Holds NSF accountable for how taxpayer dollars are spent
Washington D.C. – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today introduced the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is accountable to the taxpayers about how their hard-earned dollars are spent. The bill requires that each NSF public announcement of a grant award be accompanied by a non-technical explanation of the project’s scientific merits and how it serves the national interest. This written justification is intended to affirm NSF’s determination that a project is worthy of taxpayer support, based on scientific merit and serves the national interest.
Chairman Smith: “We must set funding priorities that ensure America remains first in the global marketplace of basic research and technological innovation, while preventing misuse of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. Unfortunately, in the past NSF has funded too many questionable research grants - money that should have gone to projects in the national interest. For example, how does the federal government justify spending $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic? Or $50,000 to study lawsuits in Peru from 1600 - 1700? Federal research agencies have an obligation to explain to American taxpayers why their money is being used on such research instead of on more worthy projects.”
“Investments in basic research can lead to discoveries that change our world, expand our horizons and save lives. But we cannot afford to waste taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. For instance, the almost million dollars spent on a climate change musical could have funded research to meet real national priorities such as predicting severe weather events, discovering new sources of energy, and improving cybersecurity. All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salaries and funds their projects. It is not the government's money; it's the people's money. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is a step toward more accountability.”
NSF has recently recognized the need for increased transparency and accountability. NSF is now implementing a policy of clear, non-technical explanations of research projects. NSF staff and outside researchers will compose project abstracts that explain how each project meets intellectual merit criteria, is consistent with NSF’s mission, and supports the national interest. This legislation makes this commitment permanent.
At a Science Committee hearing held earlier this year, NSF Director France Córdova agreed with a legislative effort to uphold a national interest standard for taxpayer-funded research grants. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is virtually identical to a provision that passed the House this spring as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. The bill states that the NSF written justification is to be made after a proposal has completed NSF’s reviews for merit and broad impacts. The bill clearly states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”
The following bipartisan members of the Science Committee are original cosponsors: Reps. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.); Frank Lucas (R-Okla.); Alan Grayson (D-Fla.); Barbara Comstock (R-Va.); John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) Randy Weber (R-Texas); Stephen Knight (R-Calif.); Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla); Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.); Brian Babin (R-Texas); Mo Brooks (R-Ala.); Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.); Bill Johnson (R-Utah); Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.); Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas); Bill Posey (R-Fla.); Gary Palmer (R-Ala.); and Ralph Abraham (R-La.).Read More
NASA Associate Administrator Says Increases Needed to Keep Future Missions on Track
Washington, D.C. – The Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing to recognize recent planetary science successes and the importance of continued space exploration. The hearing featured some of the newest planetary images to be publicly released to date.
New Horizons Mission lead Dr. Alan Stern describes photos and findings from the recent Pluto flyby at Tuesday’s hearing.
Chairman Lamar Smith: “The exploration of our universe captures Americans’ interests, inspires us to pursue extraordinary goals, and keeps us on the forefront of scientific achievement. It also is what NASA was created to do.
“Since 1958, NASA has led the world in space exploration with a long list of firsts: NASA built, launched, and operated the first spacecraft to encounter another planet, the first spacecraft to leave our solar system, and the first spacecraft to take humans to the Moon. Earlier this month, the New Horizons spacecraft achieved another American first by being the first spacecraft to reach Pluto. Today, young students across the country are reading about New Horizons, looking at pictures of Pluto, and are excited about one day exploring the cosmos themselves and making new discoveries. ”
New Horizons Mission lead scientist Dr. Alan Stern highlighted discoveries from the Pluto flyby: “It’s very clear we do not understand the interior workings of small planets. … Small planets should cool off, and yet [Pluto] has not. And this is a major challenge to the field of planetary science, to understand how this can be, and it’s a demonstration that only could be made by going to Pluto, which New Horizons has now done. I want to say the other big discovery in my view is a level of public interest in exploration, which went completely viral. I think people really like frontiers, and the United States is in a great position to extend soft power projection through just this kind of space program.”
The Science Committee’s NASA Authorization Act for FY16 and FY17 increased planetary science budgets by $138 million, restoring funds the Obama administration proposed cutting from planetary science budgets. This would bring parity between NASA’s science accounts and allow for development of missions like New Horizons to continue at the current pace.
When asked by Chairman Smith about the impacts of proposed cuts, NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Dr. John Grunsfeld said NASA “would be able to keep … on track and increase the cadence [of planetary missions like New Horizons] with increased funding.”
In addition to Dr. Stern and Dr. Grunsfeld, experts on the Dawn and Europa missions also testified to their progress and how additional funds might be used for those missions. Europa advocate and House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-Texas) also made an appearance at Tuesday’s hearing. House appropriators have also voted to increase planetary budgets in the face of proposed administration cuts.
The following witnesses testified today:
Dr. Robert Pappalardo, Study Scientist, Europa Mission Concept, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA
Dr. Robert Braun, David & Andrew Lewis Professor of Space Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology
For additional information on today’s hearing, including witness testimony and the archived webcast, visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.
Washington, D.C. – The Subcommittees on Energy and Oversight today held a joint hearing to examine the vast changes in today’s energy sector compared to when the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was first established by Congress in 2005, requiring transportation fuels in the U.S. be blended with biofuels at increasing volumes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages compliance with the RFS through a complex fuel credit system.
Energy Subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber (R-Texas): “In almost every category, the RFS projections are outdated and do not reflect today’s energy market. The RFS was wrong about gas consumption – demand for gasoline is falling. The RFS was wrong about the growth of the renewable fuel industry, particularly in terms of advanced biofuels and cellulosic fuels. And the RFS was wrong about the impact incorporating renewable fuels would have on the environment.
“Today, instead of a transportation fuel supply driven by consumer demand, we are stuck with our back to the ‘blend wall.’ Each year, the RFS requires higher volumes of renewable fuel than our transportation fuel supply can sustain. Even with EPA approval to use mid-level ethanol blends like E15 and E85 in select vehicles – both of which have significant problems in terms of performance and emissions – the RFS mandate is unworkable.”
When the RFS was initially designed, the primary goals were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce crude oil imports, and accelerate the use of a variety of renewable fuels by blending biofuels into the U.S. transportation fuel supply. Witnesses today discussed the increasing costs and minimal environmental benefit of the RFS mandate.
Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.): “Today’s energy market is remarkably different than what Congress projected in the RFS. While production of renewable fuels has increased, and blended fuels are more widely available to consumers, the refining capacity and market demand for transportation biofuels projected in the RFS simply does not exist. Adding fuels with higher blends of ethanol to more gas stations around the country may help meet the RFS requirements, but it offers nothing more than a nuisance to regular Americans, as more gas stations have to sell fuels that they can’t even use.
“And while the EPA projected significant environmental benefits from an increased use of biofuels, the fuel efficiency and lifecycle emissions for biofuels are in direct contrast to EPA’s projections. So the American people are stuck with a law mandating less-efficient fuels that are more damaging to air quality than gasoline.”
In 2007, Congress expanded the scope of the RFS by mandating the blending of over 20 billion gallons of biofuels into U.S. transportation fuels by 2015, and 36 billion gallons by 2022.
Members today asked about numerous technical challenges involved for a variety of engines and transportation fuel distribution systems as more biofuels are blended in the transportation fuel supply. The RFS creates challenges for refiners, biofuel producers, engine manufacturers, and distributors of the U.S. transportation fuel supply—eventually impacting the American consumer through the price and availability of fuels.
The “blend wall,” or ten percent ethanol, is accepted as the upper limit to the total amount of ethanol that can be blended into U.S. transportation fuel supply while still maintaining engine performance and compliance with the Clean Air Act. The blend wall is considered a significant obstacle to meeting future biofuel volumes mandated in the RFS, and is in conflict with the biofuel volumes mandated in the RFS.
The following witnesses testified today:Mr. Matt Smorch, Vice President for Strategy and Supply, CountryMarkDr. Jason Hill, Associate Professor of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of MinnesotaMr. Chuck Red, Vice President of Fuels Development for Applied Research Associates, IncMr. Tim Reid, Director of Engine Design, Mercury Marine
For more information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony and the archived webcast, visit the Committee’s website.Read More
Washington, D.C. – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today sent a letter requesting additional information after media reports indicated that a recent explosion at a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland was caused by the manufacturing of the illegal drug methamphetamine. The Associated Press reported that the July 19, 2015 explosion may have been connected to a NIST security officer who was injured during the incident.
Chairman Smith: “As Chairman of the Committee with jurisdiction over NIST, I am troubled by the allegations that such dangerous and illicit activity went undetected at a federal research facility. It is essential that we determine exactly where the breakdown in protocol occurred and whether similar activities could be ongoing at other federal facilities. I look forward to working with NIST to ensure that researchers at our nation’s high-tech labs are safe from this sort of criminal activity.”
The letter requests NIST provide members of the Committee with a briefing on the facts surrounding the explosion along with continual updates on the situation. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has primary oversight jurisdiction of NIST.
The full letter can be found here.Read More
Washington, D.C. – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today released the following statement after two former senior National Weather Service (NWS) officials pleaded the Fifth Amendment rather than testify before the Committee about alleged contract misconduct.
[Pictured from left, Mr. Byrd and Mr. Jiron are sworn in before the Committee]
Today’s hearing was to examine allegations that Peter Jiron, the former Deputy CFO at the NWS, set himself up for a post-retirement consulting contract while he was still employed at the agency. Further, his supervisor at the time, Robert Byrd, the then CFO, allegedly encouraged and approved the contract. Both Mr. Byrd and Mr. Jiron exercised their Fifth Amendment rights and were excused from the hearing.
Chairman Smith: “Today’s hearing was an opportunity for Mr. Jiron and Mr. Byrd to explain to us why taxpayers picked up the tab for an allegedly improper contract worth nearly half a million dollars. Unfortunately, both former senior officials chose a path of non-cooperation and refused to speak with Committee staff voluntarily and only appeared here today under subpoena. I am disappointed that neither Mr. Jiron nor Mr. Byrd chose to testify today.
“One of the most important functions of Congress is to conduct robust oversight of the Executive branch. This provides the fundamental checks and balances that our founders intended. When Americans’ trust has been violated, Congress has an obligation to understand what went wrong so we can ensure that it does not happen again. I was disappointed to learn that despite the Inspector General’s good work highlighting this case, the Obama administration’s Justice Department refused to investigate this case. The Committee will continue to seek answers from Mr. Jiron and Mr. Byrd and will conduct oversight to determine if these types of actions are common at the National Weather Service.”
According to the Commerce Department’s Inspector General, in 2009, one month before officially retiring from the NWS, Mr. Jiron negotiated the terms of his consultancy, drafted and edited the associated Statement of Work for the consultancy, drafted terms and conditions of his contract with NWS as a consultant, and eventually signed the consulting contract with the NWS in April 2010.
Part of Mr. Jiron’s consulting agreement included post-retirement housing expensed by the NWS totaling $50,000 in value. Mr. Jiron’s consulting contract lasted 21 months, costing the government $471,875. None of this may have been discovered but for the fact that Mr. Jiron later attempted to persuade employees at NWS to hire a close family member.
After Mr. Jiron and Mr. Byrd were excused, the hearing proceeded with testimony from Mr. Mark Greenblatt, Deputy Assistant General for Compliance & Ethics at the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General. To watch the LIVE hearing, visit the Committee website.Read More
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