There has been activity on both sides of Congress during the last week to increase funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The House Science Committee quickly passed an authorization bill last week that provides for annual budget increases between 9.7% and 15.0% in the next four years. The provisions of this legislation are in a comprehensive energy bill that will be on the House floor tomorrow. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is working on its own bill that will go to the floor in May. In addition, thirty-nine senators signed a letter to the Senate leadership recommending a 10% increase in the Office of Science budget for next year.
Last week, the House Science Committee considered a bill introduced by committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (D-TX) to authorize the Department of Energy's R&D programs. The provisions of H.R. 238 are quite similar to those in the energy bill that ultimately died in House and Senate negotiations last year. The Office of Science provisions are not controversial; disagreements over hot-button issues like drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and climate change are. These contentious issues remain.
Under H.R. 238, the authorization levels for the Office of Science would increase by 14.5% in the upcoming year, by 9.7% in FY 2005, 11.2% in FY 2006, and 15.0% in FY 2007. This bill sets annual spending limits, and does not provide the actual money. These numbers are consistent with a bill earlier introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), H.R. 34. In describing the bill Boehlert and Hall praised the Science Committee staff for its hard work in resolving differences among committee members, so that the actual mark up of the bill was both smooth and fast. There was no controversy about the authorization levels. A series of amendments were offered on topics ranging from worker safety at the national laboratories to a new scholarship program. Almost all were accepted. Programs authorized in the legislation included those for ITER, nanotechnology, and hydrogen energy.
The Science Committee bill has now been folded into a much larger energy bill, H.R. 6 that was introduced on Monday. This bill goes to the House floor tomorrow. A future FYI will report on any floor activity regarding the Office of Science provisions. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is working on its own bill with extensive language on science programs.
Thirty-nine senators signed a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). "We write to bring to your attention our bipartisan support for the Office of Science in the Department of Energy," to letter begins. The letter continues, "Despite the importance of the research areas to our energy, technology, and economic future, the Office's budget in real dollars is the same as it was in 1990. The proposed budget for the Office of Science in FY 2004 is $3.311 billion, essentially the same as was appropriated for FY 2003." The letter concludes, "We urge you, during the upcoming budget resolution and appropriation process, to increase funding for the Office of Science by ten percent over the request level. This bold yet necessary step will strengthen our nation's scientific capabilities and the role that the physical sciences play in our energy security and economic growth."