House Appropriations Subcommittee Bill Fully Funds FY 2011 NSF, NASA Requests; NIST Request Cut

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Publication date: 
30 June 2010
Number: 
70

Yesterday evening the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee approved its version of their FY 2011 funding bill.  Rejecting on a party-line vote a Republican amendment to freeze funding at last year’s adjusted level, the bill approves the President’s request for the National Science Foundation and NASA, and while increasing overall funding for NIST, reduces it from the President’s request.

Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) highlighted science, technology and STEM education in his opening statement:

“The Subcommittee recommendation continues to provide resources consistent with the doubling path identified for NSF and NIST in the COMPETES Act. It also considers the science and research conducted at NOAA and NASA as critical to the Nation’s science enterprise as that performed by the NSF and NIST, and investments are recommended accordingly.

“Within overall science funding, the bill provides $1.5 billion to support all aspects of science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – education, from kindergarten through graduate school. The bill puts a particular focus on inquiry-based instruction, broadening minority participation, and increasing graduate student fellowships.”

The Administration’s $7,424.4 million request for the National Science Foundation was fully funded.  A subcommittee table shows current year funding as $6,926.5 million, resulting in a recommended increase of $497.9 million or 7.2 percent.   The subcommittee made a 1.0 percent cut in the Administration’s request for Research and Related Activities, for an overall increase of 6.1 percent over this year.  The budget for Education and Human Resources received a 9.8 percent increase over this year, substantially more than the 2.2 percent increase requested.  Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction received the request.  The request for Agency Operations and Award Management was reduced by 2.5 percent, although it would increase by 7.0 percent over this year.   The committee report accompanying this bill will be issued when the full House Appropriations Committee considers the legislation.  This report will provide further detail on the subcommittee’s recommendations.

How the subcommittee would treat the Administration’s request for the proposed cancellation of NASA’s Constellation Program was of great interest.  The subcommittee declined to act at this time, pending a NASA reauthorization bill.  Chairman Mollohan’s words bear a close reading, particularly as he uses the word “enactment” and not just an interim stage of the bill’s development:

“For NASA, the bill provides a total of $19 billion, an increase of $276 million over last year’s level, including significant and long needed new investments in science and education. For Human Space Exploration, the bill provides $4.2 billion, as requested and $498 million above 2010, but takes no position on the President’s proposed new direction for the program.

“Any major change to the direction of the Nation’s space program should come through an authorization passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. Unfortunately, a determination about the direction of the space program has been effectively on hold for well over a year. First, we waited for the recommendations of the Augustine Commission; next we waited for the Administration to react to those recommendations; and since early this year, we have waited for the authorizing committees to take action. In the meantime, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in procurements and technology development that may or may not have a role in NASA’s human exploration future.

“The program of record is fiscally unsustainable and will not serve the purpose of preserving this Nation’s leadership role in space exploration. It is time to move forward with a human space program that will fulfill the aspirations of a great nation, but that also has well-defined and realistic costs and goals. Until that program is defined through an enacted authorization, this Subcommittee has no business in appropriating even more funding for uncertain program outcomes. Accordingly, this bill makes the funding for Human Space Exploration available only after the enactment of such authorization legislation.”

The subcommittee provided the Administration’s full $19.0 billion request for NASA, an increase of $275.7 million or 1.5 percent over this year’s budget.  The $536.6 million requested increase for science was cut to $235.5 million, an increase of 5.3 percent.

The budget for the National Institute of Standards and Technology would also increase.  Mollohan said:

“With respect to the Department of Commerce, $882.9 million is provided for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, including a seven percent increase for science and technology research and services. Within this amount, the bill provides $130 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships and $79 million for the high-risk, high-reward research of the Technology [Innovation] Program.”

Only a single NIST line item appears on the subcommittee’s summary.  The Administration requested $918.9 million for NIST.  The subcommittee’s recommendation is $882.9 million, an increase of $26.3 million or 3.1 percent over this year’s appropriation of $856.6 million.  The Scientific Research and Services budget would have increased by 13.5 percent under the Administration’s request; Mollohan’s comment indicates that the subcommittee provided about half of that increase.  His comment also indicates that the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Technology Innovation Program received the full requests.  The committee report will provide more detail.

Republican appropriators are taking a different approach to this year’s funding bills.  In previous years they have generally refrained from offering amendments during subcommittee markups.  Because of concern that individual bills may not get to the House floor where amendments are traditionally offered, or even to the full committee, Republican appropriators intend to offer amendments during subcommittee markups.  Yesterday the Ranking Member on the full committee, Jerry Lewis (R-CA), offered an unsuccessful amendment to freeze the overall level of spending in the FY 2011 bill at last year’s adjusted level.  All nine Democrats opposed this amendment, and all five Republicans favored it.  Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) offered an amendment to prohibit NASA funding from being used for space partnerships with China.  His amendment was also defeated on a nine “no” to five “yes” vote.

It was the intention of House appropriators to take up the FY 2011 Energy and Water Development bill last week.  A last minute dispute about the lack of loan guarantees for new nuclear plans caused the subcommittee to cancel its markup.  A new date has not been announced for the bill’s consideration.