programs to trim.

The budget agreement was negotiated by Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). In addition to increasing funding for programs that have been squeezed by budget sequestration, the deal saves $28 billion over ten years by requiring the President to sequester the same percentage of mandatory funding in the years 2022 and 2023 as will be sequestered in 2021 under current law. Federal employees hired after 31 December 2013 will also have to contribute 1.3 percent more to their retirement programs than current employees.

Despite objections from conservative interest groups, the House passed the budget deal in a bipartisan vote of 332 to 94. The measure had the support of three-quarters of Republican Representatives and more than 80 percent of Democrats. Senators voted 64-36 to approved the legislation; all Senate Democrats, two independents, and nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill.

HJ Res become law on December 26, 2013.

HR 2642: Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013

After three years of negotiations, a bipartisan compromise to reauthorize agriculture and nutrition policy has become law. On 7 February, President Obama signed the farm bill. A few days earlier, the Senate approved the legislation with the support of 68 Senators. H.R. 2642 passed the House of Representatives on 29 January with a vote of 251 Representatives in favor and 166 against.

Partisan fights over funding for food assistance to the poor, as well as subsidies to farmers held up the measure’s progress. The bill commits $956 billion over a decade. Although 80 percent of that total will be directed to nutrition programs, some funding is included for conservation efforts. Notably, farmers will have to follow basic conservation requirements in order to receive federal crop insurance subsidies on highly erodible land and wetlands. The $57 billion allocated for environmental conservation is $6 billion less than what was included in the last farm bill.

Opposition to the bill came from Democrats who thought the cuts to food stamps and conservation programs were too steep, as well as from Republicans who sought larger funding reductions and more stringent reforms of crop subsidies.

With respect to research, H.R. 2642 extends through fiscal year 2018 grants for university agricultural research, fellowships for food and agricultural sciences education, and grants for international agricultural science and education. To the dismay of some in the research community, the bill also requires the recipient of a competitive grant that involves applied research or extension and that is commodity- or state-specific to provide matching funds or in-kind contributions.

The legislation also includes a Senate provision that will create a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to promote public/private partnerships and investments in research.

The final bill does not include a provision from the House version of the legislation that would have supported research on and protection of pollinators.

HR 2642 became public law on February 7, 2014.

S. 1254: Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013

Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2014 – Reauthorizes, revises, and expands the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.

(Sec. 3) Requires the Inter-Agency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia to have a representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

(Sec. 4) Requires the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, acting through the Task Force, to: (1) maintain, enhance, and periodically review a national harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program; and (2) develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive research plan and action strategy to address marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms and hypoxia (a condition where low dissolved oxygen in aquatic systems causes stress or death to organisms).

Expands the Task Force’s functions, including: (1) expediting and coordinating the interagency review process by ensuring timely review and dispersal of required reports and assessments; and (2) promoting the development of new technologies for predicting, monitoring, and mitigating harmful algal bloom and hypoxia conditions.

Gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the primary responsibility for administering the Program.

Establishes the Under Secretary’s duties in administering the program, including the following:

  • preparing work and spending plans;
  • administering grant funding;
  • coordinating with and working with regional, state, and tribal and local government agencies;
  • coordinating with the Secretary of State to support international efforts;
  • identifying additional research, development, and demonstration needs;
  • coordinating and augmenting education programs;
  • providing resources to train state and local coastal and water resource managers; and
  • supporting regional efforts to control and mitigate outbreaks.

Requires the Under Secretary to carry out marine and Great Lakes harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events response activities.

Requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to: (1) research the ecology and impacts of freshwater harmful algal blooms; (2) forecast and monitor event response to freshwater harmful algal blooms in lakes, rivers, estuaries, and reservoirs; and (3) ensure that activities carried under this Act focus on new approaches to addressing freshwater harmful algal blooms and are not duplicative of existing research and development programs authorized by this Act or any other law.

(Sec. 7) Requires the Administrator, through the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, to report to appropriate congressional committees and the President on the progress made by activities directed by the Task Force and carried out or funded by the EPA and other state and federal partners toward attainment of the goals of the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 within 12 months after this Act’s enactment and biennially thereafter.

(Sec. 8) Requires the Task Force to: (1) submit within 18 months to Congress and the President an integrated assessment that examines the causes, consequences, and approaches to reduce hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes; and (2) develop and submit to Congress a plan, based on the assessment, for reducing, mitigating, and controlling hypoxia and harmful algal blooms.

S 1254 become law on June 30, 2014.

S. 994: Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013

This bill would amend the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to:

  • transfer from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the Secretary of the Treasury the responsibility for maintaining the website established by such Act (i.e., USAspending.gov) to provide public information about awards of federal funds;
  • require spending data for all federal funds to indicate the appropriation, federal agency, sub-agency, account, program activity, and object class (the category assigned for purposes of the annual budget of the President to the type of property or services purchased by the federal government) for such funds;
  • require the Secretary to establish government-wide financial data standards for federal funds and to use data collected under this Act to detect, prevent, and recover improper payments;
  • require the Director of OMB to review the financial reporting required by federal agencies to reduce duplicative reporting;
  • require the Inspectors General at each federal agency and the Comptroller General to report biennially on the completeness, timeliness, quality, and accuracy of spending data submitted by each agency;
  • require the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (Board) to develop and test information technology resources and oversight mechanisms to enhance the transparency of, and detect and remediate waste, fraud, and abuse in, federal spending for Inspectors General; and
  • require the Board to maintain a website to inform the public about activities to identify waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending.

Requires the Board to establish a pilot program relating to reporting by recipients of federal funds to increase financial transparency to: (1) display the full cycle of federal funds, (2) improve the accuracy of federal financial data, and (3) develop recommendations for reducing reporting requirements by consolidating and automating financial reporting requirements across the federal government.

Amends the Social Security Act to revise the purposes for information in the National Directory of New Hires to include assisting the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the prevention, identification, and recovery of improper payments to persons under review to determine their eligibility to receive payments or to participate in a federal, state, or local government program.

Amends the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to terminate on September 30, 2013, reporting requirements relating to the use of funds under such Act, oversight functions of the Board, and the requirement that the Board maintain a public website. Extends the termination date for the Board until September 30, 2017. Amends the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 to eliminate the Board’s responsibility for monitoring the expenditure of funds related to Hurricane Sandy.

Requires the Director of OMB to make required financial management status reports and government-wide five-year financial management plans available on the OMB website.

S.994 was enacted on May 9, 2014.

HR 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Lawmakers have avoided a government shutdown with passage of a Continuing Resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2013. The legislation, H.R. 933, will fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on 30 September 2013. The House and Senate have passed the bill with bipartisan support, and it has been sent to President Obama for his signature.
Since the legislation maintains the $85 billion sequestration cuts, the net impact for most federal agencies is a budget decrease.

Although the original House bill only granted fiscal flexibility to defense programs, the Senate amended the legislation to provide more flexibility to the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Justice, among other agencies.

A few science agencies were among the entities granted budget increases under a Senate-adopted amendment to the legislation. Although these are increases relative to FY 2012, after the effects of sequestration, these agencies will receive a budget cut.

The Senate gave an additional $221 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF); accounting for sequestration, the agency will be cut by about two percent relative to FY 2012.

The increase for NSF was largely due to the efforts of Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Her figure for NSF’s research account was $50 million higher than an earlier Senate mark and $100 million more than the House number. NSF’s education directorate was marked for an additional $20 million more than the President’s budget request.

The National Institutes of Health received an extra $71 million, which will partly offset the $1.5 billion cut resulting from budget sequestration. At $5 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also received a slight increase relative to last year, prior to the effects of sequestration. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received a ten percent boost, which means that it will be one of a handful of programs that comes out ahead financially even after accounting for the five percent cut from sequester.
The legislation maintains a pay freeze for federal workers, which means that employees will go three years without a pay increase.

The Senate considered many amendments before a deal was struck for final passage of the legislation. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully offered an amendment that bars NSF from awarding any grants on political science research unless the agency’s director can explain how the research promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

HR 933 became public law on March 26, 2013.