As Congress moved toward the conclusion of this session, it
appeared increasingly less likely that time would be found to
settle on, and then pass, compromise legislation authorizing a
doubling of the National Science Foundation's budget. Objections
from the Bush Administration had unexpectedly sidetracked the
legislation, and time was running out for the bill. Long hours
by the staff of the House and Senate authorizing committees led
to a compromise bill that both chambers passed late last week and
which President Bush will sign. Under this bill, H.R. 4664, the
authorization level for the National Science Foundation will be
on track to double by the year 2007.
The drive to double federal science and technology funding dates
to the introduction of a bill by Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) in
early 1997. Similar bills, pushed by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN)
and several other senators, went through a number of evolutions
and were passed by the Senate. Although House legislation was
introduced, no such broadly written bill ever moved in this
chamber. That changed for NSF when Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-
NY) became the chairman of the House Science Committee.
The outlook for the NSF improved in the summer of 2000 when
Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) and Senator Barbara
Mikulski (D-MD) wrote a letter to the Senate leadership
advocating a doubling of the foundation's budget in five years.
Designed to demonstrate political support for NSF, this and
another letter attracted more than 40 signatures. They continued
to hammer away at this goal, although often the funding they
provided through the VA/HUD appropriations bill could not meet
their stated objectives. In 2001, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-
TX) introduced legislation in the House to authorize a doubling
of NSF's budget.
Movement to double NSF's budget became much stronger this year.
In early June, the House voted 397 to 25 for a bill sponsored by
Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) to authorize an eventual doubling of the
foundation's budget. This bill, calling for a 15% increase for
NSF in FY 2003, contrasted with the Bush Administration's request
of what amounted to a 3% increase. In August, Senator Ted
Kennedy (D-MA) introduced similar legislation for a doubling of
the budget in five years. The bill was sent to the Senate floor
following ten minutes of discussion during a busy hearing in
September. Questions and a cited administration letter at this
hearing revealed the administration's problems with a five-year
authorization and with the FY 2003 funding level. The hopeful
word among the science community in Washington was, however, that
discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the bill
had been resolved, and that following a quick Senate vote on a
compromise bill it would be sent back over to the House for a
final vote. This did not occur when the administration had a
hold put on the legislation.
Time was running out for this bill as Congress was moving rapidly
toward adjournment. So it was somewhat unexpected when the Bush
Administration and the authorizing committees reached an
agreement on compromise language. As will be outlined in
forthcoming FYIs, the legislation authorizes a doubling of the
NSF budget by FY 2007. The final two years are contingent on a
demonstration of effective NSF management. The word "doubling"
was removed from the bill's title. In describing H.R. 4664 that
chairman Boehlert so successfully moved through his committee,
and then the House, he said, "We turn to NSF to solve some of our
most pressing problems; we can't turn from NSF when we decide
where to invest federal funds. It's time to give the NSF the
money it needs."
President Bush will sign H.R. 4664 in the next few days. His
signature on this bill will be a very significant milestone for
the National Science Foundation, and should have ramifications on
other science and technology budgets. The solid support for NSF
that will be shown by the President's signature, and the action
taken by the House and Senate, will place the foundation in a
strong position as the FY 2003 appropriation is finalized, and as
the FY 2004 budget cycle begins.
In closing, a statement once made by Senator Mikulski, which no
doubt reflects the sentiments of Senator Bond and their House
counterparts, is worth repeating:
"I remain fully committed to the doubling of the budget for
NSF over the next five years, but without the support of the administration,
the authorizing committees, and the Budget Committees, the appropriators
cannot do it alone."
H.R. 4664 provides that support.