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FYI Number 66: June 6, 2002

House Goes on Record: Double the NSF Budget

At 4:17 pm yesterday the House clerk announced the vote: representatives had voted 397 to 25 to pass an authorization bill that would put the National Science Foundation on track for a doubling of its budget within five years.

Yesterday's vote came after three hours of House floor debate on H.R. 4664, the Investing in America's Future Act. This bill has been moving on a fast track since its introduction about a month ago by Representative Nick Smith (R-MI) and 16 cosponsors on the House Science Committee. The legislation authorizes 15% increases in the foundation's budget in FY 2003, FY 2004, and FY 2005. This rate, if continued for two additional years, would double the foundation's current $4.8 billion budget in five years.

The timing for this bill is propitious. Appropriators in both the House and Senate are working on their versions of the FY 2003 VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill. This massive show of support in the House roll call vote for a 15% increase for NSF funding in FY 2003 will be very helpful to NSF supporters as the bills are written. The Bush Administration requested what amounts to a 3% increase for NSF next year after accounting for program transfers. During recent hearings House and Senate appropriators spoke of their disappointment about the request, and said they would work to increase the foundation's budget. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Christopher Bond (R-MO) are already on record in favor of a doubling of the NSF budget. Last year, the NSF appropriations bill contained an 8.4% increase.

Doubling science budgets has long been advocated, but has been only partially successful. The NIH will see a doubling of their budget with the upcoming FY 2003 appropriation. Bills that would authorize doubling of most S&T spending have been passed by the Senate but were never considered by the House. Yesterday's passage of H.R. 4664 to double the NSF budget was a landmark, both for its passage and for its characterization as a "non-controversial" bill.

All who spoke about the bill yesterday supported it. Members lauded the foundation and described the importance of basic research for the nation's security and economy. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said that "it's time to give NSF the money it needs," saying "Health research is not the only kind of research on which this nation depends." Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) held up an exhibit charting growth in various S&T agency budgets, and exclaimed "I maintain that is out of balance." Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) , who first introduced an NSF budget doubling bill 14 months ago, spoke of the widespread support there was for increasing the NSF budget, citing the contributions of D. Allan Bromley in her remarks.

The only controversy during the consideration of the bill was over an amendment that would have authorized a $35 million Biosafety Research Program to the bill. This was rejected by a vote of 165 yes to 259 no. Opponents charged that the authorization level was arbitrary and would lead to other science programs being singled out for special treatment.

This bill now moves to the Senate. Thanks are due to the Republican and Democratic members of the House Science Committee for their efforts in support of the National Science Foundation and the conduct of basic research in the United States.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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