A House Science Committee hearing last month on the Bush Administration's
FY 2006 R&D budget request was critical in tone regarding both overall
funding figures and proposed changes to programs.
The opening comments of the committee's top Republican and Democrat
capture the committee's thinking. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) stated (paragraphs combined in the interest of space):
"The budget proposal before us raises serious questions about
our nation's direction in the coming years. While the President's budget
proposal for R&D can legitimately be seen either as a glass half
full or a glass half empty, no one could describe it as a glass that
is filled enough to satisfy the nation's thirst for scientific advancement.
. . . The budget is a glass half full in that R&D as a whole has
fared better, and basic research has fared no worse, than non-defense
domestic discretionary spending as a whole. In other words, it would
be unfair to describe the attitude behind this budget as in any way
anti-science.' We are living through a period of stringent austerity,
and the science budget reflects that rather than any hostility toward
science." Boehlert praised the requested 12% increase for NIST's
laboratories, and noted the NSF increase. But he had far more words
that were critical: "Key science agencies, most notably perhaps
DOE's Office of Science, would see their budgets cut. NSF education
programs would be cut by 12 percent -- about as misguided a policy as
one could imagine. I should say Congress tried going down this foolhardy
path with regard to NSF in the early 1980s and quickly reversed course.
And perhaps most disturbingly of all, the outlook for the outyears seems
to be more of the same. Now, I don't doubt that science growth will
have to be restrained in this budget environment. . . . But I think
we have to think long and hard about whether it is in the long-term
interest of the United States to have a multi-year period of real dollar
cuts in spending on R&D. And we also have to think more clearly
about what our priorities are in a period of restrained growth. . .
The committee's Ranking Minority Member, Bart Gordon (D-TN) said in
his opening remarks that OSTP Director John Marburger had stated that
this is "a pretty good year for research funding." Gordon
disputed this characterization, citing proposed cuts to K-12 math and
science education, NASA's aeronautics research, NOAA research, the DOE
Office of Science, the Manufacturing Extension Program, and the Advanced
Technology Program. He called the Administration's approach "short-sighted,"
adding, "maintaining a lead in science technology is a flat
out race. If we stop running at the top speed we can manage, we will
lose. Even in the current fiscal crisis this budget is not the top speed
we can manage for science and technology investment." While
Boehlert replied that his perspective on the budget request was not
exactly that of Gordon, Boehlert said, "whether you're a Democrat
or a Republican, chairman or a ranking member, we are committed to the
proposition that wise investments in science pay handsome dividends
for our future."
Testifying at this hearing were OSTP Director John Marburger, Energy
Secretary Samuel Bodman, National Science Foundation Director Arden
Bement, Commerce Deputy Secretary Theodore Kassinger, and Homeland Security
Under Secretary Charles McQueary. Their opening remarks focused on budget
priorities with little discussion of what would not be funded. As expected,
the witnesses stressed budget growth over the last four years, as compared
to year-to-year. Said Marburger, "The administration has made
difficult choices and it has maintained the strength in priority areas
such as nanotechnology, information technology, the hydrogen initiative
and space exploration." Energy Secretary Bodman, who was testifying
before this committee for the first time, explained "I believe
very passionately in the role that science has played over the last
century in the economic growth of our country, and I really believe
that what occurs in this budget will continue that record on into the
future." NSF Director Bement said, as he has before, that "in
light of the tight fiscal climate, we believe we have fared relatively
well." Regarding the proposed 12.4% cut in the Education and Human
Resources Directorate, Bement stated, "although we have found it
necessary to make cuts in these programs, we are also finding ways to
leverage other resources in support of education." Commerce Deputy
Secretary Kassinger avoided the proposed cut and termination (respectively)
in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Advanced Technology
Program. Homeland Security Under Secretary McQueary's testimony centered
on the development of technologies.
Committee members were skeptical in their statements and questions.
Boehlert called the proposed cut in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership
"unacceptable," and wondered if the NSF education recommendation
was "a stealth effort to get it out of NSF and over exclusively
in [the Department of] Education," saying it would be "vigorously
oppose[d]." He later said that the proposed DOE Office of Science
budget request "does badly" at funding its three major priorities.
Gordon expressed skepticism about the proposed transfer of Coast Guard
polar ice breaking ships to NSF and future costs. Other questions centered
on nanotechnology, energy research, and external safety regulation at
civilian DOE laboratories.
When time passed to Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) he told the witnesses,
"I really have very few questions. I have lots of complaints.
And the point is simply that the funding for science this year is just
inadequate. I recognize the tough budget, I recognize tough times, I
recognize the military necessities we have. But we seem to forget the
important role that research and education plays in our national defense
and also in our national prosperity." He later called the proposed
S&T research and education budget request "very penny-wise
and pound-foolish, adding, "the money we're putting into science
is likely, for the long term, much more important for the defense of
this nation than any money we're spending this year on the Defense budget."
Ehlers was especially critical of the proposed cut in NSF education
Also coming under fire was the NOAA request to reduce by almost half
the funding for the Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. In response to
questions by Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA) about NIST funding, Marburger
said "we're very serious about our proposal to eliminate the ATP
Program," saying "it clearly is not a core mission of NIST."
During her time, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) spoke of the lengthy, and
ultimately successful, effort that had been made to raise physical sciences
funding at the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and "that
suddenly . . . the priority is going down again." The one contrary
voice to the general tone of this hearing was that of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
(R-CA) who cited the $500 billion level of deficit spending, and said,
"either we're serious about this $500 billion deficit or we're
not." Rohrabacher also made critical comments about DOE's fusion
energy sciences program, wanted information about NOAA's fleet, and
wanted to know if commercial entities profiting from the federal nanotechnology
program would be required to repay the government.
This hearing did not review the NASA budget request which was the topic
of a separate hearing. That hearing will be the subject of a future