Congress is still in the early stages of the FY 2007 appropriations cycle. Several hearings have been held on President Bush's request for various science and technology programs, with many more still to come. There has been movement on science and technology bills, mostly notably in the Senate. Perhaps most significant of all, the Senate just passed a budgetary planning tool that would provide full funding for proposed significant budget increases for the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Science Foundation, as well as the president's math and science education initiatives. The outlook in the House is much less certain, as evidenced by a prominent Republican appropriator calling on the science community to take action.
The Senate's budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 83) is far from the final word on science and technology funding in the next fiscal year. The budget resolution establishes spending and taxing parameters and is intended to guide the appropriators. The language and Function 250 numbers (the budget category) are very favorable. Under a section entitled "Discretionary Highlights" the committee states:
"Science: The Committee-reported resolution assumes full funding of the President's request for the Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Science Foundation. This funding level will support scientific research tools for economically significant R&D, bolstering K-12 education including Math and Science Partnerships, high-end computing, advanced networking, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and science research. This funding is critical in supporting world-class federal research facilities and advancing innovation and discovery. Within Function 250, the resolution assumes full funding of the President's request for NASA."
"Natural Resources and Environment: The Committee-reported resolution endorses the recommendations of the U. S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The resolution assumes that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is funded at not less than the fiscal year 2006 level."
"Education: The Committee recognizes that a well-educated and skilled workforce is essential to maintaining America's role as a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. In this regard, the Committee-reported resolution includes the President's request for $412 million in 2007 for new math and science education initiatives and programs to ensure students have access to highly skilled teachers."
The Senate resolution's numbers reflect these words. The category known as Function 250 for General Science, Space, and Technology provides research funding for NASA, DOE's general science programs, National Science Foundation, and Department of Homeland Security. The resolution proposes a 5.2% or $1,302 million increase in this spending for FY 2007.
These numbers are far from certain dollars for FY 2007. They do demonstrate the Senate's general concurrence with the president's recommended funding increases for NSF and DOE science programs, the math and science education initiatives, and the NASA request. The absence of these numbers in the budget resolution would have been a negative sign. In other words, so far, so good – in the Senate.
The situation is less clear in the House, as its budget committee delayed markup of its budget resolution until next week. Many observers question whether the House will be able to craft a resolution, and it is uncertain how the committee, and the House leadership, will respond to the president's S&T request. An even larger unknown is whether the Senate and the House will be able to agree on a final document that would play a major role in setting spending parameters.
There is also positive news in the Senate regarding the three bill package, "Protecting American's Competitive Edge" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/013.html.) S. 2197 authorizes an "Advanced Research Projects Authority - Energy" as well as several DOE mathematics, science and engineering initiatives. The bill is cosponsored by 67 senators, was reported without delay out of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and awaits action on the Senate floor. S. 2198, Protecting America's Competitive Edge Through Education and Research Act, has 62 cosponsors. Two hearings have been held on this bill by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The third bill, S. 2199, would increase the tax credit for increasing research activities from 20% to 40% and make the credit permanent. This bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee, and enjoys the support of 62 cosponsors.
The situation in the House is much less certain. The House Republican leadership unveiled H.R. 4845, the Innovation and Competitiveness Act, at a press conference in the Capitol earlier this month. The briefing featured House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) and other senior Republican leaders. The bill has six major titles: "reduce red tape and create opportunities for economic growth" (business activity tax simplification and attorney accountability), "increase America's talent pool" (Innovation Scholarship Program), "promotion of research and development" (research tax credit), "increase access to and efficiency of health care" and "seamless mobility." The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said the top goal is "get the government out of the way." The bill was referred to five House committees, and has six Republican cosponsors. When introducing his bill on the floor, Goodlatte explained, "this legislation will promote research and development by permanently extending the R&D tax credit. Companies know best how to spend their money on research and development, not government bureaucracies." Hastert did, in his remarks, state that the bill was a complement to the American Competitiveness Initiative.
It was of note that during this briefing there was no mention by the senior House leadership of the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, other major research agencies or FY 2007 S&T appropriations. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), speaking toward the end of the presentation, did discuss these topics, and said of the bill, "this package is a fine complement to the spending and programmatic aspects of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, but, we all agree, it is no substitute for them." Boehlert said his committee will be developing its own bills, saying "we want to make sure that we come up with a targeted, affordable set of real solutions, not a laundry list of buzzwords." He later added, "In the meantime, we'll be continuing to work closely with our friends on Appropriations behind the scenes."
Boehlert's Democratic counterpart on the Science Committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN) introduced three bills in late December and early January that would implement many of the major recommendations in the National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/155.html.) HR 4434 incorporates many of the report's K-12 science education recommendations and has 43 cosponsors, all but two of which are Democrats. H.R. 4435 would establish the "Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy" within the Department of Energy. A Science Committee hearing was held on this bill, which now has 31 Democratic cosponsors. H.R. 4596 would authorize appropriations for basic research and research infrastructure for FY 2007 through FY 2011 for NSF, DOE, NASA, and NIST, and basic research activities at DOD. This bill has six Democratic cosponsors.
Appropriations hearings will provide further indications. Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and his colleagues on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce held a hearing on the NSF request for a 7.9% increase earlier this month. Reports state this two-hour hearing went well.
It is difficult to discern the overall thinking of the House regarding the American Competitiveness Initiative and the Administration's budget request for science and technology programs for FY 2007. In contrast to the three Senate bills that enjoy truly bipartisan support, support for the four House bills described above almost completely follows party lines. Last November, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) identified innovation as the Democratic Party's "top priority" in 2006 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/170.html.) H.R. 4845 was the Republican response to this initiative. At the press briefing, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) said he hoped that Congress would work in a bipartisan manner to face the economic challenges posed by nations such as China and India.
Perhaps the framing of the next step that should be taken was best summarized by House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Wolf during the NSF budget hearing. Wolf appealed to individuals in the science community to make every effort to demonstrate support for the historic budget increases for NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST research that were recommended in the American Competitiveness Initiative. See http://www.aip.org/gov/nb1.html for suggestions on how to do so, and easy-to-use links to email systems. Now is the time.