Trouble Ahead for NSF and NASA The House and Senate appropriations committees met last week to divide the $600 billion pie for FY 2001, and at the end of process, the subcommittees funding NSF and NASA both came up short. The chairmen of the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies appropriations subcommittees are now faced with essentially doing more with less, with the possible outcome being disappointing budgets for NSF and NASA.
This slice of the pie, or the 302(b) allocation, is an inside- the-beltway matter with reverberations that will be felt by researchers, veterans, the poor, and the environment. Here is the problem: the Congressional Budget Office calculates that $78.4 billion is needed to maintain the current level of services for the programs under the jurisdiction of the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittees. The House and Senate subcommittees will have only $76.2 billion, a reduction of more than $2 billion. This becomes even more difficult since the CBO estimate makes no allowance for inflation, or for disaster aid and renewal of HUD housing contracts.
Senate VA, HUD subcommittee chairman Christopher "Kit" Bond (R- MO) seemed to know what was in store for him last week before going to the meeting where he would be given his allocation. He called it "an impossible situation...we do not have an allocation that will allow us to do what we must do." Allocations for the Energy and Water Development subcommittees funding DOE are also below the current level of services, although by not nearly the same degree. The allocation for the subcommittees funding the Department of Commerce is also lower than necessary to fund current programs.
Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew highlighted the impacts that the budget plan would have on S&T in a speech delivered in Washington last week. Asking, "will we invest in science and technology to sustain prosperity in this new economy?", Lew criticized what he called "an oversized tax cut." He continued, "Unfortunately, for the annual funding measures that must be completed this year, Congress has left itself with inadequate resources to pass responsible appropriations bills for 2001." "In the VA/HUD appropriations bill, we can see how the congressional budget forces untenable choices between meeting our commitments to the past, present and future. Overall, this bill is cut by 8 percent. If VA medical programs are protected, as both Congress and our budget call for, the cut to remaining programs exceeds 10 percent." "VA/HUD funding at levels consistent with the congressional budget simply does not provide adequate resources to fund housing, science, environmental protection and veterans programs, along with the many other important programs such as AmeriCorps, our national service program." Among the "key areas that appear to be shortchanged,"according to Lew: "a $480 million reduction to the National Science Foundation, resulting in almost 18,000 fewer researchers, educators and students receiving NSF support..." and "no new resources for long-term research in supercomputing or in the area of Nanotechnology."
Efforts are also being made on Capitol Hill to boost S&T spending. Twelve senators sent letters to Senate appropriators requesting that they "assign a high priority to scientific research in the FY 2001 appropriations process." The senators wrote, "Shortchanging science in this year's appropriations process would be worrisome since much of our current economic success results from past federal investment made in basic research." "We must also work to ensure balanced growth in fundamental research support across all scientific disciplines. This is particularly important because progress in one area of science often leads to unexpected advances in other areas. For example, many recent breakthroughs in biomedical research and information technology would not have been possible were it not for earlier efforts in the physical sciences and engineering. These cross-disciplinary advances require support for science across all the federal mission agencies...."
The letter, sent to the Senate appropriations subcommittee chairs, was signed by Senators Lieberman (D-CT), Frist (R-TN), Abraham (R-MI), Bingaman (D-NM), Schumer (D-NY), Snowe (R-ME), Roberts (R-KS), Bayh (D-IN), Rockefeller (D-WV), DeWine (R-OH), Kennedy (D-MA) and Dodd (D-CT).
Chairman Bond and subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said last week that they would continue to work to improve their allocation, an action that their House counterparts will also take. For now, OMB Director Lew warns that "the president simply cannot and will not sign" key appropriations bills likely to result from the current congressional budget plan.
Richard M. Jones