Chairman Boehlert Looks Ahead at Science Budgets

Share This

Publication date: 
28 March 2005

Earlier this month House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert 9R-NY) addressed the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE). As is his style, Boehlert offered candid remarks on the outlook for science and technology funding in FY 2006. Selections from the chairman's remarks follow; the full remarks, including his observations on NOAA, may be read at . Paragraphs have been combined in the interest of space.

"As your final speaker, I imagine that what you're hoping for from me is a brief and upbeat speech. Well, I will try to be brief. Upbeat will be a little harder, although there are certainly positive aspects to point to when reviewing science policy in general and ocean policy in particular. But the most glaring and crucial fact all of us in this arena have to face right now is how tight the funding situation is.

"As I have pointed out repeatedly, this is not because the Administration is ‘anti-science' in any way. Quite the contrary. Science makes out better than just about any non-defense aspect of the domestic discretionary budget in the fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget proposal. But when the overall budget is so tight, that doesn't allow for anything close to ideal funding for science. We're going to have to see if we can improve the outlook as the budget process proceeds over the next six months or so.

"We - that is the advocates for science funding - do start the process with some advantages. First, if I may generalize, Congress as a whole, like the Administration, wants to do well by science. Congress understands the value of science and sees it has a worthy recipient of federal funding. But people like you are going to have to build on that goodwill if it's to produce tangible results.

"Second, Congress has restructured itself with an eye toward being more favorable to science. The creation of the new House Science, State, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and its roughly parallel Senate counterpart is an effort to give more prominence and greater funding to science. We will all have to work closely with Chairman [Frank] Wolf and Chairman [Richard] Shelby to ensure that that comes to fruition. But the reorganization is a hopeful sign.

"A third advantage is that there is growing interest in oceans issues. . . ."

"We're going to need to keep reminding ourselves of this good news - and keep figuring out ways to capitalize on it - because we've got a lot of work ahead of us. What work? Well, for starters, we need to increase funding for the National Science Foundation. The President has proposed a 2.4 percent increase - healthy sounding in this budget climate - but because of cuts Congress made last year, that increase won't even put NSF back to its FY04 level. And the increase is less than it appears because it includes a transfer of funding from the Coast Guard to fund icebreaking activities around Antarctica that already occur. I should say that we're still trying to figure out what to do about this proposed transfer. Our goal is to make sure that NSF has the funding and the ice-breaking capacity it needs over the long haul -- no mean trick given that the Coast Guard's two existing ice breakers are near the end of their useful lives. We have a lot more work to do before we figure out how to get NSF what it needs, and whether the Coast Guard transfer fits in with that.

"I won't dwell on it here, but I'm also very concerned about the 12 percent cut in the NSF education budget, which I think sends us down the wrong path of relying exclusively on the Department of Education.

"Another troubling aspect of the NSF budget is the lack of new starts for major Research Equipment, meaning a delay in the ocean observatories initiative, among others. On the one hand, given the overall proposed budget for NSF, delaying new starts is probably the only sensible thing to do. But it does raise questions about how major new projects can be funded if we remain in a prolonged period of austerity.

"We also have our work cut out for us on the NOAA budget. . . . "

"The other agency of interest to all of you that we'll need to concentrate on is NASA. The Committee will approve a NASA Authorization Bill this year, and I hope we can move it through the House by summer. One of my main concerns, as many of you may know, is ensuring that the full range of science, including Earth Science, remains a priority at NASA even as we move ahead to return to the moon by 2020. There simply is no planet more important to human beings than our own, and we're remarkably ignorant about it. NASA's Earth Science mission is essential. I'm especially concerned about NASA's recent cancellation of the Glory mission, which was to study aerosols in the atmosphere. We're working to see if that decision can be reversed.

"I think we also need to take a look at how NASA and NOAA work together to make sure we are getting the most from their cooperation. Both agencies have essential Earth Science missions and they rely on each other. The Oceans Commission recommended taking a look at when particular projects make the transition from one agency to the other, and we need to do that.

"I've also urged the White House to take a broad look at how to make sure we get the most from our satellite investments. This came to a head last year when NASA was ready to shut off TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) when it was still providing useful data on hurricanes, among other things. We were successful in keeping the satellite going for now, but we need to figure out what to do with satellites that start as short-term experiments but end up providing useful operational data. Speaking of satellites, this year we will also take a look at the Administration's planned GEOSS (Global Earth Observing System of Systems) program. This important international effort looks extremely promising, but we still need more details. Happily, the initiative is getting broad attention. The Energy and Commerce Committee, which doesn't usually follow such programs, is holding a hearing today on GEOSS, apparently to showcase it as an appropriate cooperative way for the government to do business.

"Several of the programs I've mentioned, maybe just about all of them, contribute to climate change research. The Science Committee intends to review the Administration's climate science and technology plans and programs very closely over the next two years. I also hope we can undertake an effort to educate our Members about climate change. For too many Members, climate change is simply an ideological issue, and discussing it in the House had become practically taboo. That's just not right; scientists, other countries, and even individual states have come to the conclusion that we have a real problem on our hands - one with uncertainties, to be sure - but a real problem. We need an open and engaged discussion of climate change in which Members hear from scientists."

Explore FYI topics: