The National Science Foundation has completed two rather brief and
low-key hearings before the House and Senate VA, HUD, and
Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittees. There is both
good news and bad news.
Yesterday, NSF Director Neal Lane and his senior staff testified
before the House subcommittee chaired by California Republican
Jerry Lewis. In contrast to previous years, when these annual
hearings were spread over one or two days, yesterday's session was
over in two hours. The good news is that Chairman Lewis is very
supportive of NSF, cautioning that in these budget cutting times,
"science is an easy target." "Undue cutting," he warned, "can
lead to very serious errors."
Yet, the outlook for NSF's budget over the next seven years is
clouded. Lewis asked National Science Board Chairman Frank Rhodes
if the board is discussing the foundation's priorities. (Rhodes
replied the board will be meeting next week to do so.) The reason
for this line of questioning was the bad news coming out of
yesterday's hearing: Lewis said the NSF budget would probably be
cut by 20% as Congress moves to balance the federal budget by 2002.
Lewis asked Lane what a cut of this magnitude would mean to the
foundation. Lane replied that it "would imply a major change in
the nature of NSF and what it does...everything [would be] on the
table." Lane said that while the agency's goals would be the same,
implementation strategies would be different. It would result, he
said, in a very different National Science Foundation. Chairman
Lewis said to Lane, "I would urge you to push the board" to
prioritize. Lewis later asked how NSF could finance LIGO and the
proposed new polar research station and continue to support
research and education programs. Lane replied, "we would not be
able to do all of this," saying that it would mean some "science
doesn't get done."
A March 10 hearing before the Senate appropriations subcommittee
was similar in nature and tone to the House hearing. Chairman
Christopher Bond (R-Missouri) and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski
(D-Maryland) both expressed support for NSF. Bond declared, "our
investments for the future are relatively modest." There is a
difference in the approach of the senators to the chairmanship.
Mikulski, while sometimes critical of NSF, seems to have a more
active interest in the agency. Bond's style, while friendly, is
Looking ahead, the House appropriations subcommittee will act first
when it sends its FY 1996 bill to the full appropriations committee
later this spring. During that time, subcommittee members will
hold other hearings on agency requests, and weigh, among other
factors, the correspondence and other contacts which they receive.
Important factors in this process will be formal and informal
communications from other Members of Congress, acting in response
to the expressed views of their constituents.