The House and Senate Budget Committees are now working on a general budget plan for the next fiscal year. Known as a budget resolution, this plan recommends levels of funding for various functions of the federal government. One of these functions includes the budgets for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and NASA. It is known as Function 250. Not all science spending is covered by this function.
If the House and Senate can agree on a final budget resolution, known as a concurrent budget resolution, its most important role will be establishing an overall level for spending and for revenues. The line item amounts for various functions are guidance; the appropriations committees make their own decisions. The budget resolution does, however, make a statement about how federal funding should be allocated.
On Wednesday, Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) appeared before the House Budget Committee. Selections from Ehlers' testimony on R&D spending follow:
"The Committee faces many difficult choices in order to balance these priorities, control the deficit and perhaps review our considerable mandatory and discretionary spending commitments within this year's austere budget environment.
"In making these choices, we must not overlook the fact that scientific research and development underpins our economic and national security. Scientific research and development forms the foundation of increased innovation, economic vitality and national security. Scientific research is an investment that promises, and has historically delivered, significant returns on that investment. As you begin the budget process, I strongly urge you to give high priority to scientific research and development and math and science education.
"For the past several years, research and development funding for defense, weapons development, biomedical sciences, and national security has increased while other areas of federal research and development, especially basic research in the physical sciences, has remained flat or declined in real terms. The President's FY 2005 request of $132 billion for research and development continues this trend.
"Basic research and science education are essential to advances in medicine, military applications and continued economic prosperity, including the development of cancer therapies, GPS- or laser-guided missiles, and the Internet. As a nation, we cannot afford to starve basic science research and education.
"With this in mind, I urge you to make the basic research components of function 250 a top priority in the FY 2005 budget. I want to particularly emphasize several basic science research and development programs that deserve Congress' utmost attention: the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."
"The President's FY 2005 request of $422 million for NIST's labs is an $85 million (22 percent) increase over the levels enacted in FY 2004. But, it is important to note that NIST's FY 2004 enacted budget was $22 million below the FY 2003 appropriation, primarily due to significant cuts in NIST's core laboratory account. I believe that the FY 2005 request for NIST's labs should be considered the absolute minimum required for NIST to carry out its critical research activities.
"I am very concerned about the FY 2005 request for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. The FY 2004 appropriation cut the funding for MEP by more than 65 percent. Manufacturers throughout the country have expressed dismay that the FY 2005 request did not seek to restore this cut. I fear that if we embrace this request, it will cripple this program's ability to promote innovation among small and medium-size manufacturers as they adapt to the globalized economy, and further antagonize the beleaguered manufacturers."
"The NSF FY 2005 budget request of $5.75 billion is a 3 percent increase; however, it is $1.6 billion below the authorized funding level necessary to complete the commitment Congress made to double NSF funding in 2002. I continue to support this doubling commitment, and I regret that in this austere budget environment it may not be immediately possible to fulfill this obligation. I urge the Committee to provide NSF with the highest possible budget allocation this year."
"The FY 2005 budget request for the [Department of Energy's] Office of Science is $3.43 billion - a decrease of 2 percent from the FY 2004 enacted level. I respectfully request that the Committee provide the Office of Science with a budget that reflects the critical role that it plays in maintaining our economic and military pre-eminence. Of special importance is the need to provide an additional $200 million to the Office of Science to develop the leadership class of supercomputers and regain our lost lead in that field.
"The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) is an agency in transition. The President has challenged NASA to begin a new era in its history and accept a mission that will take it beyond low-earth- orbit and the space station. This mission will be costly and will pose significant technical obstacles that will only be solved through basic research. Although NASA's FY 2005 budget request of $16.2 billion includes an increase of $866 million dollars, most of the increase would go to returning the shuttle to flight and building the International Space Station. NASA research and development would increase by 3.8 percent to $11.3 billion; however, development and R&D facilities construction would take priority while basic and applied research funding would actually decline (down 3.4 percent). Basic science and engineering research underpin all of NASA's major accomplishments as well as many of the technologies you and I use everyday. I urge you to protect NASA's future by supporting its basic research accounts and making the function 250 budget a significant concern.
"I realize that the fate of many of the programs I have highlighted in this testimony lies not with you, but with the appropriations committee. While the budget does not spell out exact funding for these programs, I believe that you can send a strong signal about their importance to the appropriations committee by making basic research funding in function 250 a top priority in the FY 2005 budget. Behind your lead, I, along with many colleagues who also support science funding, will fight for these programs throughout the budget process. When faced with the difficult choices you must make this year, I urge you to remember that we cannot afford to sacrifice the research and education which current and future generations need to ensure their economic prosperity and domestic security."