Press Release

House Science Committee Members Express Concern Over Science and Technology Budget

By SpaceRef Editor
February 13, 2004
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a hearing today featuring the government’s top science and technology leaders, Members of the House Science Committee expressed concern that insufficient research and development (R&D) funding in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 budget could slow economic growth and hamper U.S. competitiveness, and several vowed to increase funding. 

Members questioned the balance of the Administration’s R&D budget, noting that non-defense, non-homeland security funding increased by only 2.3 percent.  Further, most of that increase is for development (up eight percent) while basic research is essentially flat-funded.

 “On the one hand, I understand that the Administration’s goal was to protect science in a very austere budget environment, and I appreciate that.  On the other hand, it’s impossible to seriously view this as a good budget for science,” said House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY).  “Now, I say that this is not a good budget for science, but we still don’t know whether it’s the best budget we can get.  That’s going to depend much more on the overall ‘macro’ decisions the Congress makes on the budget than on anything else.  It’s far too early to tell how things will work out.  All I know is that I will be doing everything I can to see that science prospers.” 

“I am going to be as blunt as the Chairman has been today in expressing my disappointment in the proposed science budget.  I am also distressed about the lack of foresight that the Administration has shown in putting together this R&D budget.  It is simply inadequate in light of the challenges that we are facing.,” stated Committee Ranking Democrat Bart Gordon (D-TN). “We all understand that fiscal restraint is a necessity.  However it is more important now than ever that the United States remain the world’s leader in innovation.  This country must invest in its future and do everything possible to ensure that America does not lose its place as the leader in global innovation and R&D.”

Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) expressed concern about the overall funding levels and the lack of balance in the federal government’s research portfolio.  “For the past several years, research and development funding for defense, weapons development, biomedical sciences, and national security has increased while other areas of federal research and development, especially basic research in the physical sciences, has remained flat or declined.  The President’s FY 2005 request of $132 billion for research and development continues this trend,” said Ehlers.  “Basic science research and education are essential to advances in medicine, military applications and continued economic prosperity, including the development of cancer therapies, GPS- or laser-guided missiles, and the Internet.  As a nation, we cannot afford to starve basic science research and education.” 

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. John Marburger and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Dr. Rita Colwell faced questions from Chairman Boehlert regarding the Administration’s decision to eliminate the Math and Science Partnerships (MSP) program at NSF.  Ehlers, Gordon, Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI), and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-IL) all shared Boehlert’s concern.

 
“I’m baffled as well as disturbed by the proposal to move the MSP to the Dept. of Education,” said Boehlert.  “At NSF, the program is a peer reviewed, competitive effort at an agency known for peer review.  The Administration is proposing legislation – unlikely to pass legislation – to force the Dept. of Education to peer review the program.  Why does it make sense to move the program to an agency which has procedures the Administration itself opposes?”

Dr. Marburger responded that the “role of research within the Department of Education is being strengthened.”  And Dr. Colwell stated, “the Administration is moving toward a model that consolidates the school comptroller and school districts.” 

However, Boehlert followed up stating, “We have got to do better in math and science education or our preeminent position in the global marketplace is going to be lost.  We are in a crisis, and it’s a battle we’re going to lose if we all just play ‘good soldiers.’  My view is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  

Reps. Ehlers, Boehlert, Gordon and ETS Subcommittee Ranking Member Mark Udall (D-CO)  also expressed great concern over the future of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. “The FY 2004 appropriation cut the funding for MEP by more than 65%.,” said Ehlers.  “My constituents have expressed dismay that the FY 2005 request did not seek to restore this cut, and I fear that the FY 2005 request, if funded at this level, will continue to cripple this unique program’s ability to promote innovation among small- and medium-size manufacturers as they adapt to the globalized economy.”

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) stated, “As a scientist and engineer, I am deeply concerned that basic research and development funding is considered an easy target for budget cutting because superficially it doesn’t appear to provide any tangible immediate benefits,” said Congressman Roscoe Bartlett.  “That is a dangerous and foolish misconception.   I’m also a farmer and cutting back on R&D is the equivalent of a farmer eating their seed corn.  When we fail to invest in R&D, we guarantee smaller harvests and fewer innovations.  We can not ensure America’s world leadership, promote continued economic prosperity or maintain our national security if we fail to adequately support basic research.”

SpaceRef staff editor.