As the first one hundred days of the 104th Congress concluded,
House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) held a
half-hour briefing to both look back and ahead. Judging from the
chairman's remarks, the next few months are going to be very
significant for the science community.
When Congress reconvenes it will start work on legislation funding
all government operations. In the past, authorizing committees
such as the House Science Committee played a secondary role in this
process. That should change, Walker said, under a new plan
advanced by the House leadership. Under this plan, the House
Budget Committee will give the Science Committee a "budget," which
Walker will divide among the four subcommittees. The subcommittees
will then divide their share between the agencies and programs
under their jurisdiction by passing authorization bills. These
bills will set program guidelines and contain spending caps.
Authorizing bills will be voted on separately by the House, or may
be combined into one all-inclusive bill. Walker has talked to Rep.
George Brown (D-CA) and the Administration about this approach, and
said, "I think they will be supportive." This process is to occur
in May so as to work in concert with the appropriations process,
which provides actual funding.
The dual track approach is going to have a varying effect on
science and technology programs. Walker said that the Budget
Committee is unlikely to look with favor on the Advanced Technology
Program, and so would not include provision for it in the Science
Committee's budget. If the Technology Subcommittee authorizes ATP,
there will be no recourse but to shift money from something else
under the subcommittee's jurisdiction. Walker was asked about the
National Science Foundation's FY 1996 budget, and while saying that
he was favorably inclined towards its support of basic science,
said, "I'm not going to get into specifics."
Walker intends to move a separate authorization bill for the space
station providing $2.1 billion for each of the next six years
through its completion. This multi-year legislation will "ensure
that the resources can be obtained," and provide a level of
confidence to the appropriations committees, industry, and
international partners. When asked to predict the bill's success,
Walker said, "we feel pretty good about the ability to move it."
Also discussed was the formation of a new Department of Science
encompassing NSF, NASA, portions of DOE, NIST, and other
science-related agencies (although not DOD R&D or NIH.) Walker
said impetus for this new department would be "if the Budget
Committee decides this is one of the ways we can deal with the
elimination of other agencies," such as DOE and Commerce. Budget
Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-OH) reportedly strongly favors
this approach. House Science Committee hearings would be held
about the formation of a Department of Science, Walker added.
Walker called "absurd" speculation that science funding will be
heavily cut, saying he would use his influence "to see that science
is a winner in all categories." Yet, the science budget will, he
admitted, be below this year's spending.