Last week's House Science Committee hearing revealed strong support
for the Bush Administration's request to increase funding for physical
sciences research, and concern about other research programs that were
not as well treated in the FY 2007 budget request.
"It's a rare thing to think of a budget hearing as a time of
celebration, but I think that's how we should view this morning's proceedings.
For a long time, many of us have been calling for a renewed emphasis
on research in the physical sciences," said House Science Committee
Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). The committee's Ranking Democrat,
Bart Gordon (R-TN), was more measured in his opening remarks, saying
"The good news in this budget request is the proposed increase
in Federal research and development. The bad news is that that increase
is less than the projected rate of inflation. Once again, we are investing
less than the rate of inflation at a time when many of our international
competitors are increasing their investment in science and technology
research faster than ever before." He then added, "Even
more alarming is the fact that the Administration's science and technology
investment is actually decreasing. The Federal S&T budget is the
best method to evaluate research funding. S&T represents the amount
of funding directed towards the creation of new knowledge and technologies
as opposed to development activities."
No one at this hearing said that the proposed increases in physical
sciences funding are unwarranted. Beyond the increases for this research
in the proposed budgets for the Department of Energy's Office of Science,
National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards
and Technology, there are considerable misgivings. The February 15 Science
Committee hearing was a good indicator of what is ahead.
"Yes there are winners, but also many losers," said Gordon.
There was bipartisan opposition to proposed funding reductions for some
NSF education programs (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/028.html.)
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) highlighted this in his written remarks, saying
"these budget choices seriously undercut the ACI's [American Competitiveness
Initiative] goals to improve math and science education and to ensure
that America has an educated workforce capable of competing in the global
economy." Also disputed was the Administration's request to greatly
reduce NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership budget (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/024.html)
with Boehlert saying "it ain't gonna fly." Committee members
expressed opposition to the Administration's attempt to once again terminate
the Advanced Technology Program. Not surprisingly, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
(R-CA) expressed opposition to funding for climate change research.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was asked about the future of the Rare
Isotope Accelerator by Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI), who urged Bodman to
"think big, please." Bodman replied that the accelerator was
being delayed for five years because DOE "couldn't afford it,"
although some planning money was included in the request. Bodman added
that this was "not happy news."
The witness panel for this hearing featured many of the federal government's
leading science officials: OSTP Director John Marburger, Energy Secretary
Bodman, Deputy Commerce Secretary David Sampson, National Science Foundation
Director Arden Bement, and Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science
and Technology Charles McQueary (it was McQueary's last appearance before
the committee as he has announced his retirement.) The prepared opening
remarks of the witnesses can be viewed at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full06/Feb15/index.htm
In his prepared remarks, Marburger gave considerable attention to earmarking,
saying that it "threatens to harm the effectiveness of our nation's
science if it is not addressed." Marburger described the heavy
impacts that earmarking has on the research budget, explaining "just
last week the Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Laboratory was
forced to reduce its staff by 32 people to meet budget shortfalls caused
by earmarked funding." Several committee members disputed Marburger's
contentions about earmarking.
The Science Committee's Minority Staff wrote a 24-page analysis of
the Administration's FY 2007 budget request highlighting their concerns
about the proposed funding levels. This document serves as a good road
map of expected issues in coming months; see
This hearing did not review NASA's FY 2007 budget request. The committee
had a separate hearing on the space agency's budget that will be the
subject of a future FYI.
Chairman Boehlert's final opening comments well summarized the outlook
for the rest of this budget cycle for physical sciences research: "I
think it's important that our main message this morning be one of victory
because we need to communicate that message to our colleagues to turn
the American Competitiveness Initiative into reality. We're not going
to declare victory and go home.' Rather, we need to think of it
this way: we've won the battle, now it's time to win the war."