While not all federal science and technology programs were discussed
during the April 4 House appropriations subcommittee hearing with OSTP
Director John Marburger, it provided critical insight into how key appropriators
view important components of the FY 2007 S&T budget request. Almost
all indications were positive.
Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and his colleagues on the House Science,
State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee met with Marburger
for almost two hours. While there was a brief mention of the budget
request for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the majority
of the time was given to a thoughtful discussion of American science
and technology and appropriate supportive federal policy. Wolf began
by congratulating and thanking Marburger for his efforts in crafting
the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). Wolf quickly added that
it would be an "enormous challenge" to fund all of the Administration's
FY 2007 budget initiatives.
Wolf and his colleagues are worried about the state of science and
technology in the U.S. Wolf spent considerable time discussing a January
"Business Week" article on the importance of mathematics to
the future prosperity of American businesses, with the chairman distressed
about two stellar U.S. mathematicians who were recently hired by Canadian
Marburger's testimony was well-received. He explained that the ACI
does not attempt to increase basic research funding in every area, or
even in every physical science field. This does not mean, Marburger
said, that programs not tied directly to future competitiveness are
not priorities, citing the requested 3.2% budget increase for NASA.
The funding challenge, Marburger said, was maintaining the Administration's
focus on programs that are likely to strengthen U.S. competitiveness.
His written testimony amplified his remarks:
Wolf responded to Marburger's opening testimony by first remarking
that last year's FY 2006 S&T budget request did not reflect widespread
concerns about U.S. science and technology. He called the FY 2007 ACI
"a very welcome change," adding that the Administration "had
stepped up to the plate."
Rep. Robert "Bud" Cramer (D-AL) asked Marburger to explain
how future S&T funding will be structured. Marburger explained funding
will not target specific research fields, but rather agencies who support
research, primarily in the physical sciences, that will strengthen U.S.
competitiveness. Every agency, Marburger said, will determine its own
portfolio. When Cramer asked why NASA was not included in the ACI, Marburger
replied that historically NASA funding has been "much closer to
what it needs." Additionally, while NASA funding enables important
scientific discoveries, they are "not as impactful on competitiveness."
Dave Weldon (R-FL) called the ACI "a really important priority."
He somewhat disputed Marburger's characterization of NASA's research,
pointing out that many children identify human space flight as a motivator
for their interest in science. Weldon and Marburger then discussed what
the congressman called "serious ethical issues" in some possible
applications of nanotechnology. Marburger said a workshop will be held
on the societal impacts of nanotechnology before this fall's PCAST meeting.
Ranking Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) wanted Marburger to explain his
views on global warming, the congressman saying, "there is so much
confusing talk about global warming and its consequences." Marburger
replied that this subject had become "very polarized, very contentious."
Continuing, he said there was "no question the Earth is warming,"
and there was "no question the industrialization of the world"
is increasing CO2 "that probably is a concern." Marburger
stated that new, stable energy technologies need to be developed and
concluded, "in my view, the approach of this administration has
been sound." He pointed to the expenditure of federal research
dollars to understand global warming, and said the Administration is
working with China and India on future strategies.
Two points were raised by Wolf of note. The first was the chairman's
interest in a large monetary prize to encourage a major innovation breakthrough,
Wolf citing the book "Longitude" as an example. Wolf wants
Marburger's feedback on this idea before the subcommittee marks up its
FY 2007 bill. The chairman was also worried about the requested cut
of 18% or $160 million in NASA's aeronautics research program. "I
think that's going to be your problem this year," said Wolf, who
felt that advances in such research are important.
As this hearing concluded, Mollohan seemed to speak for the subcommittee,
and he said, for Congress, when he spoke of the rapid advances there
have been in China and India and their ramifications, saying "It's
the trend line that people worry about."