Last month the House passed an authorization bill, sponsored by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), that would coordinate and strengthen federal programs that support manufacturing and small- and medium-sized manufacturers. "[I]nternational competition has exacted a terrible toll on our nation's manufacturers," Ehlers said when introducing the bill earlier this year. He continued, "In my conversations with manufacturers, I learned of their deep concern that the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. is undermining our ability to innovate. Innovation is the key to the development of new industries, without which our economy could stagnate. Governments of our global competitors are eagerly supporting investments in manufacturing R&D because they know that it is the foundation for sustained economic development."
H.R. 250, the "Manufacturing Technology Competitiveness Act of 2005," calls for new grant programs and fellowships to improve manufacturing, as well as an interagency committee to coordinate federal programs in manufacturing R&D. It would authorize FY 2006 through FY 2008 funding levels for most NIST programs, including the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, but not the more-controversial Advanced Technology Program (ATP), which the Administration has targeted for elimination. Democrats on the House Science Committee, both in the committee mark-up and again during the floor debate, praised many aspects of the bill but criticized it for omitting authorization of ATP. The Republicans who responded to that criticism generally supported the ATP, but argued that because of opposition to the program by President Bush and others in Congress, its inclusion would ruin the bill's chance of becoming law. "To truly help the manufacturers," Ehlers said, "we must have a bill that can be passed into law. Therefore, I want to keep this legislation focused on these specific programs that have strong bipartisan support."
The bill eventually passed the House by a wide bipartisan margin of 394 to 24 on September 21. It has now been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Even if it is taken up promptly by the Senate, it is unlikely to influence appropriations for this year. Although the FY 2006 appropriations process is not complete, both the House and the Senate have already passed their FY 2006 spending bills for NIST. The bill's recommended funding levels for selected programs are provided below:
NIST SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL RESEARCH AND SERVICES LABORATORY ACTIVITIES:
The bill would authorize $426.3 million for FY06. For comparison, the FY05 appropriation was $378.8 million, the FY06 request is $426.3 million, the FY06 House appropriations bill would provide $397.7 million, and the FY06 Senate appropriations bill would provide $399.9 million.
The bill would authorize $447.6 million for FY07, and $457.0 million for FY08.
NIST CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE:
The bill would authorize $58.9 million for FY06. For comparison, the FY05 appropriation was $72.5 million, the FY06 request is $58.9 million, the FY06 House appropriations bill would provide $45.0 million, and the FY06 Senate appropriations bill would provide $198.6 million.
The bill would authorize $61.8 million for FY07 and $63.4 million for FY08.
MANUFACTURING EXTENSION PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM:
The bill would authorize $110.0 million for FY06. For comparison, the FY05 appropriation was $107.5 million, the FY06 request is $46.8 million, the FY06 House appropriations bill would provide $106.0 million, and the FY06 Senate appropriations bill would provide $106.0 million.
The bill would authorize $115.0 million for FY07 and $120.0 million for FY08.
COLLABORATIVE MANUFACTURING RESEARCH PILOT GRANTS PROGRAM:
The bill would authorize $10.0 million in FY06, $10.0 million in FY07, and $10.0 million in FY08.
NIST MANUFACTURING FELLOWSHIPS:
The bill would authorize $1.5 million in FY06, $1.8 million in FY07, and $2.0 million in FY08.
ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM:
While not providing authorization levels for NIST's ATP, the bill calls for reports to Congress on the impacts of the possible elimination of the ATP, and on Commerce Department plans to "mitigate the effects of this loss on its programs and personnel."
The FY05 appropriation for ATP was $136.5 million. The Administration requested no funding for FY06, the FY06 House appropriations bill also provided no funding, while the FY06 Senate appropriations bill would provide $140.0 million.
FYI #148 will provide selected quotes from the September 21 floor debate on the omission of authorizing language for the Advanced Technology Program.