Progress on Efforts to Increase Federal R&D Investment
The effort to promote doubling of federal civilian research funding got a boost on June 25, when Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a new bill, the Federal Research Investment Act (S. 2217.) A June 24 floor amendment to the Senate defense authorization bill would also promote an increase in defense R&D funding.
Eight months after 106 scientific and engineering societies joined forces to urge the federal government to double its investment in research over ten years, the initiative continues to move forward. Last October, concurrent with the statement by the more-than-100 societies, Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced S. 1305 to authorize this increase for civilian R&D (see FYI #129, 1997.)
Now the science community has been asked for its assistance once more. The Frist bill, slightly modified from the Gramm bill, has the strong backing of Gramm and the other cosponsors of S. 1305. Because of Frist's position as chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, his bill is thought to have a better chance of passage. At the June 25 press conference for the bill, Frist called on professional societies and the science community to spread the word and encourage support for his legislation. He was flanked by Senators Gramm, Lieberman, and Conrad Burns (R-MT), who all lauded the bill, as did former APS President - and science advisor to President Bush - D. Allan Bromley, Rutgers President Francis Lawrence, and Joan Shields, Chairman of the American Chemical Society's Board of Directors.
Frist's legislation would authorize an annual increase for non-defense R&D of 5.5 percent (or 2.5 percent each year above an assumed inflation rate of 3.0 percent.) If the appropriators are guided by this when they dole out funding, it would effectively result in a doubling of the federal civilian R&D investment over approximately 12 years, instead of the 10 years called for in Gramm's bill. This is felt by many to be a more realistic timetable with a better likelihood of acceptance by the full Senate.
In another departure from the Gramm bill, Frist's legislation sets out policy guidelines for prioritizing research programs, assessing performance, and terminating programs which are unsuccessful. It requires the President, as part of his annual budget request to Congress, to submit a detailed summary of all federal R&D programs. It also directs the Administration to commission the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a study of how to evaluate research programs.
Frist's bill encompasses the non-defense R&D programs of the following departments and agencies: the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, NIST, NASA, NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EPA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Education. Currently, the cosponsors of the bill include Frist, Rockefeller, Gramm, Lieberman, Burns, Pete Domenici (R-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and John Breaux (D-LA). Frist was hopeful that he could get a majority of Senators to sign onto S. 2217, but did not know when he might schedule a mark-up of the bill.
A similar attempt to ensure strong federal support for R&D has been made for defense funding as well. On June 24, the Senate approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill (S. 2057), directing the Secretary of Defense to plan for annual increases to DOD science and technology funding of at least 2.0 percent above inflation for the fiscal years 2000 through 2008. This would affect DOD's basic and applied research and advanced technology development (6.1, 6.2, and 6.3) categories. The amendment was sponsored by Senators Bingaman, Lieberman, Frist, Rick Santorum (R-PA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS).
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
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