Walker: Science Committee has "Done What We Said We'd Do"

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Publication date: 
9 August 1995
Number: 
114

Two days before the House of Representatives recessed for the
remainder of August, House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker
(R-PA) called a press briefing to summarize his committee's
accomplishments so far in the 104th Congress and preview plans for
the rest of the year.

"For the first time in recent history," Walker announced at the
August 3 briefing, "we got all the authorization bills out of
committee by the August recess."  He indicated that he might try to
bring them to the House floor early in the fall as a single omnibus
science bill.  Authorization bills are intended to provide guidance
and set spending ceilings for appropriators.  Walker stated that,
because his committee kept its authorizations in line with the
Budget Resolution, they were able to have an influence on the
appropriations process.  "All too often," he said, "authorizers
throw all kinds of money at everything." 

Handed out at the briefing were charts showing the requested,
authorized, and appropriated amounts for science programs under the
Science Committee's jurisdiction, including the following:

Agency*        President's      Science Committee    House-passed
               FY96 Request     Authorization        Appropriation
(in millions)
NASA           $14,260.0        13,662.2             13,671.8
DOE              5,477.5            4,250.0               4,366.7
NSF              3,360.0             3,126.0               3,160.0
NIST             1,023.0               337.7                  404.1

*Not necessarily totals; includes only agency programs within the Science
Committee's jurisdiction.

Walker also noted that the House-passed appropriations reflected
many of the policy directions he wanted: elimination of
industry-assistance programs like NIST's Advanced Technology
Program (ATP); reduction in funding for NASA's Mission to Planet
Earth; encouragement of research into hydrogen energy; and a
seven-year authorization for the space station.  He added that he
planned to continue working on issues related to establishing a
Department of Science, of which he is a major proponent.  He
thought that bringing all of the science bills to the floor
together would help Members see "how the pieces fit together," and
demonstrate how a science department might work.  He called
Congress's current handling of science programs "disjointed and
unhelpful."

Asked whether he would pull the Department of Energy's national
laboratories into a hypothetical science department, Walker said he
had not formed any final opinions on the structure of such a
department.  He was "less than positive" about the usefulness of a
base-closing type of commission to review the labs.  He added that
he had found the testimony of former DOE deputy energy secretary
Henson Moore, in a June 28 Science Committee hearing, "intriguing;"
Moore had suggested transforming DOE into a Department of Energy,
Science, Technology, and Environment (see FYI #94.)  "The more I've
thought about it, the more I think it could be" the right route,
Walker mused.

Responding to downsizing plans by DOE and NASA, Walker suggested
"we adopt those strategies,...and then push the envelope a little
farther."  He had high praise for the reforms begun by NASA
director Dan Goldin.  Regarding NASA's centers, he lauded Goldin's
plan to turn them into Centers of Excellence, saying "then we can
decide [which functions] are important to the nation."  Walker also
stressed the importance of the space station, but qualified his
support: "At the expense of the rest of what goes on in
NASA--Absolutely not!"

Asked about a "small glimmer of hope" for retention of OTA, Walker
replied it was "not much of a glimmer."  He downplayed any chance
of resurrecting the appropriations for NIST's ATP in the
House-Senate conference, and chastised NIST for plans to use
existing ATP resources to fund new grants rather than continue
grants already made.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to return from recess after
Labor Day.  While the House has passed their version of most of the
13 appropriations bills, the Senate has only completed work on one
so far.  The appropriations bills must be passed and signed by the
President before the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1.
If this does not happen, a stop-gap "continuing resolution" will be
needed to keep the federal government in operation.