Status Report

AIP FYI #24: Science Committee Questions Level, Balance of Federal Research

By SpaceRef Editor
February 23, 2002
Filed under , ,

“The Congress, led by this Committee, will have to show its
mettle and provide an infusion of cash for the rest of the
research budget, even in these straitened times.” – Science
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert

At a wide-ranging February 13 hearing on the President’s FY 2003
budget request for R&D, House Science Committee members
generally supported the budget’s emphasis on anti-terrorism,
homeland and economic security, and health research, but also
indicated that they would try to find additional funds for
science programs. As Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said,
the budget priorities are “reasonable” and “self-evident” and
“deserve to be funded more generously than are other programs.”
But he added that “the focusing of the proposed R&D budget on
two narrowly defined priority areas [defense and health] has
left the spending for other agencies anemic.” He later
commented that if it were not for defense and national security
needs, “this committee collectively would be madder than hell,
to put it bluntly,” at the funding levels for some parts of the
science enterprise.

Noting that the requested $3.9 billion increase in the NIH
budget is larger than the entire research budget of NSF,
Boehlert raised concerns about balance in the federal research
portfolio that were echoed by other committee members. He also
called proposals to transfer programs from NOAA, USGS, and EPA
into NSF “well meaning, but largely wrong-2ed.” Ranking
Minority Member Ralph Hall (D-TX) agreed with Boehlert’s remarks
and added that without these transfers, NSF would see “only a
small increase,” with cuts to physics and chemistry research.

“The priorities of the nation drastically changed in a matter of
a few hours” after September 11, OSTP Director John Marburger
testified. While the budget reflects three primary goals – the
war on terrorism, homeland security, and reviving the economy –
he pointed out that R&D is up eight percent, with increases for
a number of research areas: nanotechnology, information
technology, health, and climate change. He added that this
budget will fulfill President Bush’s campaign promise to double
the NIH budget by FY 2003.

Witnesses for the Department of Commerce, NSF, and DOE discussed
their budget requests. Deputy Commerce Secretary Samuel Bodman
stated that while NIST labs would receive increased funding,
substantial reductions are proposed for the Advanced Technology
Program (ATP) and Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). He
and Commerce Secretary Don Evans “spent considerable time”
reviewing ATP and he believed that, if their recommendations
were followed, it could be a successful program that they would
“enthusiastically support.” According to NSF Director Rita
Colwell, highlights of the NSF request include Math and Science
Partnerships to improve K-12 education and an increase in
graduate student stipends; other priority areas include nano-
and information technologies, math and statistics, the Science
of Learning Centers, an initiative on technology and society,
and environmental biocomplexity. She acknowledged that the
request includes $76 million in transfers from other agencies.
DOE Chief Financial Officer Bruce Carnes broadly described DOE’s
R&D programs, stating that the budget reflects efforts to
refocus DOE priorities to the Department’s new primary mission
of national security. He spent little time on Office of Science
programs except to note that priorities included support of
science user facilities and infrastructure improvements.

The topic drawing most Members’ attention was balance in the
federal R&D investment. While none opposed the level of funding
for NIH, Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Bob Etheridge (D-NC) and
others argued that without sufficient funding of areas like
physics and chemistry, the tools and background knowledge to
advance the health sciences would not be developed. Boehlert
commented that while the NIH budget represents about half of the
total federal S&T budget, he was not convinced that NIH had “a
monopoly on important science opportunities.” Ehlers asked
Marburger whether the completion of the commitment to double NIH
funding meant that additional money might then be available for
other areas of science. Although saying that “hopefully” the
end of the NIH doubling effort “will remove some constraints on
the ability to fund other priority areas…in the future,”
Marburger said there had to be “some basis for distributing
money” across the science enterprise. He stressed that the
Administration was looking for reasons for “singling out one
area or another” for investment and, if that basis were
complexity, increases for NIH would be justified. The ability
to unravel the structure of DNA, he said, is going to provide an
“extraordinary, enormous, huge” opportunity to understand the
molecular basis of life. Ehlers responded that, if the measure
were complexity, astrophysics should be getting the most
funding, and urged Marburger to consider such decisions

Ehlers and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also questioned the cuts to
NIST’s ATP and MEP programs. Bodman said the proposed
modifications to ATP would eliminate “inappropriate corporate
subsidies” by enabling universities and small companies to
receive more ATP funding. Regarding MEP, he believed the
Administration had raised “a fair question” for how long federal
funding for the centers should continue, but “whether it is
reasonable to expect these centers to exist without federal
support, I don’t have a quick answer.”

There was also much discussion of new research and technology
initiatives in climate change; Marburger said these new programs
were focused on areas that bear directly on climate change
policy decisions. A number of committee members felt that
federal climate change research has discriminated against
scientists with unpopular viewpoints, but Marburger explained
that most of the research expenditures were awarded in open
competition and determined by the aspects of climate change
needing investigated, rather than on the scientist’s point of

Other areas of questioning included the investment in aerospace
technology, nuclear fuel reprocessing, inter-agency
coordination, the President’s Management Agenda, and science
education. Now that he has been in office for a few months,
Marburger said, he feels that the mechanism to coordinate
research across the agencies and eliminate duplication “works
better than I might have expected.” Noting that OMB was
intending to develop performance measures for basic research,
Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) asked whether the agencies had
sufficient expertise to assess the basic research portfolio.
Marburger replied that he was working on the issue, with input
from all the R&D agencies and from numerous reports, including a
“significant” study put out several years ago by the National
Academy of Sciences. Questioned by Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN)
about science education, Colwell responded that NSF was looking
at its education programs to “find what works,” and then
applying that to the Math and Science Partnerships, “which I’m
very excited about.”

Gutknecht praised the witnesses for “the work all of you do,”
and, noting that it would be a difficult budget year, said the
committee would “probably do…nip and tucking as we go along”
to see if it could “improve the plight of some of these


Audrey T. Leath

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094


SpaceRef staff editor.