Perhaps one of the most important physics-related research bills that the new Congress will consider has been introduced in the House by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL). H.R. 34, the "Energy and Science Research Investment Act of 2003" would authorize an overall increase in funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science of almost 62% by FY 2007. It is now important to build support for H.R. 34 as Congress drafts the massive energy policy bill.
When adjusted for inflation, federal dollars for DOE's Office of Science have remained at the1990 level. During this time, the budget for the National Institutes of Health has increased markedly, with the Defense Department's S&T budget increasing as well during later years. The National Science Foundation's annual appropriations have also increased at a healthy rate, and an authorization bill was recently signed into law calling for an eventual doubling of the foundation's budget over the next five years. The DOE Office of Science (SC) budget has stagnated during these years.
In the last Congress, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) successfully included a provision in the Senate's version of the comprehensive energy bill to authorize substantial increases in the SC budget. An earlier House-passed version of the energy bill lacked such language. As the House and Senate moved to resolve differences between the two versions, Biggert sponsored a bill to demonstrate Member support for the Office of Science to the House leadership. Her efforts were successful since last year's bill, H.R. 5270, was cosponsored by 96 Republican and Democratic members.
When Congress adjourns, all bills that have not been enacted die. Legislation must be reintroduced, and the process starts anew. That is what has now happened with Biggert's legislation, now known as H.R. 34 in this new Congress.
Biggert's bill calls for an increase of approximately 8% for FY 2004 (the budget that the President will send to Congress next month.) That would be followed by increases of 11%, 15%, and 15% in the subsequent three years. The FY 2007 authorization level would be $5.31 billion, compared to the current budget (FY 2002) of $3.28 billion. This is an increase of $2.03 billion, or 61.9%.
H.R. 34 makes important administrative changes as well. An Under Secretary of Energy Research and Science would be created, with authority over all DOE-funded civilian science at the non weapons national laboratories and research universities. A new Assistant Secretary of Science would replace the current SC "director" position. Finally, a Science Advisory Board would be established consisting of the chairs of DOE's advisory panels.
Before going home last December, significant progress was made by House and Senate conferees on the SC portions of the comprehensive energy bill. The compromise language contained solid authorization numbers. The much larger bill failed due to disagreements about other provisions relating to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, climate change, electricity market restructuring, and renewable energy. Action is expected on this legislation in this new Congress, although these same issues remain highly controversial.
Members of the House will return to find their mailboxes stuffed with letters from their colleagues and constituents asking for Member support of various bills. Identifying what bills are important to constituents is often determined by the amount of mail and other expressions of support Members of Congress receive from these constituents. The House of Representatives maintains a very easy-to-use web site that facilities such communication at http://www.house.gov/writerep/
H.R. 34 now has 43 cosponsors. That number must grow substantially for the provisions of this legislation to receive the attention of the House leadership.