Senate Commerce Committee Authorizes NIST

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Publication date: 
15 August 1995

At this stage in the appropriations process, the House has passed
a bill (H.R. 2076) funding the Department of Commerce for FY 1996
(see FYI #103, 108.)  The Senate will take up the Commerce
appropriations bill after returning from its August break on
September 6.  Although the House-passed appropriations bill funds
the Department at 83 percent of its current level, its opponents
have received a promise from the House leadership that legislation
to eliminate the Department will be included in this fall's budget
reconciliation bill.  (The reconciliation bill, which is different
than the appropriations bills, is intended to provide details on
how Congress will achieve the balanced-budget goal articulated in
this spring's Budget Resolution.)

Various hearings have been held and bills introduced in both
chambers on the fate of the Commerce Department and its trade and
technology programs, including NIST.  While NIST's core laboratory
research functions have been preserved in both authorizing and
appropriating legislation in the House, its extramural programs,
the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) and the Manufacturing
Extension Partnership (MEP), have not fared as well.  The House
Science Committee passed a bill (H.R. 1870) authorizing NIST's
laboratory research, but did not pass an authorization for the
extramural programs (see FYI #89.)  The House Appropriations
Committee zeroed out funding for ATP, while decreasing MEP funding
by 10.5 percent from its current budget.

However, a small ray of hope for the ATP has appeared in the
Senate.  Before leaving for the August recess, the Senate Commerce,
Science and Transportation Committee, chaired by Larry Pressler
(R-SD), on August 10 reported out a three-year authorization bill
for the Commerce Department's technology programs that includes
some support for NIST's extramural programs.  According to
Pressler, the bill, S. 1141, "lends strength and stability to the
Department of Commerce's important technology and research
programs....  If we are going to reinvent the programs of the
Commerce Department...this bill starts us on that path."  Pressler
said the bill directs the Department to "establish a plan for
eliminating the largely redundant Office of Technology Policy
during fiscal year 1996, transferring any essential functions to
NIST.  The bill also makes substantial cuts in funding for the
Technology Administration.  However, with the exception of the
Office of Technology Policy, the bill continues all of the
Technology Administration's major programs."

"With regard to NIST," Pressler said, "the bill provides $750
million for each of fiscal years 1996, 1997, and 1998.  This
authorization is a 12-percent cut from the fiscal year 1995 level
of $854 million.  The bill provides $263 million for the NIST
internal research programs and standards activities....  [T]he bill
fully funds NIST's lab and standards programs from fiscal year 1996
through fiscal year 1998 at their fiscal year 1995 funding

"The bill also provides strong support for NIST's Industrial
Technology Services [ITS] account, which funds the agency's
Advanced Technology Program and the manufacturing extension
partnership.  The bill authorizes $427 million a year from fiscal
year 1996 through fiscal year 1998 for the ITS account, a cut of 19
percent from the fiscal year 1995 appropriation of $526 million.

"The bill leaves it to the discretion of the agency how to allocate
funding among ATP, MEP, and the [Malcolm Baldridge] quality
programs within the ITS account.  However, the bill makes clear it
does not authorize any funding for ATP grants after October 1,
1995.  This limitation reflects the belief that, since it was first
funded in fiscal year 1990, the ATP has grown too big, too fast,
without demonstrating clear benefits to U.S. industry....
Accordingly, the bill only authorizes support for existing grants
while Congress has a chance to evaluate more closely the value of
ATP in our competitiveness strategy."

Pressler's bill also provides $60 million for construction and
renovation of NIST facilities in each of the three years, and
recommends that NIST establish an Experimental Program to Stimulate
Competitive Technology [EPSCOT].  "Modeled after similar programs
at the National Science Foundation and other science agencies,"
Pressler explained, "EPSCOT will provide grants for research and
outreach work in rural States like my home State of South
Dakota....  Our rural States want to contribute to the
technological revolution.  EPSCOT will help them do so."

Whether Pressler's views on NIST funding have an influence on the
actions of the Senate Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee remains
to be seen.

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