Yesterday’s hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee provided a first indication of congressional reaction to the Obama Administration’s FY 2010 request for science and technology budgets. Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren was the sole witness, and was praised by committee members on both sides of the dais.
This one hour, twenty minute hearing was the first of several hearings on the request. It afforded Holdren an opportunity to outline the Administration’s positions on S&T funding and policy, and for Members to highlight their areas of interest.
Funding is always a concern, which Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) addressed in his opening remarks when he said “we are facing tough budget times and we won’t always have new money at hand.” Holdren addressed funding early in his own statement, telling committee members that an analysis of the FY 2009 and FY 2010 R&D budget numbers must include the funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that was passed earlier this year and which will be spent in both years. He also noted a requested increase in non-defense R&D FY 2010 funding and a proposed reduction in defense R&D spending. Said Holdren: “With the estimated $13.3 billion in FY2009 dollars added by ARRA to the research funding for FY2009 and FY2010, and with Congressional approval of the President’s proposal for the latter, these two years will provide the largest Federal investments in research in U.S. history. This follows four years of real decline in this category from FY2004 to FY2008.”
Holdren told the committee that the FY 2010 request “sustains the President’s commitment to double the budgets for three key basic research agencies over a decade” as authorized in the America COMPETES Act for the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, and the NIST laboratories. Earlier, Ranking Republican Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) praised the Obama Administration for requesting this level of funding, citing “deep bipartisan support” for the COMPETES legislation. Hall wondered, however, about the ability of the Administration to ensure that 3 percent of US GDP will be devoted to R&D.
There was less agreement about NASA. While the FY 2010 request would add almost a billion dollars to the agency’s budget, in addition to a billion dollars in the ARRA, some Republican and Democratic members expressed reservations about the Administration’s intentions. Concerns were voiced about the time it has taken to select a new NASA administrator with Holdren telling the committee an announcement would soon be made. Members asked about the Administration’s plans for manned space flight missions, and the blue-ribbon panel to examine this program. Holdren’s written testimony addressed this: “As President Obama has emphasized on a number of occasions, he remains committed to U.S. participation in human as well as robotic space exploration, including sending astronauts beyond low-earth orbit.”His testimony then continued, “Reconciling these aspirations with NASA’s other missions in an era of budget constraint remains a great challenge, however, and to help with it as we contemplate the budgets looking forward from FY2010 to the ‘out years,’ the Administration is establishing a blue-ribbon team of experts who will work closely with NASA to re-examine human space flight activities beyond the scheduled retirement of the Space Shuttle at the end of calendar 2010. The goal for the review, which will report to me and the NASA Administrator, is to be sure that all of the options for achieving as many of our human spaceflight goals as possible in this crucial period, consistent with also fulfilling NASA’s other missions, have been identified and carefully analyzed.”
Other NASA questions concerned the feasibility of returning Americans to the moon by 2020, the Administration’s “vision” for the agency, the five-year gap after the shuttle is retired for its replacement, the recent Russian announcement that it will charge $51 million per seat for Soyuz return transportation to the space station, the problem of space debris, the entrance of China into space transportation, and future layoffs of NASA personnel. The Administration’s selection of Augustine to chair the NASA committee was praised by Ranking Member Hall; Holdren said that the other committee members that will be announced in the near future are also very praiseworthy.
Holdren’s answers to a wide range of other questions were well-received. Members asked about the protection of the world’s oceans, funding for social sciences, international scientific cooperation, patent law reform, scientific integrity, the use of science in policy making, energy (fossil, biofuels, solar), DOE’s proposed Energy Innovation Hubs, the NSF request for its Education and Human Resources Directorate, green buildings, energy storage technologies, the clean up of nuclear legacy waste, the funding formula for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and avoiding the “boom and bust” cycle that has characterized science funding.
This is the first of a number of hearings that will be held in coming months on the Administration’s FY 2010 S&T request. Next week, Science Committee members will have a chance to ask additional questions about one of their major topics of concern when the committee is scheduled to have a hearing on the FY 2010 NASA budget request.