"It's impossible to seriously view this as a good budget for
science," House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY)
declared at a February 11 hearing on the Administration's FY 2005 S&T
request. Boehlert's comments aptly summarize the sentiments of his
colleagues on the committee, regardless of what side of the aisle
they sit on.
While committee members demonstrated much support for increasing
funding for federal S&T programs, their backs are against the fiscal
wall. The economy, war, and ballooning federal deficit have created
tremendous pressures on federal spending. With the Bush
Administration's decision to keep the overall funding increase for
discretionary spending to less than one-half of one percent, there is
little new money available. As Boehlert said, "we still don't know
whether it's the best budget we can get. That's going to depend much
more on the overall 'macro' decisions the Congress makes on the
budget than on anything else. It's far too early to tell how things
will work out."
National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell used this hearing
to officially announce that she will leave the foundation this month
for industry and academic positions. Filling her position until a
new director is confirmed is NIST Director Arden Bement. Committee
members had great praise for Colwell's accomplishments at NSF.
Boehlert's remarks were echoed by the new Ranking Minority Member of
the committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN), who said that the request
demonstrated a "lack of insight" and was "inadequate."
Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall changed his party affiliation to
become a Republican.
The hearing's first witness was OSTP Director John Marburger, who
repeated President Bush's State of the Union assertion that national
security is the highest priority. He continued, "This Administration
understands that science and technology are major drivers of economic
growth and important for securing the homeland and winning the war on
Regarding spending on physical sciences, Marburger told the
committee, "The programs in the Federal R&D budget continue
upon exciting areas of scientific discovery from hydrogen energy and
nanotechnology to the basic processes of living organisms, the
fundamental properties of matter, and a new vision of sustained space
exploration. Not all programs can or should receive equal priority,
and this budget reflects priority choices consistent with
recommendations from numerous expert sources. In particular, this
budget responds to recommendations by the President's Council of
Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and others about needs in
physical science and engineering."
Other senior Administration S&T officials testified at this hearing,
which is but the first in a series that will be held on the FY 2005
request. Colwell told the committee that "NSF is, relatively
speaking, doing well"; the foundation received a 3.0% increase
request. Under Secretary Charles McQueary of the Department of
Homeland Security was praised for his efforts during his less than
one year in office. He declared that the "nation's advantage in
science and technology is key to securing the homeland." Commerce
Under Secretary for Technology Phillip Bond provided few details
about the Administration's decision to seek termination of the
Advanced Technology Program. Both Bond and committee members were
very concerned about the 5% reduction in NIST's research program
budget for the current year that will result in real funding
reductions for all but two of NIST's laboratories. There is fear
that this cut could result in a reduction of NIST's scientific staff.
DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach testified that the budget
request "sets us on the path" to increase activities on an
The second hour of the hearing was devoted to questions-and-answers.
Boehlert asked, and remained unconvinced, about the Administration's
plan to transfer NSF's Math-Science Partnership Program to the
Department of Education. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it,"
saying that the transfer was "unlikely to pass." Boehlert
that he hoped "wiggle room" in the budget request would permit
funding than that requested for DOE and NSF.
Gordon said he was pleased with the Administration's nanotechnology
research request, but said that the United States was not maintaining
its world leadership role in S&T. He cited a long list of federal
S&T programs for which funding would decline under the
Boehlert's and Gordon's concerns were shared by all of their
colleagues. Whether discussing the Math-Science Partnership Program,
the real difficulties facing NIST's laboratories, the movement of
high-technology jobs overseas, or increasing funding for NSF and DOE,
committee members were clearly dissatisfied with what the
Administration has requested. Translating the committee's
discontentment into additional money for the fiscal year that starts
on October 1 is going to be difficult. Committee members will not be
able to do it alone; the active involvement of the scientific
community will be a necessity.