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FYI Number 128: November 21, 2002

Congress Passes Bill Authorizing Doubling of NSF Budget

As Congress moved toward the conclusion of this session, it appeared increasingly less likely that time would be found to settle on, and then pass, compromise legislation authorizing a doubling of the National Science Foundation's budget. Objections from the Bush Administration had unexpectedly sidetracked the legislation, and time was running out for the bill. Long hours by the staff of the House and Senate authorizing committees led to a compromise bill that both chambers passed late last week and which President Bush will sign. Under this bill, H.R. 4664, the authorization level for the National Science Foundation will be on track to double by the year 2007.

The drive to double federal science and technology funding dates to the introduction of a bill by Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) in early 1997. Similar bills, pushed by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and several other senators, went through a number of evolutions and were passed by the Senate. Although House legislation was introduced, no such broadly written bill ever moved in this chamber. That changed for NSF when Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R- NY) became the chairman of the House Science Committee.

The outlook for the NSF improved in the summer of 2000 when Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) wrote a letter to the Senate leadership advocating a doubling of the foundation's budget in five years. Designed to demonstrate political support for NSF, this and another letter attracted more than 40 signatures. They continued to hammer away at this goal, although often the funding they provided through the VA/HUD appropriations bill could not meet their stated objectives. In 2001, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D- TX) introduced legislation in the House to authorize a doubling of NSF's budget.

Movement to double NSF's budget became much stronger this year. In early June, the House voted 397 to 25 for a bill sponsored by Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) to authorize an eventual doubling of the foundation's budget. This bill, calling for a 15% increase for NSF in FY 2003, contrasted with the Bush Administration's request of what amounted to a 3% increase. In August, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced similar legislation for a doubling of the budget in five years. The bill was sent to the Senate floor following ten minutes of discussion during a busy hearing in September. Questions and a cited administration letter at this hearing revealed the administration's problems with a five-year authorization and with the FY 2003 funding level. The hopeful word among the science community in Washington was, however, that discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the bill had been resolved, and that following a quick Senate vote on a compromise bill it would be sent back over to the House for a final vote. This did not occur when the administration had a hold put on the legislation.

Time was running out for this bill as Congress was moving rapidly toward adjournment. So it was somewhat unexpected when the Bush Administration and the authorizing committees reached an agreement on compromise language. As will be outlined in forthcoming FYIs, the legislation authorizes a doubling of the NSF budget by FY 2007. The final two years are contingent on a demonstration of effective NSF management. The word "doubling" was removed from the bill's title. In describing H.R. 4664 that chairman Boehlert so successfully moved through his committee, and then the House, he said, "We turn to NSF to solve some of our most pressing problems; we can't turn from NSF when we decide where to invest federal funds. It's time to give the NSF the money it needs."

President Bush will sign H.R. 4664 in the next few days. His signature on this bill will be a very significant milestone for the National Science Foundation, and should have ramifications on other science and technology budgets. The solid support for NSF that will be shown by the President's signature, and the action taken by the House and Senate, will place the foundation in a strong position as the FY 2003 appropriation is finalized, and as the FY 2004 budget cycle begins.

In closing, a statement once made by Senator Mikulski, which no doubt reflects the sentiments of Senator Bond and their House counterparts, is worth repeating:

"I remain fully committed to the doubling of the budget for NSF over the next five years, but without the support of the administration, the authorizing committees, and the Budget Committees, the appropriators cannot do it alone."

H.R. 4664 provides that support.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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