Insightful Hearing With OSTP Director John Marburger

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Publication date: 
1 April 2008

John Marburger, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, appeared before the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee about a month ago.  The hearing was quite insightful for the perspective it provided on Director Marburger's and the appropriators'  thinking on key science budget and policy issues.  Their views are summarized below:


Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) on the Subcommittee's bipartisanship:

Despite 2008 being an election year, Mollohan said his past experience with Ranking Member Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) indicates that their relationship should continue to be "a cooperative one." 

Frelinghuysen on congressional support for science:

Frelinghuysen expects there will be "broad bipartisan support" for the Administration's S&T requests.   Frelinghuysen then made a very important point that neatly summarizes the situation science funding is facing this year: "unlike other committees, this one operates in a climate of  limited resources.  At the same time the administration hands us this outstanding science request, we have other areas, including state and local law enforcement - all of which are popular and necessary -  where deep and unsustainable cuts are proposed, all of which comes from the same [funding] allocation [for the subcommittee]."  Frelinghuysen's statement parallels one made by the House appropriations subcommittee chairman with jurisdiction over the DOE Office of Science who criticized requested cuts in other DOE programs.


FY 2009 S&T request:

Marburger explained that the President's requested budget would fund 85 percent of the program authorizations in the America COMPETES Act, comparing it to the 82 percent level that Congress provided in the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act.  Funding for the DOE Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and the NIST research programs would increase by a combined 15 percent next year, Marburger saying that they have been "significantly underfunded."  Marburger described the NSF Physical Sciences Directorate as "a priority for this administration, which would increase about 20 percent," and cited Defense basic research as "another important priority for us."  He described the NIST core research and facilities programs as "crucially important parts of the NIST portfolio."

S&T funding:

"I think, speaking as someone who has managed research at a high level for much of my life, it's almost more important to have stability and predictability in federal funding of research and programs than it is to have a lot of money, although a lot of money is desirable."


Marburger said "the NIST research budget is the most underfunded budget, if not in the world, as least in the country," and described NIST as "as a hugely productive and high leverage operation." He told Mollohan that the NIST budget should be about four times its present size.

Biomedical research:

There is an "imbalance" "between our relatively healthy funding for biomedical research" and other areas of science, particularly some physical science fields.  Marburger said NIH is not getting too much money, and spoke of its need for budget stability and predictability.  Marburger spoke of the importance of how federal R&D funding is distributed and managed.


It is unclear how large a role innovation and science programs have played in the Chinese economy's rapid growth, Marburger said, adding "they still have a long way to go . . . it's not clear just how their approach to planning their economy will work out in the long run."

NIST's Manufacturing Extension Program and the Technology Innovation Program:

When asked why the Administration requested a significant cut in MEP funding and the elimination of TIP (the former ATP), Marburger said: "The short answer is, it is a prioritization issue. . . . I feel very strongly that the basic research part of NIST, of their core operations, are the most important things and that they're underfunded.  I want to be clear about that."  While saying NIST's technology transfer programs are much improved, he told the subcommittee that the administration feels that private industry should be investing in these areas. "That said, the primary reason that these activities in NIST are not funded in the current requests are prioritization."  In answer to a question from Chairman Mollohan, Marburger said he was not opposed in principle to the programs.

NSF's education programs:

While acknowledging that the FY 2009 education program request is less than what is authorized in the COMPETES act, Marburger said the requested 9 percent increase is "a sort of a vote of confidence in NSF programs."  He later said the Administration was doing an evaluation of all federal education programs to determine which are the most effective.

NASA Vision and funding:

Marburger said the primary driver for the Moon-Mars exploration vision was the Columbia accident review panel's recommendation that NASA needed "a high-level statement of a program and a vision for what NASA was trying to do."  He called NASA's current budgetary path reasonable and sustainable.  He later added, "we desperately need to be working with Congress to make sure that we've got the funding on a pretty smooth path."   Later in the hearing he said "only the moon provides a stable base for complex [space exploration] operations," adding later, "we have to get away from this notion that we're just there to impress other countries and plant flags."  Marburger told the subcommittee that "probably the highest priority for space operations for this country should be Earth observations."

NASA science:

"We're making a big investment in NASA science. . . . there are pressures on NASA to do even more,  because we have a science community that sees possibilities.  They'd all like to have their satellite programs.  And we have a very aggressive, competitive, capable, space science community out there, that's pushing for more and more.   . . . I think it's a mistake for us to just try to do everything that everybody wants to do."  He later called for NASA's future budgets to be stable and level, avoiding large funding swings.

Why NASA is not a part of the American Competitiveness Initiative:

Marburger contends that  NASA is "more nearly adequately funded for the missions that they perform" than other agencies, adding "the direct product of their research is less relevant to long-term economic competitiveness and to the line of products that sustain the American economy and the likely future economy."   Later he said NASA's products "have had an important impact on our competitiveness."

Political interference:

In response to a question from Chairman Mollohan, Marburger said language which will provide guidance to all agencies "for a complete and open transmittal of scientific information" as required by the America COMPETES Act is now in interagency review.  It should be issued within the next month.

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