At a wide-ranging February 13 hearing on the President's FY 2003 budget
request for R&D, House Science Committee members generally supported
the budget's emphasis on anti-terrorism, homeland and economic security,
and health research, but also indicated that they would try to find
additional funds for science programs. As Chairman Sherwood Boehlert
(R-NY) said, the budget priorities are "reasonable" and "self-evident"
and "deserve to be funded more generously than are other programs."
But he added that "the focusing of the proposed R&D budget
on two narrowly defined priority areas [defense and health] has left
the spending for other agencies anemic." He later commented that
if it were not for defense and national security needs, "this committee
collectively would be madder than hell, to put it bluntly," at
the funding levels for some parts of the science enterprise.
Noting that the requested $3.9 billion increase in the NIH budget is
larger than the entire research budget of NSF, Boehlert raised concerns
about balance in the federal research portfolio that were echoed by
other committee members. He also called proposals to transfer programs
from NOAA, USGS, and EPA into NSF "well meaning, but largely wrong-headed."
Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (D-TX) agreed with Boehlert's remarks
and added that without these transfers, NSF would see "only a small
increase," with cuts to physics and chemistry research.
"The priorities of the nation drastically changed in a matter
of a few hours" after September 11, OSTP Director John Marburger
testified. While the budget reflects three primary goals - the war on
terrorism, homeland security, and reviving the economy - he pointed
out that R&D is up eight percent, with increases for a number of
research areas: nanotechnology, information technology, health, and
climate change. He added that this budget will fulfill President Bush's
campaign promise to double the NIH budget by FY 2003.
Witnesses for the Department of Commerce, NSF, and DOE discussed their
budget requests. Deputy Commerce Secretary Samuel Bodman stated that
while NIST labs would receive increased funding, substantial reductions
are proposed for the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) and Manufacturing
Extension Partnership (MEP). He and Commerce Secretary Don Evans "spent
considerable time" reviewing ATP and he believed that, if their
recommendations were followed, it could be a successful program that
they would "enthusiastically support." According to NSF Director
Rita Colwell, highlights of the NSF request include Math and Science
Partnerships to improve K-12 education and an increase in graduate student
stipends; other priority areas include nano- and information technologies,
math and statistics, the Science of Learning Centers, an initiative
on technology and society, and environmental biocomplexity. She acknowledged
that the request includes $76 million in transfers from other agencies.
DOE Chief Financial Officer Bruce Carnes broadly described DOE's R&D
programs, stating that the budget reflects efforts to refocus DOE priorities
to the Department's new primary mission of national security. He spent
little time on Office of Science programs except to note that priorities
included support of science user facilities and infrastructure improvements.
The topic drawing most Members' attention was balance in the federal
R&D investment. While none opposed the level of funding for NIH,
Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Bob Etheridge (D-NC) and others argued that
without sufficient funding of areas like physics and chemistry, the
tools and background knowledge to advance the health sciences would
not be developed. Boehlert commented that while the NIH budget represents
about half of the total federal S&T budget, he was not convinced
that NIH had "a monopoly on important science opportunities."
Ehlers asked Marburger whether the completion of the commitment to double
NIH funding meant that additional money might then be available for
other areas of science. Although saying that "hopefully" the
end of the NIH doubling effort "will remove some constraints on
the ability to fund other priority areas...in the future," Marburger
said there had to be "some basis for distributing money" across
the science enterprise. He stressed that the Administration was looking
for reasons for "singling out one area or another" for investment
and, if that basis were complexity, increases for NIH would be justified.
The ability to unravel the structure of DNA, he said, is going to provide
an "extraordinary, enormous, huge" opportunity to understand
the molecular basis of life. Ehlers responded that, if the measure were
complexity, astrophysics should be getting the most funding, and urged
Marburger to consider such decisions thoughtfully.
Ehlers and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also questioned the cuts to NIST's
ATP and MEP programs. Bodman said the proposed modifications to ATP
would eliminate "inappropriate corporate subsidies" by enabling
universities and small companies to receive more ATP funding. Regarding
MEP, he believed the Administration had raised "a fair question"
for how long federal funding for the centers should continue, but "whether
it is reasonable to expect these centers to exist without federal support,
I don't have a quick answer."
There was also much discussion of new research and technology initiatives
in climate change; Marburger said these new programs were focused on
areas that bear directly on climate change policy decisions. A number
of committee members felt that federal climate change research has discriminated
against scientists with unpopular viewpoints, but Marburger explained
that most of the research expenditures were awarded in open competition
and determined by the aspects of climate change needing investigated,
rather than on the scientist's point of view.
Other areas of questioning included the investment in aerospace technology,
nuclear fuel reprocessing, inter-agency coordination, the President's
Management Agenda, and science education. Now that he has been in office
for a few months, Marburger said, he feels that the mechanism to coordinate
research across the agencies and eliminate duplication "works better
than I might have expected." Noting that OMB was intending to develop
performance measures for basic research, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) asked
whether the agencies had sufficient expertise to assess the basic research
portfolio. Marburger replied that he was working on the issue, with
input from all the R&D agencies and from numerous reports, including
a "significant" study put out several years ago by the National
Academy of Sciences. Questioned by Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) about science
education, Colwell responded that NSF was looking at its education programs
to "find what works," and then applying that to the Math and
Science Partnerships, "which I'm very excited about."
Gutknecht praised the witnesses for "the work all of you do,"
and, noting that it would be a difficult budget year, said the committee
would "probably do...nip and tucking as we go along" to see
if it could "improve the plight of some of these programs."