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FYI Number 58: May 1, 2001

Boehlert Hopes to Increase FY 2002 Budgets for Science Agencies

"I intend to work with my colleagues on this Committee, the Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committee, as well as the Administration, to start building up these budgets now." - Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)

As the House Science Committee met on April 25 to hear testimony on the FY 2002 budget requests for NASA, NSF, NOAA, and DOE's Office of Science, committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) was adamant in his determination to get federal science funding increased above the request for the coming year. Although somewhat mollified by indications that the White House recognized the inadequacy of the science investment and planned to "do better next year," Boehlert vowed that "we're going to do our level best to convince our colleagues in Congress to pay more attention" to issues of concern to the committee, including adequate investment in science, a balanced research portfolio, and interagency cooperation. He noted that it was important for agencies to collaborate to leverage investments and avoid wasteful duplication of research efforts, but added that "no amount of interagency coordination will make for a robust program if its individual components are not adequately funded." Boehlert expressed particular concern over the requests for the DOE Office of Science and for NSF, and later commented that "NSF stands for 'Not Sufficient Funds.'"

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, whose agency budget would increase 2 percent to $14.5 billion, testified that "the Administration's FY 2002 a solid and businesslike plan," which would require deliberate prioritization to "live within our means." He acknowledged that this would include cutting lower priority Space and Earth science program elements in order to enhance funding for Mars exploration and follow-on Earth Observing measurements.

NSF's budget would grow by 1.3 percent, to $4.47 billion, under the request. According to NSF Director Rita Colwell, the highlight of the foundation's request is the 11- percent increase for Education and Human Resources, to increase graduate student stipends and initiate the Math and Science Partnerships program to improve education in those areas.

Science programs within DOE would receive a total of $3.2 billion under the request. James Decker, Acting Director of DOE's Office of Science, reported that funding for his office's programs "has, in constant dollars, remained somewhat flat over the past decades and new opportunities must be balanced against existing commitments and stewardship of mission critical research."

NOAA Administrator Scott Gudes stated that NOAA's budget request would decline by $60.8 million, to $3.2 billion. Within this request, he said, "NOAA proposes essential realignments that allow for a total of $270.0 million in program increases in critical areas such as infrastructure, severe weather prediction, coastal conservation, living marine resources, and climate."

All four witnesses described many diverse, productive collaborations with other federal S&T agencies, both through formal mechanisms such as the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council, and at the interpersonal level by program managers and researchers. The panel agreed that the one-on-one interactions may be the most vital to effective collaborations. Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) also questioned the level of cooperation with the State Department; both Colwell and Goldin responded that their agencies have supplied scientists to the State Department on a temporary basis.

Smith asked about the redirection of $110 million in NSF education money to support the President's new $200 million Math and Science Partnerships. The question was echoed by Boehlert, who applauded the program but said his enthusiasm was "tempered" because only $90 million for the partnerships is new funding and the rest is taken from existing programs. Colwell replied that the money "was not being wrenched out of" NSF K-12 and undergraduate programs, but the partnerships fit well with the direction of NSF's education programs and gave the foundation "an opportunity to step back," review, and build on the best aspects of the current programs.

Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) inquired about the directive in the budget for a Blue Ribbon panel to consider moving NSF's astronomy responsibilities to NASA. Colwell and Goldin agreed that astronomy has been an area of many fruitful collaborations between NSF and NASA. Goldin thought it was inappropriate for the agencies to comment on the issue. "It's an area where both agencies work so well together...that I wouldn't want to see a degradation in the relationship," he said.

Rep. Nick Lampson (D- TX) asked Goldin whether constraining space station costs would result in deleting or deferring content needed to make it a productive research facility and whether research would remain a station priority. Goldin believed that the station would "be able to have a good solid research program," although "maybe not as much as we wanted." He did not expect the funding constraints to result in greater taxpayer costs later. As an aside, Boehlert remarked that "a little dose of realism would help" in looking at long-term station costs.

Boehlert pressed the witnesses to describe what additional investments they would make if they received additional funding in FY 2002, and what opportunities would be lost if they did not. As representatives of the Administration, the witnesses were reluctant to criticize the proposed budget. In addition to NSF's priority areas of information technology, nanoscience, biocomplexity, education and workforce issues, and graduate and postdoctoral stipends, Colwell also listed emerging areas of mathematics, as well as grant size and duration.

Saying that he wanted to focus on revolutionary, not evolutionary, technologies, Goldin cited information technology, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. He said universities were another essential area needing increased investment, particularly in the physical sciences and engineering.

Decker noted that many DOE Office of Science programs had experienced reductions or increases below inflation which, over decades, had "taken a toll." He stressed the need for infrastructure investment, to improve facilities and increase their utilization. Gudes responded that the NOAA budget request was "investing in the right things," including infrastructure and supercomputing.

It was obvious that most members of the Science Committee are eager to do all they can to get science funding increased in this year's appropriations process. It will remain to be seen what influence they, as members of an authorizing committee, will have on the appropriators.

Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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