Despite a legislative batting average that would make a Little Leaguer blush, Representative Bart Gordon (D–TN) is still swinging away during his final year in Congress, hoping to pass bills to bolster research, science education, and alternative energy sources.
This morning the retiring chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee laid out a 2010 legislative agenda for the panel, which oversees—but does not fund—the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. He noted that 37 of the committee's bills passed the House of Representatives in 2009, but only two won Senate backing and became laws.
The committee's top priority is reauthorization of the 2007 America COMPETES Act. Drawn from a 2005 National Academies report, the sweeping legislation put Congress on record to boost spending on science and math education, including a 7-year doubling of the research budgets of NSF, NIST, and DOE science and the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Gordon said he expected only minor tweaks to its education and research provisions but that he planned to put greater emphasis on interdisciplinary research at the NIST labs. The committee is awaiting President Barack Obama's plans for human space exploration before tackling a NASA reauthorization, he said. NOAA may get its first legislative tuneup since it was created in 1970, he noted. And he said he would favor separate legislation to create a NOAA-led National Climate Service if its current vehicle—the Waxman-Markey energy bill—is abandoned.
With a big helping hand from last year's $787 billion stimulus package, research agencies under the committee's jurisdiction have received billions more to advance the programs spelled out in the COMPETES Act. Gordon said he doesn't expect similar funding increases in 2011, a budget cycle that begins on 1 February when President Barack Obama lays out his spending priorities. But the chair backs language in the 2010 spending bill that says NSF needs a 7% increase in 2011 to stay on its doubling path. "You have to recognize the [current] economic reality," says Gordon. "Any type of significant increase will be a victory. ... I'd like to see it above inflation, as a minimum. But I think that 7% is the right number."
Speaking as a proud parent, Gordon extolled the virtues of ARPA-E and said he'd like to see it grow into a $1 billion-a-year innovation machine. Agency officials are holding a fair in March to peddle all the good research ideas they couldn't fund in its first competition—for $150 million of the $400 million it received in one-time stimulus funding. The agency is still looking for its first annual appropriations.