Congressional Response to Administration's FY 2001 Request for NSF and NASA It has been about two weeks since the Clinton Administration sent its FY 2001 request to Congress. By May, various appropriations subcommittees will start releasing their versions of the FY 2001 appropriations bills. At present, hearings and the occasional press release offer some of the best public indicators of how research budgets are likely to fare. So far, the signs seem to be encouraging for science in general, and NSF and NASA in particular.
This is not to imply that the budget process will be easy. The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), has released two press statements since President Clinton sent his entire budget to Capitol Hill. Young's language in the first was strong: "In my wildest dreams, I cannot see how his proposals become reality - we simply will not have the funds. The President didn't just blow the caps - he blew all commitment to fiscal restraint and sanity.... The Congress will be hard- pressed to come up with funds to maintain existing programs, let alone begin new initiatives or provide big increases. I predict it will be a difficult budget year." His second statement was almost as strong: "The President's budget has something for everyone. ...the taxpayers simply cannot afford all of them."
The House Science Committee offers a first look at likely congressional response. House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) issued a press release in January, before the budget was released, in which he said, "I look forward to reviewing the overall budget and supporting our nation's scientific enterprise." Two subcommittee hearings on February 16 on NSF and NASA provide insight.
The NSF hearing by the House Subcommittee on Basic Research, chaired by Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) went well. Smith began by praising the foundation: "NSF has had a great first fifty years. Although often overlooked, the research funded by Foundation has played a pivotal role in raising the basic standard of living in the U.S. and around the world and has saved millions of lives along the way. Largely as a result of basic research encouraged through the NSF, the U.S. is now the leader in numerous high- technology fields and global markets. If the next 50 years are anything like the first 50, our children and grandchildren can look forward to an incredibly productive future." Joining Smith in an opening statement was Ranking Minority Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). She expressed her pleasure in the requested 17.3 percent increase for the foundation. Of note, she said that the increase would help reverse some of the sharp declines in funding for some disciplines, specifically mentioning physics. She said that the current situation "raise[d] serious questions about the balance in research fields," and went on to describe the links between biomedical research and such fields as physics, engineering, and chemistry.
NSF Director Rita Colwell and National Science Board Chairman Eamon Kelly testified at this hearing. Colwell described the request as "truly a 21st Century investment for 21st Century science and engineering," and acknowledged the work of the science community in helping to lay the foundation for this request. She testified about the linkages between physical sciences and health care, and the importance of investments in science and technology to the American economy. Kelly spoke of the proposed NSF budget as "the first step in remedying" the federal underinvestment in fundamental research.
In the Q&A portion of the hearing, Chairman Smith described himself as a "hard-nosed reviewer," and asked for a description of applications stemming from NSF research over the last twenty years, especially as it relates to economic productivity. He is interested, he said, in "the effectiveness of the research dollar." Regarding basic research, Smith declared, "I'm sold on it."
Other committee members expressed their support for the foundation. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) called the hearing a "love- in," and said "your problem is not with us," citing the appropriations committees that set the actual budget numbers. He asked what was NSF's "greatest unmet need," and was told that the foundation needs to be able to follow the NIH in its award size and duration to become the most efficient. Other members asked about peer review, educating the public about genetically- modified foods, and laboratory and cyber security. One member commented on the effectiveness of lobbying efforts for NIH by "disease groups," and then added "the NSF does not have an organized constituency." There was discussion about an Office of Management and Budget document that projects a budgetary decline in the outyears for NSF, which contradicts the foundation's own plans to grow (note that OMB's outyear projections are usually not followed.) The subcommittee will have another hearing on NSF's Education and Human Resources budget request on February 29.
Earlier that day in the same hearing room, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin presented his agency's FY 2001 budget request of $14.035 billion - a 3.2 percent increase - to the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Both Goldin and subcommittee members were pleased that the Administration had requested an increase for the first time in seven years. Goldin said, "At times I've felt like Sisyphus" (a figure in Greek mythology condemned to roll a stone up a hill forever) in presenting the budget request; "today I feel like Hercules." Space subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) commented that if NASA continues its quest to find an honest space station partner in Russia, Goldin might "compare yourself to Diogenes," famed for his search for an honest man.
Most of the hearing continued in this vein, with Rohrabacher, full committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, and other, mostly Republican, members criticizing the Clinton Administration's past decision to bring Russia in as a space station partner, and the resultant delays in space station construction. Goldin answered with his now-familiar response that the U.S. has gained valuable knowledge and experience from its partnership with Russia, and that not all the delays could be blamed on the Russians. He reported that NASA is continuing with preparations to launch the Interim Control Module in December 2000 if the Russian Service Module is still not ready at that time.
The continued space station delays appear to be the main concern of the subcommittee. In other questioning, several Democratic subcommittee members asked about education funding within the NASA request, totaling $144.0 million spread out among NASA's programs. Goldin called the amount "a good sum, considering we're not the Department of Education." Another issue of interest to subcommittee members was funding for aircraft noise reduction. Goldin reported that a funding increase of $100 million was requested for noise and emissions research over a five-year period. Questioned by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) about NASA's plans for investment in space science, Goldin responded that when he took over at the agency, space science funding was 31 percent of the total budget. It has now climbed to 41 percent, and his five-year plan shows it growing to 51 percent. Regarding recent failures of several Mars missions, Goldin said a panel was currently reviewing the program architecture, and he did not want to bias their results by discussing it yet.
Richard M. Jones, Audrey T. Leath