Within the new two weeks, Congress may settle on how much money the Defense Department will have for basic research in this new fiscal year. Twelve senators - from both sides of the aisle - have just written to the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense asking them to support defense basic research funding. While it appears that there is general support in the Senate for this funding, the situation is less certain in the House.
First, some context. Last year, when Congress passed the appropriations bill for FY 2005 it increased 6.1 (Basic Research) funding by 7.8% or $110 million, from $1,403 million to $1,513 million. The Bush Administration's original request was $1,331 million.
Last February, the Administration requested a cut of 12.9% in total DOD basic research program funding to $1,319.0 million for FY 2006 (which began about a month ago.)
The House marked up its FY 2006 appropriations bill first. Its version would cut 6.1 funding by 4.0% to $1,454 million.
The Senate took up the FY 2006 appropriations bill last month. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) won Senate agreement to their floor amendment to increase 6.1 funding over the amount that was contained in the original Senate committee bill (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/146.html.) The amended Senate bill would reduce 6.1 funding by 1.9% to $1,485 million.
The FY 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations bill must now go to conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills. This is, as expected, a major bill, with the report accompanying the bill running over 270 pages. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would cut 6.1 funding from last year's level, with the percentage cuts ranging between 1.9% (Senate) and 4.0% (House).
It was against this backdrop that Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) prepared a letter to Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Ranking Minority Member Daniel Inouye (D-HI). This letter was cosigned by Jeff Bingman (D-NM), Jack Reed (D-RI), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Susan Collins (D-ME), George Voinovich (R-OH), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
The letter cites the Senate's unanimous agreement to the amendment offered by Kennedy and Collins to provide an additional $10 million for the DOD SMART/National Defense Education Program, and another $30 million for 6.1 basic research programs. The letter explains how federal basic research funding in the physical sciences has remained essentially flat. Within the DOD S&T program, basic research is shrinking as a percentage of total funding. Also looming in the not-too-distant future is the large percentage of DOD civilian S&T employees who will reach retirement age. "These demographic trends and the decades of flat funding are placing us in a precarious position – one that we cannot afford to ignore." The letter concludes, "We urge you to retain this funding [$40 million] as you work on the defense appropriations conference." The full text of the letter appears below. It is important for constituents of these senators to express appreciation for the support of this funding; see www.senate.gov for links to email to these senators.
Attention now turns to House Appropriators (see http://appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=AboutTheCommittee.MemberList&SubcommitteeId=6 .) Constituents who do not have a representative on this subcommittee may wish to consider contacting their own Member (see www.house.gov), asking the Member to make known their support for defense basic research to the subcommittee's appropriators.
The text of the November 1 letter to Stevens and Inouye follows:
"Dear Chairman Stevens and Ranking Member Inouye:
"During consideration of the Fiscal Year 2006 Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 2863), the Senate agreed unanimously to an amendment with strong bipartisan support to increase defense basic research. The amendment provides an additional $10 million for the Department of Defense (DoD) SMART/National Defense Education Program (NDEP), increasing funding for the program from the requested level of $10 million to $20 million. The amendment also provides an additional $30 million in funding to bolster competitively awarded basic research in the Army, Navy, and Air Force University Research Initiatives (URIs) and for the DARPA University Research Program in Computer Science and Cybersecurity. We urge Senate conferees to carry this support for defense basic research and the SMART/NDEP program forward through the conference process.
"In stark contrast to the four-fold increase in federal funding for basic research in the life sciences since the 1980s, funding for basic research in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering has remained essentially flat. In the DoD, basic research fell from 20 percent of total S&T funds in 1980 to less than 12 percent in 2005. Additionally, nearly one in three DoD civilian science, technical, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) employees is eligible to retire, according to a recent study. Seven years from now, nearly 70 percent of DoD civilian STEM employees will be of retirement age. These demographic trends and the decades of flat funding are placing us in a precarious position - one that we cannot afford to ignore.
"Our national defense agency must remain globally competitive by building the corps of civilian
scientists and engineers at the DoD and increasing funding for research and development efforts that help create new science for our military. The additional funding provided by this provision adopted by the Senate is an important step toward ensuring our continued competitiveness and military superiority.
"We urge you to retain this funding as you work on the defense appropriations conference "