House Passes FY 2008 Funding Bill for NSF, NASA and NIST

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Publication date: 
1 August 2007

The House of Representatives took parts of two days last week to consider the FY 2008 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill. Although numerous amendments were offered to the $53.8 billion bill, few changes were made to the bill's provisions pertaining to the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Attention now turns to the Senate floor, where consideration of this bill will await the Senate's return in September from its recess that starts on Friday.

There was little debate about these three agencies on the floor, which was notable given the discussion there was about spending levels and research topics when the House considered the National Science Foundation's authorization bill (see, long-standing controversy about the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program, and deepening worries about NASA's budget and research portfolio.

House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan's (D-WV) opening remarks on H.R. 3093 explained the subcommittee's approach to the three S&T agencies:

"In support of the Innovation Agenda, the committee funds the National Institute of Standards and Technology at $831 million, an increase of $190 million above the President's request, and provides $6.5 billion to the National Science Foundation to continue the goal of doubling the National Science Foundation funding in 10 years. The bill also provides an increase of $72 million in National Science Foundation over the President's request for education programs.

" In NASA, the bill provides $17.6 billion, an increase of $313 million above the President's request. This funding restores the cuts made by the administration in science and aeronautics and the education portfolios, and provides the funding in a new account structure to improve transparency and understandability of NASA's submissions.

"We have tried in a small way to give NASA the increases that it needs where the President has been negligent. The President's budget request made an ambitious proposal in the Vision for Space Exploration for the United States to return to the moon and to eventually go to Mars; however, by all accounts, he did not fund his vision adequately. The most recent telling evidence of this shortfall is the fact that the President's proposal assumes the inability of the United States to access space for a gap of four years between when the space station retires and when the CEV launches on its first official flight, the crew exploration vehicle. This leaves the United States with no guaranteed source of transportation during that gap to the space station.

"I want to make clear to Members that the gap has nothing to do with the continuing resolution of last year [see]. Full ownership of this gap resides with the President. His unfunded mandate of the vision, as well as the fact that NASA had to pay for return to flight after the Columbia accident out of its own hide, has resulted in NASA being forced to rob Peter, science and aeronautics, to pay for Paul, shuttle, space station and exploration. In the end there is not enough for either Peter or Paul.

"The President has to acknowledge his inadequate budget request in this area. We invite him to reinvigorate and legitimize the Vision for Space Exploration by asking for necessary funds for returning to the moon and for going to Mars eventually and for other key NASA missions through a budget amendment or through an adequate fiscal year 2009 request. Otherwise, limited U.S. access to space and stagnation of key NASA programs will be, in this area, the President's legacy, the President's legacy in space."

The Subcommittee's Ranking Member, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) commented:

"In the area of science, this bill also funds important initiatives in science and competitiveness. The capacity to innovate is the primary engine of our economy and our way of life. In order to sustain it, we must increase our investment in basic scientific research and strengthen science education. This bill fully funds the President's competitive initiative, which includes a commitment to double the funding for basic scientific research over ten years, and also to strengthen and encourage education and entrepreneurship.

"For the National Science Foundation, the bill provides $6.5 billion, or 10 percent, above the current year for research that will set the groundwork of the development of new technologies and science education programs that will continue to ensure that we have a well-educated and skilled workforce to improve our competitiveness.

"For NASA, the bill provides $17.6 billion. This level supports the President's vision for space exploration with the full request for the continuing development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Crew Launch Vehicle, keeping to a minimum the gap in flight capability after the retirement of the shuttle. The bill also includes funding for the request for aeronautics research, space science programs, and NASA education programs."

Other Members on both sides of the aisle voiced their support of the bill, with several mentioning that the bill would help to more fully balance and fund NASA's portfolio.

Amendments can be used to draw attention to an issue. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) offered an amendment which he later agreed to withdraw that proposed to increase NSF's Math-Science Partnership program funding by $2 million. Price lauded a recent robotics competition that involved over 25,000 students and teachers in Georgia, and explained, "the MSP program focuses on raising educational standards to prepare children for postsecondary education in math, science or engineering. This program is worthy of additional funding because of its positive results for improving math and science skills which are vital for a developing workforce that's capable of increasing America's competitiveness internationally."

Mollohan said he agreed with Price, but quickly added that "unfortunately" he opposed Price's amendment, saying "we have funded NSF at a rate that guarantees its doubling in a 10-year time span. We embrace and salute the doubling and have been responsive to that need that is expressed by members and the community. Nothing is more important than funding education, and increasing NSF and its ability to develop and implement programs to facilitate education and to incentivize our best and brightest young people to go into math and science, and to choose those careers. That's what NSF does very well. The gentleman wants to facilitate that by augmenting our funding in the education accounts for math and science partnerships. I commend him for the initiative." Mollohan explained that his subcommittee increased the Administration's FY 2008 request of $46 million to $66 million for the program, which is 5 percent over the current budget (see Mollohan also was opposed to reducing the Commerce Department's salaries and expenses budget by $2 million to offset the addition to the foundation's MSP budget. After mutually agreeing on the importance of the MSP program, Price, Frelinghuysen, and Mollohan agreed to work with the Senate to increase its budget in the final version of the bill.

An hour later, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) offered a successful amendment to increase by $10 million the appropriation for the Justice Department's Violence Against Women Prevention and Prosecution Programs by reducing by the same amount the NSF Operations and Award Management budget. In explaining her amendment, Capito stated: "Today I rise to offer an amendment to help break the cycle of violence against women, especially those living in the rural areas. We are facing an epidemic in this country. Sexual and domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. It is a frightening statistic. . . ." Capito spoke of the unique obstacles that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault face in rural and remote communities, and told her colleagues, "Last year Congress funded this program with $38.8 million. The committee's recommended funding level for this year amounts to only a $1.2 million increase over last year's appropriations for the Rural Domestic Violence Grants program. Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation Agency Operations and Award Management line item, which was the old salary and expense line item, stands to receive $285.59 million. This amounts to an increase of over $37 million, or 13 percent."

Subcommittee chairman Mollohan outlined his opposition to the Capito Amendment, explaining that his subcommittee had rejected the Administration's request to terminate the rural domestic violence program, and had increased its funding by 3 percent over this year. Mollohan then said: "everyone who has testified before our committee agrees the National Science Foundation is not only an economic security issue, it is a national security issue, and it is not the place where we ought to be taking funding. There is a recognition that we need to double the funding for the National Science Foundation, and that is the track we are on with the level of funding in this bill. We should not, and hopefully we won't, reduce funding to the National Science Foundation by $10 million. That would knock us off of the track. . . . given our allocation, and given the priorities and the conflicting demands in the bill, and given the importance of the National Science Foundation and the robust nature of our funding for violence against women, I must oppose the gentle lady's amendment." Later that day, the House voted in favor of Capito's $10 million transfer by a vote of 243-186; see There were two other successful amendments to increase funding for this program, as well as other amendments to increase funding for Justice Department programs, by shifting money from other programs within the bill.

Later, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) offered an amendment reaffirming NASA's commitment to safety as its top priority. Jackson-Lee cited the recommendations made by the International Space Station Independent Safety Commission that was established by NASA's Authorization Act. Mollohan stated that the committee had no objections to the amendment, and the House voted in favor of it by voice vote.

There were no other amendments that related directly to NASA or NSF, and none pertaining to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Several amendments were offered, and rejected, that would have reduced the bill's total funding level.

H.R. 3093 was passed on July 26 by a vote of 281-142, with all 142 "no" votes cast by Republicans (see .) The Bush Administration issued a statement putting Congress on notice that the President would veto the House version of this bill because of its overall spending level. The Office of Management and Budget also had specific objections to provisions relating to NSF, NASA, and NIST that will be excerpted in a forthcoming FYI.