Cutting the Deficit: Views of Top House Science Committee Republican and Democrat

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Publication date: 
20 October 2011

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With its deadline only about  a month away to craft a plan to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2  trillion dollars over ten years, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction has  been receiving much advice about what it should do.  Among those writing to the committee, in  separate letters, were the top Republican and Democrat on the House Science,  Space and Technology Committee.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice  Johnson (D-TX) sent a two and one-half page letter  to the joint committee’s co-chairs on October  13.  “I strongly support continued  federal investment in science and technology as an important component of any  serious effort to achieve long-term deficit reduction,” she told the committee,  highlighting returns from investments in DARPA, NASA, the National Science  Foundation, Department of Energy, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Later in her letter, she wrote:

“neither the agencies nor the  scientific and engineering communities can plan or prioritize well given the  often month-to-month funding uncertainties of recent years.  Worse yet, the current uncertainties coupled  with pessimism about their ability to secure funding into the future are  turning some of our most brilliant young minds away from R&D careers.  I urge you, as you undertake your very  difficult task of trying to set us on a more sustainable fiscal path, to do  whatever it takes to prioritize steady growth of our investments in science,  technology, and STEM education.”

In concluding her letter, Johnson  raised one of the most difficult questions confronting the committee, that of raising  additional revenue.  She stated:

“I recognize that continued  investments in these areas have a cost, and that is why I also believe that it  is critically important for the Joint Select Committee to include serious  revenue enhancements in its set of recommendations.  Failure to do so would likely lead to  ill-advised pressures for cuts to the vital areas I have described in this  letter.  It is when our economy is  hurting the most that we should be redoubling our efforts to innovate our way  into a brighter future of new jobs, new technologies, and untold societal  benefits.”

The approach taken by Science  Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and ten of his Republican colleagues on  the committee differed considerably.  In  their October 14 14-page letter, they recommended more than $1.5 billion in savings  in FY 2012 spending.   “We believe that  the attached recommendations prioritize research and development programs that  protect our national security and leadership, allow private investors and the  marketplace to thrive without undue Federal influence, and have the most potential  for sustained long-term growth” they wrote to the joint committee’s co-chairs.

The twelve-page attachment is  organized by department or agency.  Among  their recommendations for programs reviewed by FYI are:

Department of Energy:

Office of Science: “We  believe the Office of Science should be the top funding priority among DOE  R&D programs and be protected from cuts by the Joint Committee,” they  wrote.  This support is not universal,  with Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, and science  education and workforce development identified as programs “which warrant  consideration for cuts.” 

Advanced Research Projects  Agency-Energy:  Hall and his colleagues  described their continuing concerns regarding ARPA-E, recommending that programmatic  improvements be made before funding is provided for new awards.

Nuclear Energy:“We strongly  support advancement of nuclear energy and the associated research,” the letter  stated. 


Human Space Flight Program: “While  we are supportive of innovative, commercial options, we have concerns that this  [Administration] proposal may not be viable or less-expensive than a traditional  development program.  NASA still has many  issues to work through before proceeding forward, and we would urge caution  with expenditures until more questions are answered and technologies  demonstrated.”

Science Mission  Directorate:  The letter proposed $177  million in cuts in the FY 2012 request, including “Cancellation of OCO-2  mission,” “Reduce by 20% ‘Other Missions and Data Analysis,” “Reduce by 20% ‘Venture  Class Missions’ account within the Earth System Science Pathfinder Missions.”  The letter also described general support for  the new “Space Technology” program, although at a lower level than requested.  No mention was made of the James Webb Space  Telescope.

National Science Foundation:

“For FY 12, the House  Appropriations Committee provided a slight increase of $43 million over the  FY11 amount for basic research.  We would  discourage funding for the Foundation to fall below the $6.86 billion provided  by the House Appropriations Committee,” the letter stated.

The letter does not support  all Research and Related Activities programs: “We remain concerned that the  increased emphasis in these areas moves the Foundation from its core mission of  supporting basic R&D to significantly more support for applied areas of  R&D, which are best left to market forces or agencies with specific applied  R&D goals to advance their mission.”    These areas include the nanotechnology manufacturing initiative, next-generation  robotics technologies, an interdisciplinary program to replace computer chip  technologies, advanced manufacturing activities, and cyber-infrastructure.

The letter also took issue  with the amount of requested funding for interdisciplinary activities within  the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program, the  Climate Change Technology Program, the U.S. Global Climate Change Research  Program, and the Climate Change Education Program. 

The letter also included  funding recommendations for the Education and Human Resources Directorate.  The authors “remain committed to a strong NSF  presence in STEM education, including K-12 STEM education.”  Regarding the roles of NSF and the Department  of Education in the support of STEM education, the letter explained “the STEM-related  research and expertise that NSF can and does provide is world-class and needs  to be included in any appropriate larger, overarching STEM education activities  carried out by the Federal government.” In addition, the letter described the Noyce Scholarship Program and the  Math and Science Partnership program as “proven and worthy programs and are not  appropriate areas to be cut in order to fund new and unproven programs.”

National Institute of  Standards and Technology:

Regarding Scientific and  Technical Research and Services, Hall and his colleagues wrote: “We feel that  maintaining strong support for STRS at NIST is vital to our economic  security.  Therefore, we agree it is  prudent to support a moderate increase as recommended by House appropriators,  or in the very least sustained STRS funding at FY11 levels, and encourage  Members of the Select Committee to preserve funding for NIST’s core standards  development and basic research functions.”

The letter supported the  Administration and the Appropriations Committee in providing no funding for the  extramural construction grant program in FY 2012.

“We view the proposed  expansion of the Industrial Technology Services (ITS) programs as requested by  the Administration for FY12 to be inappropriate in the current budget  environment,” the letter stated.  Hall  and his colleagues noted that they would give priority to continued funding for  the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.