Status Report

AIP FYI #23: Good News/Bad News: Senate Appropriations Hearing on NSF Budget

By SpaceRef Editor
February 27, 2004
Filed under , ,

One of the most important hearings for the National Science
Foundation was held yesterday by the Senate, VA, HUD, and
Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. The hearing
produced both good news and bad news.

The good news: Subcommittee Chairman Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO)
and Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), are united in
their support for the NSF. Both believe that the foundation and its
programs are essential for the nation’s security and economic
prosperity. Both expressed deep disappointment in the Bush
Administration’s 3% requested increase for NSF. Bond and Mikulski
each said that they wanted to increase the foundation’s budget for
next year.

The bad news: there is very little money. Bond’s words neatly
summarize the situation: “OMB’s budget request for NSF is
disappointing given the scientific, economic, and educational
importance of its programs. However, with major funding shortfalls
throughout the VA-HUD account, it is going to be a major and perhaps
an impossible challenge to find additional funds for NSF for FY
2005. I am committed to NSF, but this year’s budget is the most
difficult I have seen in years. I want to work with the
Administration, but we need to find ways to increase NSF’s budget as
we move forward, if not this year, next year.”

Bond and Mikulski have long shared common views regarding NSF, and
work well together. Indicative of their working relationship was
how Mikulski initially chaired the hearing while Bond was at another
important hearing – an example of bipartisanship that is rarely seen
today on Capitol Hill. Mikulski cited the NSF authorization bill
that President Bush signed a little over a year ago, comparing the
authorized level of $7.3 billion with the President’s request of
$5.7 billion, a $1.7 billion shortfall. She, like Bond, is not only
disappointed with the request, but with some of its components.

Both senators have expressed much support for NSF’s education
programs, and each criticized the Administration’s proposal to phase
out NSF’s Math-Science Partnership Program. This plan seems doomed,
as key members of the House Science Committee also expressed
opposition to this proposal. Bond and Mikulski heavily criticized
proposed Administration funding reductions to minority programs,
informal science education, undergraduate, and tech talent
programs. The chairman was troubled by an 11% proposed cut to the
EPSCoR program that targets underserved states. Both senators used
words like “troubled,” “disappointed,” “disagree,” and “wrong,” when
describing the Administration’s NSF request, and their reaction to

The promise of nanotechnology was discussed by both senators,
although they worry that public fears could derail it as has
occurred with genetically modified foods. Mikulski urged that NSF
“engage with the critics,” listen to their fears, and then “meet
concerns head on” with a public education campaign.

Bond told the Administration witnesses, OSTP Director John
Marburger, NSF Acting Director Arden Bement (who was serving his
fourth day in this position), and National Science Board Chairman
Warren Washington that he is still troubled by the foundation’s
large facility project prioritization process. “NSF must have a
priority-setting process that is credible, fair, rational and
transparent. Until then, it will be difficult for me to support any
new MREFC [Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction]
proposals.” Bond, and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) asked about the
status of the proposed Homestake Mine underground laboratory. NSF
will hold a meeting on this proposal in March. The witnesses
assured the senators that the foundation was following its
traditional peer review approach to this proposal and would keep the
subcommittee informed about any developments, an answer that
appeared to be satisfactory to the senators.

The House VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations
Subcommittee will be holding its NSF hearing in about a month.
Those appropriators are unlikely to have any more money to work with
than their Senate counterparts. For those supporting a larger
increase than the 3% that the Administration has proposed, Senator
Mikulski’s words at yesterday’s hearing are worth remembering:
“Senator Bond and I are committed to doubling NSF’s budget. It’s
bipartisan and bicameral. But we cannot do it alone.”

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.