Information about Relevant Policies (114th Congress)

This page will be updated as frequently as possible to reflect the current policies that are relevant to the astronomical science community. If an entry appears out of date or if you know of a policy that is not listed here, then please send the information to the Public Policy staff.

Current Fiscal Year's Budget

[Updated: 29 September 2016]

Fiscal year (FY) 2016 officially ends on 1 October 2016. On 28 September 2016, the Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR). A CR is essentially an extension of the deadline. This CR continues funding for agencies, like NASA, NSF, and DOE, at the FY 2016 levels until Congress makes their final decision about appropriations or 9 Dec, whichever comes first.

The House and the Senate made progress on passing their versions of the appropriations bills under "regular order" (depicted above). Read about the Senate version of the FY 2017 budgets for NASA, NSF, and DOERead about the House version of the FY 2017 budgets for NASA, NSF, and DOE.

  • Energy & Water bill, which includes DOE, passed the full Senate on 12 May 2016; the vote was 90 to 8. The House Appropriations committee passed their version of the bill, but it failed to pass the full House due to controversial riders
  • Commerce, Justice, & Science bill, which includes NASA and NSF, passed the Senate Appropriations committee on 21 April 2016 and the House Appropriations committee on 24 May 2016. 

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) and their government relations staff have made a new tool for staying up-to-date on the budget cycle. The Federal Science Budget Tracker provides information on the status of budgets and appropriations for the physical sciences.

COMPETES Authorization

[Updated: 9 January 2017]

On 6 January 2017, President Obama signed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) into law. The law passed the Senate and House in December 2016 after significant negotiations. 

The full name of COMPETES is the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act. The original goal of this legislation was "to invest in innovation through research and development, and to improve the competitiveness of the United States." This included the authorization of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), NASA Education directorate, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Department of Energy (DOE). This legislation expired in 2013. The House has passed a version of a reauthorization (HR 1806)AIP FYI wrote about the details of HR 1806.

On 23 June 2016, Senators Gardner and Peters introduced the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), which was then referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology. S. 3084 is a series of modifications to the previous authorizations; these changes are summarized in an AAS Policy Blog post and by AIP FYI. Note that NOAA, DOE, and NASA Education aren't included in this legislation, but that could mean that there are no proposed changes to their authorization. The report language--expected at some point after the Senate Commerce committee approves the bill--will provide some clarification.  On 27 June 2016, the Committee passed S. 3084 by voice vote with amendments, one of which included authorization levels for NSF--$7.51 billion for FY 2017 and $7.81 billion for FY 2018.

Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law on 10 December 2015.

ESSA reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and substantially rewrites the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The new law aims to strengthen federal support for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

NASA Authorization

[Updated: 16 September 2016]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was most recently authorized in 2010. This authorization emphasized that NASA "supports an overall growth in science, aeronautics, and space technology and defines a long-term goal for human spaceflight to expand a permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit." Since the expiration of this authorization in 2013, the House has passed or attempted to pass a reauthorization in 2015 and 2016/2017. On 15 September 2016, the Senate introduced a version of a NASA authorization: The NASA Transition Act (S. 3346). Despite the lack of a current authorization, NASA can and does continue its mission.

NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act

[Updated: 15 June 2016]

The NSF Director and the National Science Board (NSB) requested that the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) review the effectiveness of cooperative agreements as a management and funding mechanism. The subsequent report was released by NAPA in December 2015. In April 2016, Representative Loudermilk introduced the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act (HR 5049), which would require NSF to act on several of the recommendations of the NAPA report. In particular, HR 5049 would require NSF to create a Large Facilities Office, conduct an independent review of cost proposals and incurred cost audits throughout construction, and place limits on the uses of management fees.

HR 5049 passed the House floor on June 14, 2016, with a vote of 412:9. The House Science committee issued a press release on the passage of the bill.

Scientific Research in the National Interest Act

In July 2015, Representative Smith introduced the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (HR 3293) to improve transparency at NSF to ensure "...that NSF research funding is accountable to the American taxpayer...." HR 3293 would require that the announcement of a grant award include a non-technical explanation of the project’s scientific merits and how the project serves the national interest. This is consistent with NSF Notice No. 137. National interest is broadly defined to include promoting the progress of science for the United States.

There has been some debate about HR 3293, and it passed the House floor on 10 Feb 2016, with a vote of 236:178 along party lines. 

Open Access Legislation

[Updated: 29 April 2016]

The Congress has been considering legislation that would set specific guidelines for scholarly publications. The legislation, called Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), S. 779 in the Senate and H.R. 1477 in the House, aims to improve access to tax-payer funded research results. The AAS and others have been working with the Congress to arrive at legislation that achieves their goal while maintaining the integrity of scholarly publications.

Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act

[Updated: 27 April 2016]

On 19 April 2016, Senators Peters (MI), Booker (NJ), and Gardner (CO) introduced the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act (S. 2817). The bill focuses on the capability of the US to understand the causes and effects of space weather, which includes an emphasis on basic and applied research and a recognition of the need for cross-agency cooperation. The AAS and its Solar Physics Division (SPD) sent a letter of support for the bill. On 27 April 2016, the bill passed favorably out of  the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee. Senator Ayotte (NH) recently joined as a co-sponsor. 

Travel Restrictions

[Updated: 29 April 2016]

In 2012, the White House, through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), issued new guidelines which had the effect of restricting conference travel for Federal employees and contractors. These restrictions limit the number of people who can travel to any given conference and increase the approval time for travel requests. Additionally, appropriations bills have included language that places a limit on the number of Federal employees and contractors that can travel to international conferences.

University Regulation Streamlining and Harmonization Act

[Updated: 12 September 2016]

Representative Lipinski sponsored the University Regulation Streamlining and Harmonization Act {H.R. 5593) with the intention of reducing the regulatory burden for researchers. The bill includes a new Research Policy Board to review federal regulations and a working group within the National Science and Technology Council to develop a central database of research information for use when applying for research grants from federal funding agencies. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Randy Hultgren, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Tom Graves, Reid Ribble, Rodney Davis, Ron Kind, Zoe Lofgren, Jim Cooper, and Glenn Grothman.