Year in Review: Science Policy Developments in 1992

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Publication date: 
7 January 1993
Number: 
2

Trying to characterize science policy developments in physics and
astronomy in 1992 is difficult at best.  Some projects continued to
receive significant budget increases while other facilities were
closed.  Department and agency budgets had uneven growth.  Despite
the ups and downs in federal funding, new attention was given to
scientific advances as a key component of a national economic
strategy.  Here are some of the major physics and astronomy policy
developments in 1992:

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION:

The rising tide of money which NSF enjoyed in recent years seems to
have crested, at least temporarily, for the fiscal year starting on
October 1, 1992.  Although the budget grew by 6.3% over the
previous year, spending for Research and Related Activities was cut
by $13 million.  Astronomical sciences and physics budgets declined
by 7.9% and 7.2%, respectively.  The geosciences budget declined by
a minimal amount, while materials research funding grew by 4.9%.
Education and Human Resources money increased by 6.3%.  LIGO
funding in 1993 is tentatively set at $43 million (subject to
further review), with observatories to be located in Washington and
Louisiana.  Gemini 8-meter telescope funding for 1993 is $14
million, subject to conditions and further evaluation.

Last fall, a blue-ribbon commission on the future of the agency
concluded that NSF should largely hold to its present course while
exploring opportunities for increased attention to national
economic goals.  It remains to be seen how the agency will deal
with calls on Capitol Hill for it to expand its portfolio of
activities.

President-elect Clinton has pledged to maintain the agency's budget
to at least allow for inflation.  He indicated the over-all budget
situation will have to improve before additional money is
requested.  Details on Clinton's fiscal year 1994 budget request
(for all departments and agencies) are not expected before
mid-March.

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY: 

Reflecting the changing international environment, DOE Secretary
James Watkins declared early in 1992 that "DOE is migrating to more
plowshares than swords."  Both Congress and the Bush Administration
explored new roles for the national laboratories, an issue which
will receive increased attention in 1993. 

After surviving an attempt by the House of Representatives to kill
the Superconducting Super Collider, the project's budget grew from
$484 million to $517 million, considerably less than the $650
million request.  A sense of some uneasiness still characterizes
the project's future, both nationally and internationally, although
President-elect Clinton supports the SSC.

DOE magnetic fusion funding was stable, with most efforts now
focused on ITER.  Several facilities were closed, or are closing.
Nuclear physics funding declined from $354 to $309 million, with
facilities scheduled for closure.  High energy physics funding
declined from $628 million to $613 million, providing only half of
the administration's $30 million request for the Fermilab Main
Injector upgrade. 

NASA:

1992 was an eventful year for NASA.  The space agency weathered a
change of administrator, prevailed in a congressional battle to
kill the Space Station, endured negative real growth in its fiscal
year 1993 budget and, most recently, underwent dramatic
organizational changes.

Budget caps on discretionary programs gave lawmakers very little
leeway in the fiscal 1993 appropriations process.  NASA's fiscal
1993 budget of $14.3 billion was essentially frozen at the fiscal
1992 level.  Space Station Freedom also received funding at the
1992 level of $2.1 billion.  Space science program CRAF was
canceled, while NASA was forced to continue the congressionally
popular ASRM at $360 million.  Admiral Richard Truly was replaced
as administrator by TRW Vice President Daniel Goldin, whose
emphasis on smaller, cheaper, faster missions was well-received on
Capitol Hill. 

NASA survived an amendment in the House by VA/HUD appropriations
chairman Bob Traxler (D-Michigan) to terminate the Space Station,
and a similar amendment in the Senate by Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas).
Traxler, an outspoken Space Station foe, retired from Congress at
the end of 1992.  Cancellation of the Space Station is expected to
be less of a priority for his successor, Louis Stokes (D-Ohio).

In October, new administrator Goldin asserted his leadership after
six months as agency head by reshuffling the organization and
splitting up the Office of Space Science and Applications into two
parts.  Whether Goldin's actions win him favor with the Clinton
Administration remains to be seen.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

University overhead rates continued to come under review, with
final regulations nearing completion.... "We have stopped being
your enemy," declared a senior Russian official, with the U.S.
government (as well as AIP and its some of its Member Societies)
responding with cooperative assistance programs....  Pork barrel
politics heated up last year: President Bush's proposed rescissions
were met by Senator Robert Byrd's (D-West Virginia) proposal to
delete funding for 31 NSF grants.  The still unresolved issue
carried over to the final passage of the DOE and DOD appropriations
bills.... Proposed government regulations barring participation by
federal employees in professional society activities were withdrawn
(and not likely to resurface for a long time)...  DOD requested FY
1993 SDI funding of $5.48 billion; $3.8 billion was approved....
Key players affecting science policy changed as a result of the
November election, with Senator Al Gore soon to change his address
on Pennsylvania Avenue.