House Science Committee Acts to Save NIST Laboratories

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Publication date: 
15 September 1995

In both chambers of Congress, bills to dismantle the Department of
Commerce are making the rounds (see FYI #125).  The main bill in
the House, H.R. 1756, sponsored by Rep. Dick Chrysler (R-MI), has
been referred to 11 different committees, each of which has
jurisdiction over some part of it.  The House Science Committee,
chaired by Robert Walker (R-PA), held a hearing on the proposal on
September 12, and then on September 14 marked up the science- and
technology-related portion of Chrysler's bill.

In addition to abolishing the Commerce Department, the bill would
attempt to sell NIST's laboratories and those of NOAA's Office of
Oceanic and Atmospheric Research "to a private sector entity
intending to perform substantially the same functions as were
performed by the laboratories."  It also terminates NIST's Advanced
Technology Program (ATP) and Manufacturing Extension Partnership
(MEP).  Ranking Minority Member George Brown (D-CA) charged that
"the idea of selling research laboratories, dissolving NOAA and so
on borders on lunacy."

At yesterday's mark-up, Walker offered a substitute to the Chrysler
bill that would transfer the NIST laboratories and NOAA Oceanic and
Atmospheric Research into an independent agency entitled the United
States Science and Technology Administration.  The mark-up became
contentious as Democratic members challenged the idea of
eliminating the Commerce Department.  Brown claimed that Walker was
attempting "damage control" on the Chrysler bill, calling it "a
bureaucratic form of the old game `Twister' as the Chairman
searched for a good place for NOAA and NIST to land."  Sheila
Jackson Lee (D-TX) argued for the importance of maintaining a
relationship between the science and technology functions and the
trade and marketing functions. 

During the mark-up, Rep. Boehlert (R-NY) offered an amendment that
would retain authority for NIST's MEP program.  The amendment
passed.  However, a similar amendment offered by Rep. Jane Harmon
(D-CA) to preserve the ATP, although supported by Republicans
Connie Morella (R-MD) and Boehlert, did not pass.  Morella, whose
district houses one of the NIST laboratories, spoke out in support
of the MEP and ATP.  She succeeded in passing an amendment to
eliminate a provision of the bill that limited future funding for
any of the programs and agencies not terminated to 75 percent of
that provided in fiscal year 1994.

Walker's substitute was approved by his committee as amended, and
will be combined with versions of the Chrysler bill produced by
committees with jurisdiction over other areas.  "Not only did we
find a way to deal with our portion of H.R. 1756 in a manner which
fulfills this Congress' commitment to streamline government,"
Walker stated, "but we were able to redefine the functions of
agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology
to be more in line with the goals of its organic act.  In addition,
this bill formally terminates the Advanced Technology Program, a
corporate subsidy program that has grown too large and too costly
for the taxpayers to bear."  However, not all the science committee
members were happy about the outcome.  "What we are left with,"
Brown warned, "is legislation that is a complete disconnect from
the extensive streamlining already undertaken by the Department of
Commerce...and a bill that does more harm than good."

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