Setting the Stage: FY 2008 S&T Appropriations Bills

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Publication date: 
13 April 2007

The stage has been set for the next all-important steps in the FY 2008 S&T appropriations cycle. While there will be more hearings in the months ahead, and countless meetings between Members of Congress and their staffs, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will soon start the formulation of the outlines of S&T funding bills for the fiscal year beginning on October 1. There are several indications of a promising outcome for physical sciences funding.

There is strong bipartisan support for increasing S&T funding, especially for the three agencies that are part of the American Competitiveness Initiative: the Department of Energy Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and the research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. On February 28, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) sent a letter outlining the committee's "Views and Estimates" to the Senate Budget Committee. The letter stated that the committee "generally supports" the requested ACI increases. A few days later, the House Science and Technology Committee sent a "Views and Estimates" letter that was signed by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and his Democratic colleagues to the House Budget Committee. This 15-page letter (see ) supports the proposed ACI increases, but also included considerable discussion about shortcomings in the Administration's S&T request. This letter provides considerable insight into Democratic views on S&T programs, referring to matters such as DOE management of large user facilities (comparing "with pleasure" the Spallation Neutron Source to the never-completed Superconducting Super Collider), GNEP, earth observation systems, and funding concerns about NSF's education programs, NASA, NIST non-laboratory programs, and the Department of Homeland Security S&T program.

In mid-March, the private and academic sectors demonstrated their support for "an innovation agenda that will ensure continued U.S. competitiveness." This "American Innovation Proclamation" calls on Congress to double the basic research budgets of the three ACI agencies and the Department of Defense, improve student math and science achievement, reform U.S. visa policies, and pass a permanent R&D tax credit. The proclamation was signed by more than 270 business and higher education leaders (see The proclamation's rollout was held in a crowded House Science Committee hearing room and included presentations by corporate and academic leaders and Members of Congress. The speakers were optimistic about the outlook on Capitol Hill, with Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) saying "we're going to see results this year." Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he was "looking forward to working hand-in-hand with the House" in moving an S&T agenda in Congress. Chairman Gordon noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has made S&T a high priority this year.

Many of the speakers testified that afternoon at a hearing of the Science Committee. Said Gordon: "There is a bipartisan consensus that investing in education and research along the lines of the Gathering Storm report is necessary." Former NSF Director Neal Lane emphasized this same point in his testimony: "The reality, of course, is that there is no simple solution, no magic bullet, as the 'Gathering Storm' report points out. Progress will require a number of difficult strategic decisions and investments of taxpayers' money. It will take vision, political leadership, perhaps even courage. My hunch, however, is that the American people know that we're in big trouble, and they are willing to do their part, provided their government tells them the truth and puts forward sensible plans."

While there have been many bills introduced in the House and Senate relating to R&D or competitiveness, several have received particular attention. By voice vote, the Science Committee sent H.R. 363 to the full House with 19 Democratic cosponsors. The bill authorizes awards to early-career researchers, provides graduate research assistantships, and establishes a coordination office to prioritize research infrastructure needs. The original version of this bill included large multi-year authorization increases for physical sciences and other basic research for NSF, DOE Office of Science, NIST, and NASA, and 6.1 basic research at the Department of Defense. The agency authorization levels were deleted during the committee's markup to avoid jurisdictional problems with other committees. Gordon is moving ahead with separate agency authorization bills; an NSF authorization bill is being marked up this month.

A far more expansive bill was introduced in the Senate on March 5. S. 761, The America COMPETES Act, is a 32,000-word bill that authorizes increases in research funding for NSF, DOE, and NIST, strengthens research programs at other agencies, strengthens STEM opportunities from elementary through graduate school, and establishes an innovation infrastructure. It draws many of its provisions from similar legislation introduced last year. This bill has 45 cosponsors from both parties, and from across the ideological spectrum. It was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Said Reid: "Of course we have had our differences on some issues, but I hope that, in jointly introducing this important legislation, we send a signal that investing in America's future is not a partisan issue." The bill is ready for consideration by the full Senate.

It was against this backdrop that the House and Senate individually went on record to establish targets for S&T funding in FY 2008. In late March, both the Senate and House passed different versions of an FY 2008 Budget Resolution. A budget resolution outlines funding and revenue guidelines for congressional committees. It can be difficult to pass a final resolution that both chambers can agree upon. Congress has been unable to settle on a budget resolution in three of the last five years. The new Democratic leadership is determined to return order to the budget cycle, the first step of which is getting a budget resolution adopted.

Budget resolutions classify spending by functions. One of the most closely-watched S&T functions is "250: General Science, Space, and Technology." Also important is Function 270 Energy, as well as other functions for education and environment, etc. The money provided in each of these functions is then divided among appropriations committees.

Function 250 did well in the President's budget request as well as the subsequent Senate and House budget resolutions. The Office of Management and Budget calculates that total Function 250 spending in the President's FY 2008 budget request is $27.446 billion. By way of comparison, the actual FY 2006 figure was $25.057 billion.

The Senate's Function 250 number is $27.583 billion, the result of an amendment offered by Senator Bingaman that was passed by a vote of 97-1 (Senator Judd Greg (R-NH) voting "no.") In explaining his amendment, which was also offered by Senators Alexander, Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Domenici, John Ensign (R-NV) and Reid, Bingaman stated this "is an amendment that tries to make sure that the budget ceilings, the overall amounts that are permitted for the various agencies and functions of the Government, are as high as possible so that there is room in this budget to actually go forward and appropriate the funds called for in that authorizing legislation [America COMPETES Act.] We hope we will bring up that authorizing legislation some time in the next couple of months and get it passed and sent to the President." During Senate floor consideration of the Bingaman amendment, Senator Alexander spoke of the America COMPETES Act and explained: "The Majority Leader [Reid] and the Minority Leader [McConnell], in the midst of some contentious discussions in the Senate . . . are rising above that and putting this piece of legislation into play. I know of no other piece of legislation that has that kind of bipartisan support that is that important to the future of our country."

A few days after the Senate action the House approved its version of the budget resolution which had a Function 250 figure of $27.611 billion. A section of this budget resolution is entitled: "Sense of the House on the Innovation Agenda: A Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America #1." Among the points that are included in this section are: "It is the sense of the House to provide sufficient funding that our Nation may continue to be the world leader in education, innovation and economic growth." "America's greatest resource for innovation resides within classrooms across the country. The increased funding provided in this resolution will support important initiatives to educate 100,000 new scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, and place highly qualified teachers in math and science K-12 classrooms." "Independent scientific research provides the foundation for innovation and future technologies. This resolution will put us on the path toward doubling funding for the National Science Foundation, basic research in the physical sciences across all agencies, and collaborative research partnerships; and toward achieving energy independence through the development of clean and sustainable alternative energy technologies."

The next step in this process is for the House and Senate Budget Committees to resolve differences between their versions of the budget resolution. This conference will be held next week, and the leadership wants to complete the budget resolution by month's end. At that time, (if all goes as planned) appropriations subcommittee chairmen will be given their allocations, which is the amount of money they will have to fund all of the programs under their subcommittee's jurisdiction. The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee is tentatively scheduled to write their bill as early as the week of May 7. Senate appropriations bills will start to be drafted in early June.

There are many steps to be taken before the appropriations bills are passed for FY 2008. All signs point to this being a promising year for physical science funding, in particular, for the DOE Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and NIST research program. This process is still, however, far from complete, and the words of an Office of Science and Technology Associate Director should be remembered. This official cautioned when the budget request was sent to Congress that the large percentage funding increases for the three ACI agencies in FY 2008 would be "a difficult lift."