Committee Approves FIRST Act to Prioritize NSF Research in the National Interest

May 28, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today approved the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act (H.R. 4186) by a vote of 20-16. The bill reauthorizes and prioritizes federal investments at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by funding research and development (R&D) to address national needs.  The bill also sets priorities to drive our nation’s investments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs. 

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “To remain globally competitive, we must ensure that our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth.  It focuses taxpayer investments for basic research in the critical areas of physical science and engineering. These are the fields that are essential for technological innovations that will lead to the creation of new jobs, new businesses and industries of the future. This bill strengthens the economy, improves people’s lives and creates a more open and responsive government.”

Experts have projected that the United States will fall behind China in R&D spending in about ten years. American researchers are already falling behind in critical areas such as supercomputing, nanotechnology, the health sciences, aerospace and lasers. In a time of tight budgets, the FIRST Act authorizes small overall funding increases for NSF and NIST in Fiscal Year 2015.

The FIRST Act also takes a number of steps to ensure accountability of taxpayer funds. This starts with a requirement that the NSF meet minimum standards of public accountability and transparency in its grant funding decisions. Under the FIRST Act, the NSF will be required to publish a justification of each grant’s scientific merits and relevance to the broad national interest. The FIRST Act does not change NSF’s peer review process. But it does expand accountability and requires transparency so that only high quality research receives taxpayer funds.

Provisions of the FIRST Act also bolster K-12 STEM education and STEM participation. It broadens the definition of STEM education to include computer science and supports student participation in nonprofit competitions, out-of-school activities and field experiences related to STEM.

Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.): “I am pleased this bill passed the full committee and is now ready for floor action. During this time of fiscal uncertainty, the FIRST Act ensures dollars are stretched efficiently and effectively. This legislation strengthens accountability measures and transparency mechanisms while still providing flexibility for agencies to conduct basic research that will spur innovation. By setting priorities that drive investments in STEM, we better prepare our students for the jobs of the future and help to keep America competitive.”

For more information on the markup, including amendments and recorded votes, visit the Science, Space, and Technology website.