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Policy & Advocacy

Research & Science

APLU promotes research and science policy issues important to our member institutions such as increasing investments in research and bolstering support for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. APLU member institutions across North America conduct more than $41 billion in university-based research. APLU advocates for robust federal investments in programs within the federal agencies that fund this research. In addition, the Office of Congressional and Government affairs closely monitors the federal agencies and Congress’ actions to ensure new policies put forth do not adversely affect our university’s ability to conduct research in a safe, efficient, and transparent manner. 

  • The America COMPETES Act

    The Original America COMPETES Act:

    In 2007, the President signed into law H.R. 2272, the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act, also known as the America COMPETES Act. It is Public Law No: 110-69. The act authorized a total of $43.3 billion over fiscal years 2008-2010 for eight titles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education programs across the federal government. The multi-agency act focused primarily on math, science, engineering and technology.

    Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (2010)

    President Obama signed the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, H.R. 5116, the “America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (America COMPETES) Reauthorization Act of 2010,” in 2011. It is Public Law No: 111-358.

    This law built upon the 2007 COMPETES Act and enjoyed strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The authorization levels contained in this legislation outlined a three-year funding path for sustained investments in research, innovation and STEM education at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This $48 billion legislation was actively supported by APLU.

    America COMPETES Act in the 113th Congress

    In 2013, APLU joined with other university, business and science leaders in endorsing a set of “guiding principles” for a COMPETES reauthorization.

    In March 2014, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act of 2014 (FIRST Act, H.R.4186) was introduced in the House of Representatives. This legislation reauthorized a number of programs from the 2007 and 2010 America COMPETES Act, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    While this legislation had some positive aspects, a number of concerns were raised from the scientific community regarding this legislation. In May, 2014 the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved the FIRST Act on a party-line vote. During the markup, an improvement to the legislation was made that would restore a shorter embargo period for public access to published articles resulting from federally funded research. However, as a whole, APLU did not support the bill that passed. This legislation never made it to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

    In July, 2014, Senator Rockefeller introduced the Senate version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S.2757). This legislation included a five-year reauthorization of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), with significant increases above the current funding levels. APLU endorsed this legislation, which never was brought up in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for consideration.

    The America Competes Act in the 114th Congress

    On April 15, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R.1806). This legislation is a two year reauthorization of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and some programs within the Department of Energy (DoE).

    This legislation would provide an increased authorization for NSF over FY2015 levels by about 4%, largely at the expense of the DoE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which would face large cuts to its authorization levels. Within NSF, the legislation would authorize funding at the directorate level, which APLU opposes, because that would promote the politicization of research priorities. The bill would cuts the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate by about 45% below the FY2015 enacted levels, and cuts the Geosciences Directorate by about 8% below FY2015 enacted levels.  Funding levels in the bill are the same for FY2016 and FY2017.

    Within the Department of Energy title, this legislation would authorize ARPA-E at $140 million for FY2016 and FY2017, a cut of $140 million from the FY2015 enacted level of $280 million, and $185 million below the President’s FY2016 request of $325 million. The Office of Science received an increase, and would be authorized at $5.3 billion, consistent with the President’s FY2016 request, and above the FY2015 enacted level of $5.1 billion.

    For FY2016 and FY2017, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program within the National Institute of Standards and Technology would be authorized at $125 million. This is $5 million below the FY2015 enacted level of $130 million and $16 million below the President’s FY2016 request of $141 million.

    The bill would modify the goals of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and would remove the goal of developing energy technologies to reduce energy-related emissions. In addition, HR1806 would require prospective ARPA-E grantees to seek private funding for their projects before being eligible to receive federal dollars. This could prohibit good science from being funded if a grantee is unable to demonstrate “sufficient attempts to secure private financing” and is counter to the longstanding principle of federal funding for research – that the government will provide funding for important research that is too fundamental or long term for industry investment.

    On April 22, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a day-long markup and ultimately approved the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R.1806). The legislation passed on a party line vote of 19 to 16. In advance of the markup, APLU issued a statement  indicating opposition to the legislation. APLU also signed onto the letter of opposition to the legislation on behalf of the Coalition for National Science Funding. This legislation was approved by the full House of Representatives by a vote of 217 to 205 on May 20, 2015.

    On May 20, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced S.1398, a bill to reauthorize the energy programs included in the America COMPETES Act. The legislation would address the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and ARPA-E programs and provide a five-year authorization, with approximately four percent growth. This legislation will be taken up by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will draft the remainder of a COMPETES Reauthorization.

  • Biomedical Research

    The 114th Congress has seen the introduction of several pieces of legislation related to biomedical research.

    21st Century Cures

    Beginning in the 113th Congress, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) began work on an initiative, known as “21st Century Cures”. This initiative is aimed accelerating the pace of cures and medical breakthroughs. Their efforts included white papers, roundtables, hearings and solicitation of input from interested parties. 

    At the beginning of the 114th Congress, Representative Upton introduced the 21st Century Cures Initiative. This 393-page legislation contains a number of smaller bills relating to the NIH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) outlined in the committee’s summary.


    21st Century Cures Legislation
    Summary of 21st Century Cures Legislation

    Accelerating Biomedical Research

    Early in the 114th Congress, Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act (S.318). In the House, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Representative Brian Higgins (D-NY), and Representative Peter King (R-NY) introduced this same legislation (H.R.531). This legislation would allow for a budget cap adjustment for the remaining years subject to the Budget Control Act (BCA), FY2016 to FY2021. This will allow for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) levels to grow, while Congress continues the debate over the remainder of the budget.

  • Drones for Research and Educational Purposes

    Many of our universities use small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), also known as drones, for important and wide-ranging research. Examples of this work include research in the fields of animal health, plant toxicology, entomology, engineering, architecture, aviation, sustainable nutrient management, soil science, biogeochemistry, and aerospace engineering.

    On June 21, 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)issued a final rule on the operation of sUAS. The final rule, referred to as Part 107, establishes rules for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in the National Air Space, relieving sUAS operators from the previous system of waivers and exemptions. APLU has advocated to ensure the final rule addresses university research concerns. We have heard from campus UAS experts that the new regulatory framework will allow for greater flexibility for researchers, but also raises a number of new challenges for universities, particularly in the areas of safety, privacy, and liability. APLU’s analysis of the FAA’s sUAS final rule can be found here.

    On May 4, 2016, the FAA issued a legal interpretation on the educational use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The FAA interpretation states that students at accredited educational institutions may modify and operate UAS as part of their coursework. Universities will no longer need a Section 333 exemption for students to fly UAS, as long as they follow model aircraft rules. University faculty will be able to assist students operating an UAS.

  • Facilities and Administrative Costs

    The historic partnership between the federal government and research universities has produced tremendous return on investment through improvements in human health, transformative technologies, and the development of the world’s best research workforce. The federal government has long sponsored research at universities because innovations and new technologies help our country prosper and enhance our national security.

    When the government provides a grant to a university for a research project, a portion (typically 67-75 percent) of the funds are distributed directly to the research team. This “direct costs” portion supports researcher salaries, graduate students, equipment, and supplies. Another portion (typically 25-33 percent) covers necessary research infrastructure and operating expenses that the university provides to support the research. These facilities and administrative (F&A) costs – also referred to as “indirect costs” – are essential costs of conducting research. The federal government’s longstanding recognition and payment of these costs has helped U.S. colleges and universities build and support the required research infrastructure that has made the American research enterprise the best in the world.

    F&A costs cover a portion of the university’s infrastructure and operational costs necessary to conduct federally-funded research. These shared costs cover a portion of construction and maintenance of sophisticated, high-tech labs; utilities such as lighting, water, air conditioning, and heat; telecommunications, internet, and data storage; radiation safety and hazardous waste disposal; security for sensitive and dangerous chemicals; and the personnel, paperwork, and other costs needed to comply with federal, state, and local regulations.

    Additional Resources on F&A costs:

    Frequently Asked Questions about Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Costs of Federally Sponsored University Research

    Breaking Down the Costs of Federal Research at Universities

    Download the Costs of Research Infographic PDF File or PNG File
  • Public Access to Research Data

    In this era of open scholarship, greater access to research findings and data, especially when grounded in the FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable), has proven to be an important way to accelerate scientific progress and advance innovation to better serve the public good. Ensuring such expanded access will require a significant culture shift at universities and among their faculty, thoughtful and carefully crafted new government policies and practices, and investment in the infrastructure required to make data publicly accessible.

    As a first step in expanding public access, APLU and the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a report that details principles and recommended actions universities and federal agencies can take to advance timely access to data from federally-sponsored research grants. 

    The report, produced by a working group of research university leaders that APLU and AAU convened, specifies what federal agencies can do to facilitate public access to research data in a viable and sustainable manner that advances science in the public interest while minimizing the administrative burden on agencies, universities, and researchers. The report also contains actions universities should take both collectively and individually to align with the goals of research data sharing.