Every election year brings about changes to the US Senate and House of Representatives. But for scientists, it’s important to pay attention to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. This committee presides over all federal, non-defense scientific research and development spending. In other words, this committee has jurisdiction over NASA, DOE, NIH, NSF, and NOAA policy to make sure US tax dollars are being spent in accordance with committee views. Despite the grand name, the committee actually has little power over how tax dollar are spent, which is decided by the Senate appropriations committee. However, they do make important broad policy decisions and can conduct oversight hearings on the above mentioned agencies.
During this election year, let’s take a moment to reflect upon some of the current and outgoing members to this committee. After all, 10 current members have either been defeated or are retiring. That is almost a third of the committee and could lead to changes on how scientific policy is determined over the next couple of years.
Let’s start by bidding a glorious adieu to Congressman Todd Akin (R-Missouri) who lost his re-election campaign. You might remember Congressman Akin’s recent viral comments on “legitimate rape” that he made on August 19, 2012. I won’t subject our readers to his complete lack of human physiology, but if you’re interested in you can read it here. If Congressman Akin is this clueless on 7th grade reproduction, I would hate to learn about his views on more complex scientific policy. Thank you Missouri residents for driving US scientific policy forward one politician at a time.
Congressman Paul Broun (R-Georgia) who was unopposed in his recent re-election campaign is also a current member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Congressman Broun believes that evolution, embryology and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.” These remarks actually prompted James Leebens-Mack, a plant biologists at the University of Georgia start a Facebook write-in campaign for Charles Darwin to run against Paul Broun. Apparently being deceased for 130 years didn’t stop more than 4000 people from inking Darwin’s name against Congressman Broun in Dr. Leebens-Mack district. Let’s hope Paul Broun will start paying attention to this portion of his constituents.
Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland), the second oldest member of the US House of Representatives, and one of the few with a doctoral degree, lost re-election this past week. Congressman Bartlett often backed increased funding for basic research especially in the area of renewable energy. We’ll be lucky if a like-minded individual fills this seat.
The committee will most likely be welcoming back physicist Bill Foster (D-Illinois) who recently won election in his district and subsequently ousted a current committee member, Judy Biggert. Foster was a former member of this committee during his seven year stint as a Congressman. Science support actually played a large role in this election campaign since Foster’s Congressional district included the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.
In addition, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is in the process of electing a new chair. The current chair, Ralph M. Hall (R-Texas) has reached his term limit for committee chair. With Republican majority in the US House of Representatives, three conservative members have shown interest in the position including Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (California), Lamar Smith (Texas), and James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin). James Sensenbrenner was previously chair of this committee during the Clinton administration. Unfortunately, all three have denied climate change, so don’t expect major recommendations for clean energy from this committee anytime soon.
Let us know how you think membership changes to this committee will reflect US science policy in the upcoming years.