Conflicting Perspectives: Veto Threatened of NSF, NASA, NIST Funding Bill

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Publication date: 
15 October 2007

With the return of the Senate this week, consideration will resume of its version of the FY 2008 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill. The bill will pass the Senate, clearing the way for a conference with House appropriators to write the final version of this "must pass" funding legislation. As it now stands, this conference report (or final bill) will be vetoed by President Bush.

The overriding reason for the veto threat is a $22 billion spending gap between the President and the Congress. That is the difference between the amount of money that the President and the Congress want to spend for discretionary programs in the fiscal year that began fifteen days ago. Each side has staked out its position.

On October 4, the Office of Management and Budget released a Statement of Administration Policy on this bill, S. 1745. Using language paralleling that in other statements on FY 2008 appropriations bills, OMB criticized this bill for "an irresponsible and excessive level of spending," and explained:

"S. 1745 exceeds the President’s request for programs funded in this bill by $3.2 billion, part of the $22 billion increase above the President’s request for FY 2008 appropriations. The Administration has asked that Congress demonstrate a path to live within the President’s topline and cover the excess spending in this bill through reductions elsewhere. Because Congress has failed to demonstrate such a path, if S. 1745 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill."

In addition to the overall level of spending, the OMB Statement commented on specific provisions of this bill that are of interest to the physics community:

AMERICAN COMPETITIVENESS INITIATIVE: "The Administration commends the [Appropriations] Committee’s implementation of ACI with its strong support for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the standards and research activities of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, the Administration does not support the additional $100 million above the request allocated to education programs in NSF nor the use of the NIST construction account to fund substantial earmarks for non-Federal facilities, which are not competitively selected or targeted to national needs, and are generally unrelated to NIST’s primary mission."

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE: "The Administration appreciates the strong support shown for Commerce programs, particularly in the areas of science, environmental stewardship, and the 2010 decennial census. However, the Senate has included nearly $800 million of unrequested funding for the Department." The Statement mentioned several programs by name, including: "The Administration also opposes the additional $154 million . . . provided for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program and the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). MEP centers can be sustained with reduced Federal funding by reducing costs such as excessive marketing activities and through increased contributions from clients for MEP consulting services that most firms secure through the private sector. The Administration believes that ATP, which was headed for termination in FY 2007, subsidizes commercial research and development activities that are inappropriate for Federal funding and should be supported by private investment. The Administration also believes that the Technology Innovation Program, the recently authorized follow-on program to ATP, does not warrant funding given the competing budgetary needs."

NASA: "The Administration supports the Senate’s full funding for NASA’s Exploration Systems, Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and Aeronautics, but does not endorse funding in excess of the request for Science. In addition, the micromanaging of funding allocations specified in the Committee report would inhibit program managers’ ability to make effective and efficient decisions in support of ongoing mission activities."

The Senate floor debate provides a different perspective on this bill. Said Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD):

"The CJS bill totals $54 billion in discretionary budget authority. Did we spend more than the President asked for? You bet we did. We are proud that our bill is $3.2 billion above the President's budget request. . . . We added $1 billion above the President's request for science, education and economic development to foster job creation--for jobs that will stay in this country and to inspire and train our future scientists and engineers. We based our funding levels on the best ideas from outside experts like the National Academy of Sciences. We took the politics out of science. The CJS bill implements the framework of the recently enacted America COMPETES Act. This bipartisan legislation recommended investments in science and education to improve America's global competitiveness." She later added: "Let me be clear – we didn't overspend; the President under funded."

In his remarks, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the subcommittee's Ranking Republican, explained his support of the bill:

"This bill funds a number of our Nation's most important programs and initiatives . . . . I thank Senator Mikulski, the chair of the committee. She works well with us, our staffs work together, and we tried to bring forth a bill that reflects our strong bipartisan relationship. This bill was crafted with a tight allocation of $54 billion. Within these limitations, the subcommittee was forced to strike a difficult balance between the competing priorities of law enforcement, terrorism prevention, research, space exploration, and U.S. competitiveness through investing in science." Shelby later added: "the funding provides more than the request for the American Competitiveness Initiative, ACI, and lays the groundwork to address the concerns laid out in the National Academy of Sciences 'Gathering Storm' report. This investment helps keep the competitive edge our Nation holds in the world economy. By focusing on the ingenuity of our people, we will remain at the forefront of scientific and technical advancement for generations to come. In a year when discretionary dollars are scarce, Chairwoman Mikulski and I have worked together to find ways to ensure that the priorities of our Nation and our States are met. I urge all my colleagues to join with us in supporting this bill and expediting its passage."