March 15, 2017

You Spoke, We Listened: Science Legislation Update Part 2

Posted by Timia Crisp

After our previous post on science legislation being considered in the new Congress, we heard from you that having these types of posts is useful. Today, we will give you an overview of some new science-related legislation that is up for consideration.

  • NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S.442)—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): An updated version of last Congress’s House and Senate bills of the same name, the bill was negotiated on a bipartisan bicameral basis before it was introduced this Congress. The bill emphasizes human space flight at the agency and reaffirms some of NASA’s existing priorities. As a compromise bill, there are still several disagreements that are not addressed by the bill, including how to balance the science portfolio at NASA. One item to note is the absence of explicit support for NASA Earth Science mission. The bill was passed without opposition in both chambers and is headed to the President’s desk.
    • Outlook: The President is likely to sign the bill into law, especially considering the emphasis on human space travel, one of the President’s priorities.
  • EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act (R. 1431)—Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK-3): Another bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability, the bill codifies new and existing guidelines for EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). This bill, which passed the House last Congress, garnered opposition from environmental and science organizations that raised concerns that the bill would decrease representation of science experts. Some notable provisions include:
    • requirement that members of the SAB cannot participate in discussions that directly or indirectly relate to their work;
    • requirement that members of the SAB cannot be funded by a current EPA grant and are ineligible to apply for an EPA grant for three years after their term ends; and,
    • financial disclosure and conflict of interest is accessible to the public.
    • Outlook: The bill will likely pass the House along party lines, but will face greater opposition in the Senate. If the bill manages to pass the Senate, it is likely that the President will sign the bill into law.
  • Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017 (R.1430)— Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX-21): The Honest Act is a revamped version of Rep. Smith’s Secret Science Reform Act, which he’s introduced previously. As in the Secret Science Reform Act, the Honest Act seeks to increase transparency and accountability by requiring that EPA use the “best available science” and make all data publicly available so that research study results can be reproduced. Scientific organizations and universities have expressed concerns about the language, particularly references to reproducibility, the potential burden on researchers, and the treatment of confidential information. Likely as an attempt to assuage some of these concerns, the Honest Act includes a provision that would share confidential information only if the party has a confidentiality agreement with EPA. However, the changes are unlikely to appease the aforementioned groups.
    • Outlook: While the bill is likely to pass the House along party lines, it is unclear if the Senate will consider the bill. The bill will have a tougher time passing the Senate due to cloture and filibuster rules. If the bill passes both chambers, the President will likely sign it into law.
  • UPDATE—Scientific Integrity Act (R.1358)—Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20): A House companion to the Senate’s Scientific Integrity Act (S.338) introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill contains language that would require the Directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish scientific integrity policies at federal agencies. AGU stands committed to scientific integrity and has a position statement regarding the free and open communication of scientific findings.
    • Outlook: Like S.338, the House version lacks Republican co-sponsors, which may hinder its chances of moving through the legislative process.

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