Reading the Tea Leaves: Congress Starts Work on FY 2006 S&T Budget

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Publication date: 
14 March 2005

The budget resolutions that the House of Representatives and the Senate will debate this week are, at best, imperfect predictors of this fall's appropriations bills. As proposed broad-brush taxing and spending blueprints for the next fiscal year, the budget resolutions are the first indicators of congressional reaction to the Administration's FY 2006 budget request, and they provide an early sense of the direction of future spending.

The House and Senate will debate budget resolutions this week that consist primarily of figures on different categories of spending. One of these budget categories, or functions, is for General Science, Space, and Technology. Most physical science research spending is found in this $24.6+ billion category. The House and Senate budget resolutions would increase spending in this function by 1.3%. This is a dollar increase of $310-$320 million for all budgets in this category. NASA is seeking an increase of $386 million in FY 2006. The House Budget Committee states that within this function "the Budget Committee assumes full funding of the President's request for NASA."

Leading up to the writing of the budget resolutions were the "Views and Estimates" provided by authorizing committees. The House Committee on Science filed such a document earlier this month. The absence of the usual companion document was of note; House Democrats on the Science Committee did not write their own report. Ranking Democratic Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) explained, "Although this committee is historically bipartisan, this year was unusual in that Democrats found the statements of the Chair to be so on point that we wanted to join him to send a stronger message to the Administration, Budget Committee and Appropriators that the science and technology budget the President submitted is not the best we can do even under the current fiscal circumstances. We have to do better." This bipartisan spirit is a testimony to House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Gordon's leadership of this committee, and the work of the committee's staff on both sides of the aisle.

The committee's Views and Estimates can be accessed at: The 26-page publication states "The Committee believes the proposed funding for basic research is insufficient. Funding short-term development at the expense of longer-term basic and applied research is not advisable, and neglects those portions of R&D where government support is most crucial. The Committee also believes that the budget must fully consider appropriate balances between defense and non-defense R&D spending and between biomedical and non-biomedical spending. At $71 and $29 billion, respectively, the R&D budgets of DOD and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) account for more than 75 percent of the total R&D budget." Later in the document the committee characterized the FY 2006 request for the DOE Office of Science as "inadequate" that will do little to bring physical sciences funding into parity with life sciences funding. The committee "strongly supports" the budget request for NIST core laboratory programs and facilities, but was "disappointed" in the recommendations for the Advanced Technology Program and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Regarding the National Science Foundation, the committee called the overall budget request "inadequate," saying it was "especially disturbed" by the proposed cuts in NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate. There was a range of opinion regarding the Administration's request for NASA, the document stating: "The Committee is divided over the NASA budget request as of now even though there is broad support for the basic thrust of the Space Exploration Vision outlined by the President on January 14, 2004. Key questions include the relative priority of NASA funding as compared to that of other science agencies; the adequacy of funding for science and aeronautics within NASA; and the future of the NASA workforce."

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