Last week's House Science Committee hearing revealed strong support for the Bush Administration's request to increase funding for physical sciences research, and concern about other research programs that were not as well treated in the FY 2007 budget request.
"It's a rare thing to think of a budget hearing as a time of celebration, but I think that's how we should view this morning's proceedings. For a long time, many of us have been calling for a renewed emphasis on research in the physical sciences," said House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). The committee's Ranking Democrat, Bart Gordon (R-TN), was more measured in his opening remarks, saying "The good news in this budget request is the proposed increase in Federal research and development. The bad news is that that increase is less than the projected rate of inflation. Once again, we are investing less than the rate of inflation at a time when many of our international competitors are increasing their investment in science and technology research faster than ever before." He then added, "Even more alarming is the fact that the Administration's science and technology investment is actually decreasing. The Federal S&T budget is the best method to evaluate research funding. S&T represents the amount of funding directed towards the creation of new knowledge and technologies as opposed to development activities."
No one at this hearing said that the proposed increases in physical sciences funding are unwarranted. Beyond the increases for this research in the proposed budgets for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, there are considerable misgivings. The February 15 Science Committee hearing was a good indicator of what is ahead.
"Yes there are winners, but also many losers," said Gordon. There was bipartisan opposition to proposed funding reductions for some NSF education programs (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/028.html.) Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) highlighted this in his written remarks, saying "these budget choices seriously undercut the ACI's [American Competitiveness Initiative] goals to improve math and science education and to ensure that America has an educated workforce capable of competing in the global economy." Also disputed was the Administration's request to greatly reduce NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership budget (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/024.html) with Boehlert saying "it ain't gonna fly." Committee members expressed opposition to the Administration's attempt to once again terminate the Advanced Technology Program. Not surprisingly, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) expressed opposition to funding for climate change research. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was asked about the future of the Rare Isotope Accelerator by Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI), who urged Bodman to "think big, please." Bodman replied that the accelerator was being delayed for five years because DOE "couldn't afford it," although some planning money was included in the request. Bodman added that this was "not happy news."
The witness panel for this hearing featured many of the federal government's leading science officials: OSTP Director John Marburger, Energy Secretary Bodman, Deputy Commerce Secretary David Sampson, National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement, and Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science and Technology Charles McQueary (it was McQueary's last appearance before the committee as he has announced his retirement.) The prepared opening remarks of the witnesses can be viewed at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full06/Feb15/index.htm
In his prepared remarks, Marburger gave considerable attention to earmarking, saying that it "threatens to harm the effectiveness of our nation's science if it is not addressed." Marburger described the heavy impacts that earmarking has on the research budget, explaining "just last week the Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Laboratory was forced to reduce its staff by 32 people to meet budget shortfalls caused by earmarked funding." Several committee members disputed Marburger's contentions about earmarking.
The Science Committee's Minority Staff wrote a 24-page analysis of the Administration's FY 2007 budget request highlighting their concerns about the proposed funding levels. This document serves as a good road map of expected issues in coming months; see
This hearing did not review NASA's FY 2007 budget request. The committee had a separate hearing on the space agency's budget that will be the subject of a future FYI.
Chairman Boehlert's final opening comments well summarized the outlook for the rest of this budget cycle for physical sciences research: "I think it's important that our main message this morning be one of victory because we need to communicate that message to our colleagues to turn the American Competitiveness Initiative into reality. We're not going to ‘declare victory and go home.' Rather, we need to think of it this way: we've won the battle, now it's time to win the war."