In a June 8 speech to the Business-Higher Education Forum,
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) discussed
the outlook for R&D and science education funding this year, and
for the passage of legislation intended to promote U.S. innovation and
competitiveness. Selected quotes from his speech follow. "//"
indicates that paragraphs have been combined in the interests of space.
"It's a pleasure to be back with you again this year to discuss
our shared commitment to strengthening U.S. competitiveness.... [T]his
year I have a much happier tale to tell than I did when I spoke here
last June. But in the end my message will be the same: we all have
a lot of work to do.... Let me start with the good news, or perhaps
I should say, the improving news.... The President's American Competitiveness
Initiative both reflects, and has helped catalyze, a new-found commitment
to basic research spending and science and math education in the Congress,
and I think, in the country. We are in a very different place than
we were a year ago."
COMPETITIVENESS INITIATIVE; BUDGET REQUEST:
"The increasing priority of the competitiveness issue
could...be seen in the strengthening stream of reports...culminating
in the National Academy of Sciences' Rising Above the Gathering
Storm,' which became something of a gathering storm itself and...turned
out to help set the agenda for the Administration and the Congress.//
Some folks in Congress act now like the report was handed down on
Sinai, which goes a little far for me. It's a perfect document to
guide us, but it was a rapid, human effort, and its recommendations
are just that, not edicts."
"[I]t all came together in January, when the President
delivered his State of the Union Address, and laid out the American
Competitiveness Initiative...followed by a budget proposal that included
almost an 8 percent increase for NSF (compared to about a 2 percent
request last year), a 15 percent increase for the Office of Science
and a double-digit increase for NIST's laboratory programs.
Not Nirvana. Not every science agency did as well.// But
it was a pretty spectacular shift that focused, as everyone had been
calling for, on physical science research, and it put that issue on
the front burner in Congress.// The Initiative, or ACI, was less compelling,
for me, on the education side. But it did acknowledge the call by
the Academy and others for improving science and math education, and
it included some Department of Education program expansions for that
purpose. But I'll come back to that."
"Just as remarkable as the President's shift is that
the Congress appears to be following through.... In the tightest budget
year we've had yet...the House a couple of weeks ago passed an Energy
appropriation that fully funded the proposed increase for the Office
of Science.// The House will take up Frank Wolf's bill to fund NSF
and NIST at the end of this month, and while the bill hasn't been
marked up yet, it seems pretty certain that the ACI requests will
So ACI has cleared its first Congressional hurdles. There
are plenty more to go...[b]ut the outlook is one that I would not
even have dreamed of last year. So I urge all of you to be active
and vocal to make sure we make it to the finish line."
SCIENCE AND MATH EDUCATION; NSF'S ROLE:
"So that's the good news. Now let me turn to education,
where the news is better than last year, but much more mixed than
for research.... Now all the reports I mentioned earlier, especially
Gathering Storm' quite rightly saw education as the most critical
piece of ensuring our nation's future competitiveness. But the reports
generally didn't call attention to the key education role of NSF and
that was a missed opportunity.... NSF, while small, has a unique and
crucial role in education because of its peer review process, its
prestige, its history of laying the groundwork for change and its
connections to higher education. And as I noted, in undergrad education,
NSF is almost the only game in town.// But the appropriations outlook
for NSF's education programs isn't much better than it was last year.
The proposed increase of a couple of percentage points won't bring
those programs back to their fiscal 2004 levels.
"The Administration does not plan to have the Education
Directorate share fully in the Foundation's expected growth and continues
to shift emphasis to the Department of Education, which despite its
current dynamic leadership, tends to be more bureaucratic, more political,
more driven by distribution formulas, and which simply doesn't have
the same focused education mission as NSF has had since 1950.// I
am not hopeful that we will end up with good NSF education spending
numbers this year despite a sympathetic ear from the appropriators.
With all the other demands, the lack of Administration enthusiasm
will be fatal.
"So the primary task I want to put before you today
is the same one as the one I gave you last year - you, especially
the business leaders among you, need to convince the White House,
NSF itself and the Congress that education can't be improved for free
and that NSF has to play a greater role in those improvement efforts."
APPROPRIATIONS VERSUS AUTHORIZATION BILLS:
"I've focused so far on appropriations because, as Willy
Sutton famously said about banks, "that's where the money is...."
[N]ot to sell our own Science Committee work short, but the most important
action to focus on in this area is what the appropriators do. A lot
of groups have been looking just at the authorization bills - PACE
and the Commerce Committee bills in the Senate, and our Science Committee
bills in the House.... But in the end, unless we get the money from
the appropriators, our legislation won't be worth a damn."
"Now let me reverse course a little and get you excited,
nonetheless, about what we have been able to do. The fact that these
innovation packages are appearing in both the House and the Senate,
inspired again largely by the Academy report, is good news because
it does reflect a growing sense of how important science and math
education is.... I'm delighted to be able to report that...our Science
Committee unanimously reported out our two innovation bills - one
focused on education, and the other on helping non-tenured faculty
get research grants for potentially pathbreaking work.// For our education
bill...we decide we didn't want to create a laundry list of new programs
that had no track record and little chance of being funded.// Instead,
we focused on expanding and fine tuning existing programs that would
accomplish the priorities I laid out a moment ago."
OUTLOOK FOR PASSAGE:
"I think the outlook for passage of the package in the
House is quite good. We have strong bipartisan support in a polarized
time, we have strong business support, and Leadership is starting
to get the importance of the competitiveness challenge. The bill could
even come to the floor later this month, although I can't promise
that yet.// I would never presume to speak for the Senate, but they've
made unusually swift progress over there, reporting bills out of the
Energy and Commerce committees.
"Those bills will presumably be combined in some way
and sent to the House later in the summer.// The conference will be
difficult as the Senate took a much more expansive, less focused approach,
creating lots of new, sometimes overlapping programs with lots of
details. But I'm optimistic that we'll be able to narrow the focus
and get a bill that the President can sign this winter.// That's very
quick work by Washington standards, especially given that this wasn't
even on the radar screen a year ago."
ACADEMIC COMPETITIVENESS COUNCIL:
"[T]here's one other education effort underway that
you should be watching that may have escaped your notice.... [I]n
last year's massive budget reconciliation bill, Congress...created
an Academic Competitiveness Council, or ACC, headed by the Secretary
of Education and including every federal agency that has education
programs, which includes virtually all of the science agencies - NSF,
Energy, NASA, etc.// The idea was prompted by GAO report that found
that there were hundreds of overlapping science and math education
programs in the federal government.
"Conservatives, in particular, are watching the ACC closely,
hoping that it recommends the elimination of some programs.... Now
the ACC is a good idea in theory - we ought to be looking across the
government to see what's working and what isn't and to make sure our
programs are coordinated. But the ACC will turn out to be a bad thing
if it over rationalizes' the system and makes every program
look like, or become subservient to Department of Education programs.//
We need a diverse set of programs from different agencies, often programs
working on the same problems - as long as that duplication is intentional
and coordinated and the programs are being properly evaluated....
[I]t seems like the effort is off to a good start. But we'll all have
to watch to ensure that the ACC recommendations lead to a strengthening
and not merely a narrowing of federal science and math education efforts.
"So, in short, having good news doesn't lessen the workload
for any of us. We need all of you more than ever to be pushing vocally
and aggressively for investments in research and education. We now
have the best opportunity we've had in years to make progress.
"Let's not blow it."
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics