Your Input Needed - Congressional Moves to Increase DOE and NSF Funding

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Publication date: 
11 April 2003

Constituents with an interest in the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science have two new opportunities to contact their Members of Congress. A bill has just been introduced in the Senate that authorizes increases in the budget for the Office of Science. In the House, a letter to key appropriators is being circulated that recommends substantially higher funding for the National Science Foundation. Both of these time-sensitive efforts will fall short unless constituents act.

It is easy to send an electronic message to your Members of Congress. Both the House and Senate have web sites that identify your Members and provide links to e-mail forms. The Senate site is: The House site is:

Security protocols for U.S. mail are time-consuming. Since time is of the essence, e-mail your message. For tips on communicating with Congress, see the AIP site at:


The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider the Research and Development title of its comprehensive energy bill on April 29. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), the committee's chairman, is a strong supporter of the Department of Energy and its science programs.

The full House of Representatives started consideration of comparable legislation yesterday. This bill, H.R. 6, contains the provisions of an authorization bill passed earlier by the House Science Committee. (See /fyi/2003/047.html for information on this bill.)

Yesterday, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and John Warner (R-VA) introduced a yet-unnumbered bill to increase the annual authorization levels for the Office of Science. Their strategy is to demonstrate widespread support for a much larger budget for the Office of Science by obtaining many more Senate cosponsors for their bill before the April 29 Energy Committee mark up. Congress will be on spring recess for the next two weeks. The only way that this new bill will receive the cosponsors that it needs to be effective is if constituents bring this bill to the attention of their senators.

The "Energy and Science Research Investment Act of 2003" explains that "the Office of Science programs, in constant dollars, have been flat funded for more than a decade . . . [which] has led to a decline in the number of grants awarded, students trained, and scientists supported . . . [and] underuse of the facilities that the United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to construct." The bill charges the Secretary of Energy with conducting a comprehensive program of fundamental research, strengthening user facilities, maintaining a leading-edge capability in nanoscience, ensuring a future S&T workforce, and informing the applied R&D programs of DOE. The annual authorization levels are heart of the Senate bill, which are very close to those in the House bill.


A time-tested way to demonstrate political support on Capitol Hill is through the mechanism known as a "Dear Colleague." Members sharing a similar position on an issue agree to sign a letter to other key Members, often following the urging of their constituents. Five Members initially signed a letter that will be sent to VA, HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman James Walsh (R-NY) and Ranking Minority Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Both Walsh and Mollohan are well-known supporters of NSF; this "Dear Colleague" provides them with a ready "illustration" of Member support for the foundation as the appropriations bill is written.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) has been joined by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Nick Smith (R-MI), Ralph Hall (D-TX), and Rush Holt (D- NJ) in supporting this effort. The letter, which they are seeking other Members' signatures for, begins as follows:

"We are writing as longtime supporters of fundamental scientific research and education. Science and technology fuel the growth of our economy, provide the means of our national security, and inspire our children. Many of the benefits we reap today stem from wise investments made decades ago. Last year, Congress recognized we must continue to invest in America's scientific enterprise by overwhelmingly passing the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-368). This legislation authorizes a path toward doubling the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years. In order to meet this goal we request a funding level of $6.39 billion for Fiscal Year 2004."

The letter cites the "monumental" impact of the research that NSF has supported, the programs encouraging a strong S&T workforce, the importance of the foundation's educational programs, and the successful effort to increase NIH funding. Regarding this last point, the letter cites the importance of the physical sciences to health-related research, and states, "Doubling the NIH's budget has thrown off the relative balance in funding between NSF and NIH."

The letter continues: "We believe that it is critical to restore this balance starting this year, and that it can be accomplished even during tight budgets. In fact, last year we increased NIH's budget by $3.6- billion to complete the doubling commitment. This increase is over half of what we are requesting for NSF's entire budget." The letter concludes: "We ask you to address this imbalance and strengthen science and technology research, development, and education by increasing the NSF budget to $6.39 billion for FY2004. The increase would be used to expand core science programs, enabling NSF to begin funding highly ranked grant proposals that are turned down solely for lack of funding. It would also fund K-12 education programs that are critical for improving math and science education throughout the country, as well as large facility projects that have already been approved by the National Science Board." "We believe that Congress' long-term goal should be to at least double the NSF's resources, and we respectively request your support in achieving this goal."

Constituents should refer to Rep. Ehlers' April 10 "Dear Colleague" letter regarding NSF.

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