A Periodic Federal Science Update

The House Passes America COMPETES Clearing it for the President to Sign Into Law– On Friday afternoon, December 16, 2016, the House of Representatives gave final approval to the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (America COMPETES).  The House passed the same version that was passed by the Senate last week.  This clears the bill for the President who is expected to sign it into law.  

The purpose of America COMPETES is to maximize the impact of basic research by reinforcing NSF’ merit process, reducing administrative burdens for researchers, advancing public-private partnerships, enhancing agency oversight of large scale research facilities projects, promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and increase research commercialization.  The bill would codify the NSF’s efforts to improve transparency and accountability of its grants, and would update the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). 

The bill also would direct NIST to conduct cybersecurity research in certain areas, and update the interagency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD Program). The bill also includes several sections implementing Committee oversight initiatives, including provisions which would direct the NSF to implement recommendations to improve oversight of its large-scale research facilities construction, conflicts of interest policy, and management of its Antarctic research program. 

It would also direct NIST to implement recommendations to improve laboratory programs and campus security.  The bill would establish an interagency working group led by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to reduce administrative burdens on federally-funded researchers, and would require OMB and Federal agencies to update their policies to encourage engagement and dissemination of research by Federal researchers within the scientific community.  The bill includes a provision raising the micro-purchase limit associated with research grants from $3,000 to $10,000 – identical to the increase provided in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017.  Read more about this science policy legislation here.

Rep. Mulvaney of South Carolina to be Nominated President --- Representative Mick Mulvaney, an opponent of government spending who rode the 2010 tea party wave to Congress, will be nominated as the director of the Office of Management and Budget under President-elect Donald Trump, the Trump transition team announced on Saturday.  The three-term Republican congressman, who represents South Carolina's 5th District, is active in the very conservative House Freedom Caucus.  In the Trump transition team statement, Rep. Mulvaney underlined his desire to bring major change to an office that is the hub of a sprawling federal bureaucracy.

If confirmed by the Senate, Rep. Mulvaney would play a central role in complex major health care and tax changes, as Republicans in Congress plan to use a budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation to avoid procedural hurdles. He would also be in the middle of a new debt ceiling increase or suspension, the rolling back of budgetary limits on defense spending, the expected slashing of federal regulations, a push for massive infrastructure spending and much more.

Rep. Mulvaney may not have extensive budget experience, but he isn’t new to some of the issues he would oversee at OMB, namely government spending and regulations. He helped assemble the deficit reduction plan in 2011 known as “Cut, Cap and Balance,” that was supported by most conservative Republicans, but was never enacted. He has frequently cited the national debt as the greatest challenge facing the country and has criticized what he sees as overreach by the EPA and other federal rule-makers.

In Congress, the South Carolinian split with many Republicans on defense spending. When GOP defense hawks supported the use of uncapped war funds to supplement the military’s base budget, Rep. Mulvaney joined Democrats and other conservative fiscal purists to oppose the budgetary gimmick.  He has called for eliminating the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations account that he says is a “slush fund” for the Pentagon.

The President-Elect’s infrastructure plans, depending on the price tag and offsets, could run into resistance from Rep Mulvaney’s House Freedom Caucus colleagues and other anti-spending conservatives as could a push to raise the debt limit, which is suspended through March 15, 2017, unless that increase is paired with deficit-cutting measures.

While OMB is largely known for its budget work, former directors say management skills are equally critical.  Rep. Mulvaney, a father of triplets, has managerial experience dating to his days as the owner and operator of one outlet of the Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina chain of restaurants. His 1989 undergraduate degree from Georgetown University is in international economics, commerce and finance, and he received a law degree in 1992 from the University of North Carolina.

In the House he is a member of the Financial Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees. He won re-election in November over Democratic opponent Fran Person