Upbeat Hearing for OSTP Director John Marburger

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Publication date: 
6 April 2006

While not all federal science and technology programs were discussed during the April 4 House appropriations subcommittee hearing with OSTP Director John Marburger, it provided critical insight into how key appropriators view important components of the FY 2007 S&T budget request. Almost all indications were positive.

Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and his colleagues on the House Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee met with Marburger for almost two hours. While there was a brief mention of the budget request for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the majority of the time was given to a thoughtful discussion of American science and technology and appropriate supportive federal policy. Wolf began by congratulating and thanking Marburger for his efforts in crafting the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). Wolf quickly added that it would be an "enormous challenge" to fund all of the Administration's FY 2007 budget initiatives.

Wolf and his colleagues are worried about the state of science and technology in the U.S. Wolf spent considerable time discussing a January "Business Week" article on the importance of mathematics to the future prosperity of American businesses, with the chairman distressed about two stellar U.S. mathematicians who were recently hired by Canadian universities.

Marburger's testimony was well-received. He explained that the ACI does not attempt to increase basic research funding in every area, or even in every physical science field. This does not mean, Marburger said, that programs not tied directly to future competitiveness are not priorities, citing the requested 3.2% budget increase for NASA. The funding challenge, Marburger said, was maintaining the Administration's focus on programs that are likely to strengthen U.S. competitiveness. His written testimony amplified his remarks:

"ACI refocuses the federal R&D portfolio by placing increased emphasis on fundamental research in key areas of the physical sciences and engineering, similar to the increases in fundamental biomedical research over the last decade. A broad consensus exists that these are the most important areas for generating additional breakthroughs that drive the economy, and these are also the areas of the federal R&D portfolio most in need of additional resources. They deserve priority in the FY07 budget over all other R&D, except perhaps for selected programs supporting national and homeland security."

Wolf responded to Marburger's opening testimony by first remarking that last year's FY 2006 S&T budget request did not reflect widespread concerns about U.S. science and technology. He called the FY 2007 ACI "a very welcome change," adding that the Administration "had stepped up to the plate."

Rep. Robert "Bud" Cramer (D-AL) asked Marburger to explain how future S&T funding will be structured. Marburger explained funding will not target specific research fields, but rather agencies who support research, primarily in the physical sciences, that will strengthen U.S. competitiveness. Every agency, Marburger said, will determine its own portfolio. When Cramer asked why NASA was not included in the ACI, Marburger replied that historically NASA funding has been "much closer to what it needs." Additionally, while NASA funding enables important scientific discoveries, they are "not as impactful on competitiveness."

Dave Weldon (R-FL) called the ACI "a really important priority." He somewhat disputed Marburger's characterization of NASA's research, pointing out that many children identify human space flight as a motivator for their interest in science. Weldon and Marburger then discussed what the congressman called "serious ethical issues" in some possible applications of nanotechnology. Marburger said a workshop will be held on the societal impacts of nanotechnology before this fall's PCAST meeting.

Ranking Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) wanted Marburger to explain his views on global warming, the congressman saying, "there is so much confusing talk about global warming and its consequences." Marburger replied that this subject had become "very polarized, very contentious." Continuing, he said there was "no question the Earth is warming," and there was "no question the industrialization of the world" is increasing CO2 "that probably is a concern." Marburger stated that new, stable energy technologies need to be developed and concluded, "in my view, the approach of this administration has been sound." He pointed to the expenditure of federal research dollars to understand global warming, and said the Administration is working with China and India on future strategies.

Two points were raised by Wolf of note. The first was the chairman's interest in a large monetary prize to encourage a major innovation breakthrough, Wolf citing the book "Longitude" as an example. Wolf wants Marburger's feedback on this idea before the subcommittee marks up its FY 2007 bill. The chairman was also worried about the requested cut of 18% or $160 million in NASA's aeronautics research program. "I think that's going to be your problem this year," said Wolf, who felt that advances in such research are important.

As this hearing concluded, Mollohan seemed to speak for the subcommittee, and he said, for Congress, when he spoke of the rapid advances there have been in China and India and their ramifications, saying "It's the trend line that people worry about."

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