Summary of Hearings on Education, Research and Development, and Workforce Policy

11/20/13

  • October 30, 2013: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee Hearing on Energy Hearing on Providing the Tools for Scientific Discovery and Basic Energy Research: The Department of Energy Science Mission
  • February 27, 2013: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on American Competitiveness: The Role of Research and Development

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House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy Hearing on Providing the Tools for Scientific Discovery and Basic Energy Research: The Department of Energy Science Mission
October 30, 2013

Witnesses (with links to opening statements):
Dr. Pat Dehmer, Deputy Director for Science Programs, Office of Science, Department of Energy
Dr. Horst Simon, Deputy Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Dr. John Hemminger, Chairman, Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, Department of Energy

Committee Members (with links to opening statements):
Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) Subcommittee Chairman
Eric Swalwell (D-CA) Ranking Member
Lamar Smith (R-TX) Committee Chairman
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) Ranking Member Chairman
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)
Mark Takano (D-CA)

On October 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing entitled, “Providing the Tools for Scientific Discovery and Basic Energy Research: The Department of Energy Science Mission.” The hearing addressed the challenges and opportunities in reauthorizing the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science Act (COMPETES Act).

Historically the COMPETES Act has met with bipartisan support, providing investment in innovation through research and development to increase U.S. competitiveness. However, Republicans are now proposing to replace it with the EINSTEIN (Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology and Energy in) America Act, which prioritizes funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and defunds a number of programs.

Full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) advocated for the EINSTEIN America Act, emphasizing that it is just one of the proposed alternatives to the America COMPETES Act, and that it will focus funds on basic science, enabling taxpayer money to be used more efficiently. However, the proposed draft of the EINSTEIN America Act would cut funding for applied science at the DOE Office of Science, including cutting funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a cornerstone of COMPETES, which promotes research and development of advanced energy technologies.

The America COMPETES Act was passed in 2007, and reauthorized in 2010.  The act authorized budgets for the DOE’s Office of Science, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Furthermore, COMPETES provided for programs like ARPA-E and the EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) program, which enhances the capabilities of designated states to conduct sustainable and competitive energy related research. Currently, EPSCoR is helping to fund research in 25 states that historically have not received a high number of NSF grants. Although these programs have enhanced science, technology, and innovation enterprise within their respective states, the U.S. has fallen behind international competitors in investments in research and development due to the sequester and budget shortfalls.
Eric Swalwell (D-CA), whose district includes both Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, expressed major concern with the EINSTEIN America Act, indicating that it undercuts funding, creates more uncertainty for institutions that rely on federal funding, and hurts the reputation of the U.S. as a leader in science and technology. Swalwell also criticized the EINSTEIN Act for deprioritizing climate change research. Another concern for Swalwell and Democrats on the committee is that the bill as is only provides authorization of funding for two years; they argue that a minimum of five years is needed.

Witnesses agreed that the unpredictability and lack of funding is hurting their research and making it especially hard to plan for personnel. Witness Dr. John Hemminger, Chairman of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, expressed his concern that the unstable funding is creating an innovation deficit. Similarly, Dr. Horst Simon, Deputy Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, explained that the trend of sequestration and shutdown is creating uncertainty and signaling to the next generation of scientists that there is no guarantee that the integrity of funding will last.

It is unclear whether the parties will be able to find a compromise anytime soon. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing on November 6, 2013 to begin working on reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act.

Opening statements, witness testimonies, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the Committee’s web site.

-SKF

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service, and the Census Hearing on the Road Less Traveled: Reducing Federal Travel & Conference Spending
February 27, 2013

Witnesses:
The Honorable Rush Holt
Representative for the 12th Congressional District of New Jersey
The Honorable Danny Werfel
Controller, U.S. Office of Management and Budget
Cynthia Metzler
Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. General Services Administration

Committee Members Present:
Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Chairman
Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Ranking Member
Tim Walberg (R-MI)

On February 27, 2013, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to receive testimony assessing government requirements for reducing federal travel and conference spending. In May 2012, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo outlined policy changes in response to the General Services Administration (GSA) conference in Las Vegas that cost over $820,000. OMB is directing federal departments and agencies to cut 30 percent of their fiscal year (FY) 2010 travel and conference spending by FY2013. Additionally, any conference costing over $100,000 requires senior level approval and the head of an agency must issue a waiver for any over $500,000.

In his opening statement, Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-TX) described the hearing as “an opportunity to hear how OMB’s directive – if fully and responsibly implemented -- can potentially help save the taxpayer’s billions of dollars.” He stated that the committee hoped to evaluate “if these new policies have curbed wasteful expenditures, and what new statutory changes may be required to reduce travel spending appropriately and to shed greater transparency upon travel and conference spending.” He mentioned the reintroduction of the Government Spending Accountability Act (H.R. 313) to “largely implement the guidelines of the OMB memo.”

Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA) stated in his opening statement that the federal government “must be a good steward of American tax payer’s money.” He noted the importance of ensuring that “only necessary conferences are held, that only those who need to attend participate, and that there are no improper expenses.”

Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) focused his testimony on the impact of reduced federal travel and conference spending on the scientific community. He stated that H.R. 313 and the OMB memo “initiate prohibitions and impediments that would hinder American scientists’ ability to collaborate and communicate with scientists at other institutions and laboratories.” He discussed how not only formal and poster presentations “lead to new collaborations that have the promise of new discoveries” but also “informal conversations.” He provided examples of successful collaborations at conferences that have resulted in groundbreaking applications such as cancer treatments. Holt advocated for modifying the bill and memo to “allow further scientific progress.” He noted, “We should be investing more in research and development, which means, of course, investing in scientists, but also investing in their ability to pursue science.” He closed his testimony declaring that “we should be spending more on the conferences like those which promote innovation” as they “are not wasteful spending, but instead are examples of federal investments in innovation and economic development.”

Danny Werfel, controller at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), stated in his testimony that the “Administration has taken a number of aggressive steps to cut waste and modernize government…working to create a government that is more efficient, effective, and accountable to the American people.” OMB seeks to decrease “spending on travel and conferences by making smarter decisions, eliminating unnecessary trips and conferences, and implementing innovative solutions that reduce costs, safe time and achieve better results.” He detailed developments at the Department of the Interior: increased use of technology and media for distance meetings at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and increased “use of government vehicles for travel” rather than airlines and hosting of training in-house or at closer locations at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. DOI has reduced travel spending by more than $30 million.

Werfel discussed scientific conferences stating OMB is “aware of the important role travel and conferences can play in carrying out an agency’s mission.” He noted that “a meeting or symposium where scientific experts from the Federal government partner with their private-sector counterparts on critical research” is defined as a conference by the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR). However, he stated, “I think we all can agree that such activities are neither unnecessary nor wasteful” and “we must…be vigilant in protecting activities that are necessary and vital to our shared priorities as a Nation.”

In her testimony, Cynthia Metzler, chief administrative officer at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), discussed her role in promoting “efficiency within the agency and, in part, [ensuring] that our travel and conference policies have strong controls, effective oversight, and focus on reducing costs.” She outlined the changes implemented at GSA following the Las Vegas conference scandal and their efforts to comply with the OMB mandate.

In the question and answer section, Farenthold asked how close government agencies and departments are to achieving the 30 percent reduction in spending. Werfel responded that spending levels are “right in the range” of target levels. He indicated that there is “concern coming from the scientific community” about the critical nature of collaboration in the “advancement of science.”

Opening statements, witness testimonies, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the Committee’s web site.

-KAC

Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy staff; Kimberley Corwin, 2013 AAPG/AGI Spring Intern.

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Last updated on November 20, 2013