Grim Prognosis for NIST Extramural Programs

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Publication date: 
16 June 1995
Number: 
82

Partisan squabbling highlighted yesterday's House Science
Subcommittee on Technology mark-up of two authorization bills for
the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  The
American Technology Advancement Act would authorize funding for
NIST's core laboratory programs and badly-needed construction.
NIST's cooperative programs with industry, the Advanced Technology
Program (ATP) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEP),
were addressed in a second bill, the NIST Industrial Technology
Services Authorization Act.  While authorizing legislation gives
approval and sets spending ceilings for programs, funding is
actually provided by the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations
Subcommittee.

The first bill designated $272.2 million for NIST's intramural
laboratory programs in fiscal year 1996, and $65.5 million for
construction of research facilities (in both cases, more than
FY1995 funding but less than the President's FY1996 request.)  The
second bill authorized "such sums as may be appropriated" for
NIST's ATP and MEP programs, effectively allowing for funding if
appropriators are able, and willing, to do so.  The purpose behind
this strategy, subcommittee chair Connie Morella (R-MD) said, was
to send "the signal to the appropriators that...NIST core funding
and construction must be maintained as the first priority."
Morella said she was operating within budget caps set by House
Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA), and consistent
with the House-passed Budget Resolution.  An avid NIST supporter
(one of NIST's two facilities is in her district), Morella made it
clear that her "preference would be to fully fund every NIST
function.  However, given our commitment to balance the budget,
that simply cannot be the reality."

Her approach was challenged on several fronts by subcommittee
Democrats.  George Brown (D-CA), former science committee chairman,
charged that the subcommittee was not legally bound by any caps and
could authorize any amount they chose for NIST's programs.  He
called the caps an "artful fiction contrived by the chairman of the
full committee," who has long opposed NIST's extramural programs.
John Tanner (D-TN), Paul McHale (D-PA), and other Democrats
complained that while the science committee has scheduled mark-ups
next week for other authorization bills, the bill authorizing ATP
and MEP is not scheduled for discussion, causing those programs to
"die a quiet death." 

After failing to pass an amendment to set specific funding levels
for ATP and MEP in the first bill, the Democrats offered an
amendment that, while keeping Morella's text intact, simply merged
the two bills into one.  This tactic, they insisted, was the only
way to assure that the extramural programs would be debated in the
full committee.  Morella said she believed that the second bill
would receive full committee consideration at some time.  The
appropriators are due to mark up their bill on June 27.  Zoe
Lofgren (D-CA) pointed out that any authorizing legislation not
passed by the full committee by that time would have little effect
on the appropriations process.  The amendment to combine the two
bills failed, 7 to 6, on a party-line vote.  The amendment's
defeat, Tanner said, "puts the final nail in the coffin of both of
these programs."

The authorization bill for NIST's core laboratory programs is
scheduled to be marked-up by the full science committee on June 22.

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