House Set to Consider Science Authorization Legislation

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Publication date: 
4 October 1995
Number: 
137

The House of Representatives is scheduled to consider a massive
science authorization bill on October 11-13.  While it is uncertain
what will ultimately become of this legislation, it is notable on
several counts, not the least of which is in its efforts to broadly
set science policy and funding priorities.

H.R. 2405, the Omnibus Civilian Science Authorization Act of 1995,
was introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker
(R-PA) on September 27.  Joining Walker in cosponsoring the bill
are his four subcommittee chairs: Constance Morella (R-MD), Steven
Schiff (R-NM), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and James Sensenbrenner
(R-WI).  The bill is a combination of seven authorization bills
which the committee has previously considered, setting forth the
funding limits and program direction for some or all of the
programs of NSF, NASA, DOE, NIST, NOAA, EPA, and the U.S. Fire
Administration.

A committee release states that H.R. 2405 authorizes "the
legitimate core functions of the federal civilian science
establishment."  This bill attempts to codify, to some extent,
science policy and funding priorities for these seven agencies and
departments.  H.R. 2405 serves as an important indicator of where
science policy is heading in the next few years.

The committee release provides three major reasons why these seven
authorization bills have been bundled into one bill.  The first
reason is "To make the point that science is a national issue
deserving of major national attention."  Walker comments: "With
H.R. 2405, we are attempting to elevate science to the same kind of
consideration that our defense priorities have always had."  The
second reason is, according to the release, "To consider civilian
science R&D as a whole, in order to better set priorities."  The
final reason is "To make it clear that science is vital to our
long-term economic interests."  Walker added, "Civilian science R&D
is a multi-billion dollar decision with the potential to have a
large impact on our nation's economy.  This approach allows us to
consider multi-faceted aspects of science in a way that enhances
their over-all impact."

H.R. 2405 authorizes $21.5 billion in total spending for FY 1996
for the seven areas covered under the bill (authorization
legislation only gives permission to spend; appropriations bills
provide the actual money.)  This is $3.0 billion, or 12.2%, less
than spending for the same programs in FY 1995.  President Clinton
requested $25.1 billion for these programs in FY 1996.
"Nevertheless," the release states, "funding of basic research
increases from $6.67 billion to $6.74 billion", or 1.0%.  (Note
that this $6.74 billion is 31.3% of the $21.5 billion total.)

While various appropriations bills eclipse H.R. 2405, this
legislation gives added weight to Republican efforts to shape
federal science policy and funding.  Future issues of FYI will
summarize some of the important features of this legislation
affecting the Department of Energy, the National Science
Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Commerce.