Chairman Sensenbrenner Urged to Act on R&D Authorization Bill When Congress adjourns this month all bills that are still pending before it will die. Included in the obituary is likely to be legislation that would authorize the doubling of federal civilian R&D over the next ten years. Despite repeated passage in the Senate of bills that would accomplish this goal, the bill has never cleared the House Science Committee.
In January 1997, Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) introduced the first bill that would authorize the doubling of federal R&D funding. Several Senate bills have evolved and been passed since then, culminating in S. 2046 passed late last month. This bill, the Federal Research Investment Act, authorizes civilian R&D to increase over set amounts in the next five years, with the goal being to invest 10% of the discretionary budget in civilian R&D by 2011. This legislation does not include defense-related research, or provide the actual money. Senate action on S. 2046 occurred after Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) amended another bill, the Next Generation Act, to include the provisions described above.
This is as far as the bill will go unless House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has a change of heart. In a letter to Frist before Senate passage of S. 2046, Sensenbrenner wrote: "I cannot support a long-term authorization bill that includes a single blanket authorization for all civilian R&D agencies." "In my opinion, such an authorization would provide little support for scientific research funding while undermining the Science Committee's ability to operate as an effective legislative entity." To this, Frist replied, "I acknowledge your concerns regarding the potential for long-term authorization bills to transfer oversight duties to appropriations committees. However, I reject the argument that the Federal Research Investment Act abrogates the responsibility of individual authorization committees from passing annual bills to fund specific programs and activities. Nothing in the Federal Research Investment Act detracts from your committee's ability and obligation to exercise full oversight over the agencies and programs in your jurisdiction."
Last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in on this legislation with a letter to Sensenbrenner that was copied to the House Republican leadership and Frist. In this letter, Gingrich stated: "I strongly favor Senator Frist's broad and comprehensive bill to double R&D research, the Federal Research Investment Act. I see this bill as a first step in accomplishing an opportunity-based budget. With the passage of this bill, Congress is making a critical statement about America's commitment to lead the world in science and technology research and development." Gingrich continued, "As the Chairman of the Science Committee, authorizing appropriations for specific programs and agencies and providing oversight and policy direction to those agencies is within your jurisdiction. This bill does not infringe on that. I urge you not to let the specifics of the bill cloud the importance of sending a clear message that a general overall doubling of R&D is one of the highest priorities of the Republican Congress. The consequences of not passing a doubling bill at this point will send a confused message and could be detrimental in rallying support for R&D funding. I strongly encourage you to work out a bill before Congress adjourns that sends a clear message to communities of scientists and to the world that America will continue to lead the world in research and development."
Richard M. Jones