Mixed Bag: Outlook on Commerce Department Funding

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Publication date: 
21 July 1995
Number: 
103

It came as no surprise when the full House Appropriations Committee
voted on Wednesday to cut FY 1996 funding for the Department of
Commerce.  As expected, this bill, which will next be considered by
the full House, eliminates funding for the Advanced Technology
Program.  The bill does contain money for the Manufacturing
Extension Partnership Program and, as expected, NIST's core
programs, which include intramural laboratory research in physics
and material sciences.  In addition to this appropriations bill is
separate legislation which would abolish the Department of
Commerce.  This legislation will be the subject of three days of
hearings in House and Senate committees next week.

The House Appropriations Committee bill, H.R. 2076, would reduce
NIST's appropriation for its core programs (Scientific and
Technical Research and Services) by $47.7 million from the FY 1996
request (or $1.5 million below current funding.)  The committee
report states: "The amounts provided for this account reflect the
Committee's commitment to funding basic research programs that
benefit the nation's industries."  The committee report recommends
a total of $263.0 million for this activity, and shows a breakdown
of this funding as providing $27.4 million for physics (the request
for NIST's intramural laboratory physics research was $28.1
million.)  The committee provides $53.4 million for material
sciences and engineering intramural laboratory research; the
request was for $54.3 million.  Note that other NIST intramural
activities can include work in physics and material sciences.

The committee provides no money for the Advanced Technology Program
(ATP).  As an explanation, the committee report states this is
"because of the likelihood that no authorization [law] will be
provided for the program."  At a June 28 mark up of NIST
authorizing legislation, the House Science Committee rebuffed
efforts by committee Democrats to authorize ATP and other
technology programs (see FYIs #82 and 89.)  Yet, the appropriations
committee did provide $81.1 million for the Manufacturing Extension
Partnership Program (MEP) ($146.6 million was requested; current
year funding is $90.6 million) which was not authorized by the
Science Committee.  None of the science or technology authorization
bills considered by the new Congress have been signed into law by
President Clinton.
       
It is expected that this appropriations bill will go to the House
floor next week -- perhaps Wednesday or Thursday.  A big unknown is
what amendments may be offered on the floor, with some expectation
that there may be a move to dismantle the department through this
appropriations bill.  The House leadership is believed to be
generally opposed to this approach.  On the whole, supporters of
the Commerce Department are cautiously optimistic about H.R. 2076
in the House, but much less certain about the situation in the
Senate.   

On another front, next Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, hearings are
scheduled in both the House and Senate on H.R. 1756 and S. 929,
which are similar bills to abolish the Department of Commerce.  The
House bill, sponsored by Rep. Dick Chrysler (R-MI), has 66
cosponsors.  The Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Spencer Abraham
(R-MI) has 5 cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole
(R-KS).

There is a growing awareness about the effect which these bills
would have not only on programs like ATP, but also on NIST's core
programs.  Section 206 of the Senate bill calls for NIST's
laboratories to be sold "to a private sector entity intending to
perform substantially the same functions...."  Other functions
would be transferred to the National Science Foundation.  The
Office of Technology Policy, ATP and the MEP would be terminated.
NOAA programs would be transferred or terminated. 

How much support there is in either chamber for these bills is
unknown.  The budget resolution passed by each chamber calls for
the elimination of Commerce.  The Senate bill has, in addition to
Abraham and Dole, four other co-sponsors: Brown (R-CO), Faircloth
(R-NC), Gramm (R-TX), and Nickles (R-OK).  The House bill has,
besides Chrysler, 66 cosponsors, all but one a Republican.  They
include Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-OH),
Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Livingston (R-LA), Rules
Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon (R-NY), and VA/HUD appropriations
subcommittee chairman Ron Packard (R-CA).  House Science Committee
Chairman Bob Walker (R-PA), a frequent critic of many Commerce
technology programs, is not a cosponsor.

The battle over the continuation of the programs of the Department
of Commerce, and indeed the department itself, will likely be
fought out on the House and Senate floors.  The degree of support
which constituents express for these programs will be instrumental
in the decisions which Members make about these bills.  H.R. 2076,
the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations Bill for
FY 1996, will be considered by the full House next week.

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