The behavioral and social sciences lost a doubleheader in the House on May 20

But remember, the Senate is a new ball game 

Two bills important to the behavioral and social sciences advanced in the House on May 20, 2015. H.R. 1806, the COMPETES bill, which the American Psychological Association (APA) and almost all science organizations oppose, passed the House with a vote of 217 to 205. And the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill that would fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) and several other science agencies in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 was voted out of the House Appropriations Committee. That, too, is a bill that most science organizations oppose. 

How bad were these bills?  H.R. 1806 would cut authorized levels of funding for the behavioral and social sciences at NSF by almost 45% in both FYs 2016 and 2017.  The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill underfunds NSF by more than $300 million relative to the President’s FY 2016 budget request, slashes support for the Geosciences and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE), shortchanges the U.S. Census, and removes the line-item status from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, which would leave those budgets vulnerable to other Justice Department priorities.  APA went on record with its opposition to the CJS bill in a recent online Science article

H.R. 1806 re-authorizes NSF programs and sets allocations, or funding guidelines, for the agency’s topline budget as well as its individual directorates, including the SBE Directorate, for FYs 2016 and 2017.

Currently funded in FY 2015 at approximately $272 million, SBE supports fundamental research on human behavior that addresses critical societal questions.  President Obama has requested $291 million for SBE in his FY 2016 proposed budget, a 7% increase over its current level.

H.R. 1806 sets SBE funding levels for both FY 2016 and 2017 at $150 million.  This would represent a cut of almost 45% to SBE in both years.  The Science Committee majority justified these cuts by pointing out grants that NSF has funded that it sees as lower priority.  

You can watch the House floor debate here.  If you do, you will see several members of Congress vigorously defending NSF’s support of the behavioral and social sciences, including the Ranking Member of the Science Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). 
Here’s some reassurance:  in a statement warning that the bill might face a veto if it should be adopted in its current form, the Administration said the COMPETES Act reauthorization "undermines key investments in science, technology, and innovation, and imposes unnecessary and damaging requirements on federal support of research."

The bill now moves to the Senate, which has not yet drafted a counterpart.  However a bipartisan group of seven senators has introduced a bill relating to Department of Energy research, a subset of the programs covered by the COMPETES bill, so reauthorization is certainly on the table in the Senate.  

Here is something to be proud of:  before the House vote, APA sent an Action Alert to its members asking for emails to the House of Representatives in opposition to H.R. 1806.  Lots of you responded:  269 members sent 279 emails to members of the House.  That’s not chickenfeed! But we must do better. We need to commit to doubling that response in support of an improved Senate version when that body takes action. APA has been active in coalition efforts to lobby against the COMPETES bill and will work with partners to try to shape a better Senate bill that we can support. If you don’t currently receive APA Action Alerts, please sign up here

Contact Heather O’Beirne Kelly of APA’s Science Government Relations Office for more information about these bills and APA’s advocacy related to NSF: or 202.336.5932.