Eight Democratic and Republican senators have sent a letter to the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for $350 million in additional current year funding for the DOE Office of Science and the National Science Foundation. Under their proposal, $250 million would be allocated to the Office of Science, and $100 million to the National Science Foundation.
The March 17 letter was signed by senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bob Corker (R-TN), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).
The FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act that was passed in late December fell substantially short of the Administration's requests for the DOE Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Under the American Competitiveness Initiative, funding for the three agencies would be doubled over ten years. NSF's FY 2008 appropriation was $364 million less than the request. The DOE Office of Science appropriation was almost $504 million less than what was requested. NIST's research budget was approximately $60 million under the request.
When Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Bill it provided only partial war funding, with the understanding that additional - or supplemental - funding would be appropriated this year. This supplemental appropriations bill may come before Congress in the next few weeks.
The Administration has signaled its strong desire to keep the supplemental "clean," with no funding provided for any other program than for war fighting efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is concern that if the supplemental is opened up to provide funding for other departments and agencies that it will become too costly. The letter recognizes this position, stating: "We anticipate there win be a strong push by the Administration and others for a supplemental appropriations bill that focuses funding solely on the troops, and we understand that desire. However, should the Committee choose to include additional funding. . . ."
Securing this additional funding will not be easy. The supplemental appropriations bill is, however, the best and perhaps only route for partially closing the FY 2008 funding shortfall for the Office of Science and NSF. A previous effort to obtain this funding in the economic stimulus bill was not successful, and the possibility of a second supplemental bill is speculative.
The letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) follows:
"Dear Chairman Byrd and Ranking Member Cochran:
"We are writing to request that an additional $350 million in emergency funding be included in the Fiscal Year 2008 supplemental appropriations bill for critical science programs administered by the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Science Foundation (NSF). We anticipate there win be a strong push by the Administration and others for a supplemental appropriations bill that focuses funding solely on the troops, and we understand that desire. However, should the Committee choose to include additional funding, this emergency funding is needed to support our critically important scientific workforce, avoid cost increases to our major scientific projects, and fulfill commitments to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project.
"Specifically, we ask that $250 million be allocated for the Office of Science, and $100 million be allocated to the National Science Foundation. The $250 million for the Office of Science will help keep our commitments to the ITER Project, ensure that we retain Fermi Laboratory as our nation's premier high physics facility, and provide the funding necessary to ensure that other major Department of Energy facilities in California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Virginia can continue to meet our nation's scientific needs. The $100 million for NSF would provide additional graduate fellowships and research grants at our nation's universities, while helping maintain new initiatives in supercomputing and high-speed networking.
"ITER is a multinational scientific project and has been one of the Office of Science's top priorities for the last several years. The President's proposed budget tor Fiscal Year 2008 included $l60 million for the project. It is imperative that Congress appropriate supplemental funding for ITER as soon as possible to keep our commitments to our international partners, keep this important project on track, and avoid losses in scientific talent among U.S.-based employees working on ITER.
"The Office of Science and the National Science Foundation are key elements of the bipartisan America COMPETES Act, which passed Congress overwhelmingly last year. The funds requested in this letter will help restore the broad policy outlines in that bill to ensure our nation remains competitive in our global economy.
"We recognize the pressure you face to minimize the size of supplemental appropriations bills in the face competing budgetary priorities. However, we strongly believe that it is necessary to provide critically needed research funding immediately to avoid unintended and permanent damage to our critical scientific infrastructure and our standing in the world as the leader in science."
The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation and the Association of American Universities have applauded the action taken by these senators. The statement issued by the Task Force, to which AIP and the American Physical Society belong, is available here. The AAU statement can be read here.