Frist Bill to Double R&D Funding Passes Senate Committee
The bill calls for increasing the federal investment in civilian research and development in specified agencies by approximately 2.5 percent over inflation for each of the next eleven years. It would also direct the President to report annually to Congress on the federal R&D portfolio and strategies, and require development of performance measures for the success of R&D programs. The Director of OMB would have the responsibility of identifying programs which were not meeting the requirements for success, after which actions could be taken to bring the program into compliance or terminate it.
The thrust of the new amendment is that if Congress increases the funding for a single agency's R&D by substantially more than the bill authorizes, that agency's increase would be exempted from the total for all agencies under the bill, so it does not slow the recommended growth of the others. "The fear," Frist explained, is that if agencies like NIH grow significantly faster than what the bill recommends, "the others would be cut" or grow at a slower rate.
While the amendment recognizes and supports the dramatic increases that Congress has been providing for NIH recently, it then adds the following caveat: "Because all fields of science and engineering are interdependent, full realization of the nation's historic investment in health will depend on major advances both in the biomedical sciences and in other science and engineering disciplines. Hence, the vitality of all disciplines must be preserved, even as special considerations are given to the health research field."
Although none of the committee members opposed the bill, several sounded notes of caution. Slade Gorton (R-WA) expressed "the same reservations as a year ago" about what other programs would be cut to free up funds for R&D. While it is "a nice bill, a feel-good bill," he said, "it isn't going to happen in reality." Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) agreed that Gorton raised "legitimate concerns on the budget limitations." But Ernest Hollings (D-SC) responded that "every time we invest in research, we save the government money." He said the subject of the bill was "probably the most important of the issues that confront us."
The next step is for S. 296 to go to the Senate floor. It has good support, with the number of co-sponsors up to 37 at latest count. It is important to remember, however, that even if this bill passes both houses and is signed by the President, it will not automatically increase research funding. As an authorization bill, it can only provide guidelines and recommended funding levels, but not actual dollars.
NOTE on FYI #79: The House Science Committee mark-up of H.R. 1655, its Department of Energy authorization bill, has been postponed until May 13.
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics