Status Report

AIP FYI #11: Chairman Boehlert Looks Back and Ahead at S&T

By SpaceRef Editor
January 30, 2003
Filed under , ,

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) addressed the
University Research Associates’ Annual Council of Presidents Meeting and
Policy Forum this morning. Boehlert is a strong supporter of science, and
is characteristically candid in his remarks. Selections from his speech


“In December, with some fanfare, the President signed into law the bill to
put the National Science Foundation on a track to double its budget over the
next five years.

“And that law not only points the way toward more generous funding across
most fields of science and engineering, the law requires NSF to develop a
more transparent process for funding major research facilities, and it
establishes new education programs at both the K-12 and undergraduate levels
to improve math and science education and to interest more students in those

“It’s a landmark measure that few in 2001 thought we could see through to
fruition – truth be told, I had some skepticism myself. But we worked up
until the very last minute – quite literally; it was the very last bill to
pass the House last year at a little after 3 a.m.”


“The poet Philip Larkin once wrote, ‘Always looking to the future, we pick
up bad habits of anticipation.’ It’s hard not to have that sober thought in
mind as one prepares to lay out an agenda for the coming year, with a war
looming and our fiscal straits tightening.

“But despite our challenges, and, in some ways because of them, the outlook
for research and development programs in the coming year seems reasonably

“Now I should hasten to add that I’m making that statement at a
particularly awkward time. As you are no doubt painfully aware, the
President will release his budget proposal for fiscal 2004 on Monday, while
Congress has yet to complete work on any civilian appropriation for fiscal

“In fact, it will be a challenge even figuring out how to read the ’04
budget proposal because the Administration has had no choice but to use the
President’s ’03 request as the program baseline. But those baseline numbers
should be hopelessly out of date by the end of next week, if we can stick to
our latest deadline, February 7th, when the latest Continuing Resolution
expires. The latest indications are that that deadline is now a true goal
and real possibility.”

“In addition to confounding federal agencies and those who work with them,
the stalemate over appropriations is a symptom of a larger breakdown in our
lawmaking process. Increasing ideological rigidity and partisan
gamesmanship, along with an electorate that is, paradoxically, both evenly
divided and widely disengaged, have conspired to make it harder and harder
to conduct the mundane but essential business of Congress. It’s hard to
predict when this state of affairs is likely to improve.

“But it’s worth noting how science funding has largely stayed out of the
partisan and ideological crossfire. I certainly could not get away with
claiming to this audience that we are entering another ‘golden age’ of
science funding, particularly in the physical sciences, but, again, the
overall picture is far from bleak.

“The passage of our NSF bill, while not guaranteeing linear growth, is a
sign that both Congress and the Administration have come to understand that
broadly based increases in science spending are overdue. And while the
appropriators are trimming their initial 2003 spending measures, they are
trying to keep spending for NSF as high as possible. Moreover, the rumors
about the President’s NSF proposal for 2004 are quite promising – at least
in percentage terms, which may turn out to be the key figure given the
faulty baselines.”


“The creation of the Department of Homeland Security could also presage
increased research funding across a wide range of sciences.

“The President’s proposal to create the new Department did not have a well
articulated R&D focus or discrete unit with R&D responsibilities. That was
a conspicuous gap because, as I never tire of pointing out, the war against
terrorism will be won as much in the laboratory as on the battlefield. But
led by the Science Committee, Congress created a Science and Technology
Directorate, headed by an undersecretary, and including a Homeland Security
Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA).

“And the Administration came around pretty quickly to endorsing this R&D
structure and has named a top-notch nominee, Chuck McQueary, who spent much
of his career at Bell Labs, to be the new undersecretary. I had the
pleasure of meeting with Dr. McQueary yesterday.

“It’s too early to tell exactly what the new Department’s R&D agenda will
be or the extent to which it will be carried out at federal laboratories or
at universities – although both will play a role. And, frankly, the
Administration has been frustratingly closed-mouthed so far about how it is
making decisions about how to structure science at the Department, but, one
way or another that will change as the year goes on.

“But what seems beyond a doubt is that the new focus on homeland security
will pump additional money into a wide range of science and engineering
fields and into the Department of Energy, in particular, while posing
questions that will require new, interdisciplinary solutions.”


“There are other positive signs for the physical sciences, as well. For
example, the Administration continues to highlight nanotechnology as one of
its priority, interagency science initiatives – a wise decision. The
Science Committee is working on legislation we hope to introduce in the next
week or two and report out of Committee in late March. Our bill would give
the initiative a statutory basis and clearer funding expectations, and
strengthen its interagency coordination and interdisciplinary focus. Our
counterparts on the Senate Commerce Committee are engaged in a similar
effort, and the Administration is interested in seeing a bill signed into
law this year.

“Interestingly, nanotechnology may be one of the few cases where the
biological aspect of a technology is being relatively underfunded by the
federal government right now. The Department of Energy, the agency that is
usually the focus of this meeting, is a major player in the nanotechnology
field and our bill will only underscore that further.”


“But what is the outlook for DOE science as a whole? Well, while I
wouldn’t expect any startling increases in funding this year or next, I
think the groundwork is being laid to take a serious look at the long-term
needs of the Office of Science.

“First, the Office now has the magnificent leadership of Ray Orbach — as
thoughtful, inspiring and bold a director as one could hope for. Second,
from global climate change to nanotechnology to supercomputing to homeland
security, issues keep arising that bring the Office to the fore in science
policy debates. Third, and perhaps most significantly, the Department
leadership is signaling that it wants to start focusing on strengthening the
Office of Science in future years. And fourth, the Office of Science should
begin to benefit from the growing awareness in Washington that the physical
sciences are relatively underfunded.

“Last year’s ill-fated Energy Bill gave a good indication that Congress was
ready to consider significant increases for the Office of Science. While
the Energy Bill was stymied by major policy disputes over such issues as
electric deregulation and climate change, the House and Senate on a
bipartisan basis did come close to agreement on an R&D title. In fact, only
one issue – whether to create a new undersecretary – remained in dispute.

“My staff spent many late nights in August and September working out the
details, and we have reintroduced last year’s compromise as a new bill this
year, H.R.238. Our bill contains sizable increases for the Office of
Science, authorizing a budget of $5 billion for fiscal 2007.

“We assume that our measure – after further negotiations – will be folded
into the Energy Bill that the House hopes to pass this spring, although no
part of that sentence is a ‘done deal.’

“And, in fact, a lot more work will have to be done by all of us in this
room, if those numbers are ever to materialize as cold, hard cash.

“Some of that work is lobbying, of course: the Office of Science’s work as
a whole is not widely known in Congress, and being part of the Department of
Energy doesn’t exactly strengthen its case in some quarters. But some of
the work we need to do involves thinking – hopefully something that’s not
incompatible with lobbying, in any event. There are lots of tough questions
that need to be answered before proposals to increase Office of Science
funding can be implemented.

“What would a larger budget be used for? What should the balance be
between new large-scale facilities and other ways of conducting science?
What should the balance be between participating in international projects
and continuing domestic ones? Which fields should be emphasized? What
should the balance be between funding federal laboratories and universities?
How can we assure that we have the operating funds to amortize our facility
investments more fully? Do we need a new supercomputing initiative? The
questions go on and on. And they’re questions that we’ll be pursuing in
hearings this year.”


“They’re the kind of questions I had in mind when I promised in my last
speech to you to be the scientific community’s ‘staunchest ally and fairest
critic.’ I hope I’ve lived up to that pledge in my first term as chairman,
and I will continue to endeavor to do so. We have lots of work to do in
these uncertain times.”

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.