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On the Record: Roll Call Votes on Increasing and Decreasing the FY 2012 DOE Office of Science Budget

Richard M. Jones
Number 95 - July 27, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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There were many amendments offered on the floor during the House of Representatives’ recent consideration of the FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  Of particular relevance to the physics community are three amendments that would have reduced the bill’s $4,842.7 million appropriation for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and one amendment which would have increased funding.  None of the amendments passed: one was withdrawn and the other three were defeated.  Roll call votes on three amendments provide a clear indication of a representative’s approach to the programs of, and funding for, the Office of Science.

Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) offered the first amendment to increase funding for DOE’s Fossil Energy Research and Development account by $39 million by transferring it from the bill’s appropriation for the Office of Science.  After a brief exchange with House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who assured McKinley that action would be taken to ensure that salaries and expenses for ongoing activities at the National Energy Technology Laboratory would be fully funded in the final bill, the amendment was withdrawn.

Of far greater relevance was the amendment offered by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) to increase the Office of Science’s appropriation in the bill by $42.7 million, to be offset by a reduction of that amount from the budget for Weapons Activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration.  Holt’s amendment would have maintained the Office of Science’s budget at its current level.  In describing his amendment, Holt stated:

“Scientific research lies at the very heart of the national innovation system that keeps us competitive, that enhances our quality of life, that fuels our economy, and that improves our national security. The Office of Science is the Nation's primary sponsor of research in the physical sciences. Its funding helps maintain America's first-rate workforce of research scientists and engineers, who are working daily to address some of the greatest challenges and to push the boundaries of existing knowledge.”

Later he added:

“The America COMPETES Act - passed in a very bipartisan vote here in Congress in 2007 and signed into law by President George Bush - recognized that we have underfunded our basic research agencies for far too long, and it laid out a vision for doubling the funding at our research agencies, including the Office of Science. This law was reauthorized last year. The bill we are considering today woefully underfunds the office by this national goal.

“Matching last year's funding level with an additional $42.7 million, as my amendment would do, is the least we can do. Many dozens of organizations, universities, and companies have joined to advocate strongly for maintaining the current level of work for the Office of Science. My amendment is fully offset by transferring funding from the nuclear weapons account, which receives an additional $195 million in the underlying bill before us today.

“So let's get our priorities straight. Investments in our Federal science agencies and our national innovation infrastructure are not Big Government spending programs that we cannot afford; they are the minimum down payments for our Nation's national security, public health, and economic vitality. All this talk down the street now about how we're going to grow, this is it. We cannot afford to postpone this research.”

Frelinghuysen strongly urged a vote against Holt’s amendment:

“In order to increase funding for science research, his amendment decreases funding for weapons activities. Our Nation's defense relies on a reliable and effective nuclear deterrent, and these capabilities cannot be allowed to deteriorate.  There is now a strong bipartisan consensus for the modernization of our nuclear stockpile. It is a critical national security priority and must be funded. With a reduction of nearly $500 million from the request, this bill has already made use of all available savings. Additional reductions would unacceptably impact our ability to support our Nation's nuclear security strategy.

“Further, the amendment would use these reductions to increase funding for science research. I am a strong supporter of the science program . . . .   It leads to the breakthroughs in innovations that will make our Nation's energy sector self-sufficient and keep America competitive as a world leader of cutting-edge science. This is why we worked so hard, the ranking [member Peter Visclosky] and I, to sustain funding for this program. But within the realities of today's fiscal constraints, which we all know, we cannot simply afford to add more funding to science research, especially when it means risking crucial national defense activities.”

Speaking in favor of the amendment was Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA):

“We have tough decisions to make about where to make cuts. And certainly there is a lot of opportunity to cut things that aren't effective that we can't afford to continue with, but we don't want to cut things that are integral to our future. And an investment in science, in research and technology, that is the future of this country. We're not going to compete with the rest of the world on wages. We're not going to compete with the Third World on wages. We have to compete in the area of productivity. And we can't be the most productive nation on Earth unless we invest in science and technology.”

Schiff cited a letter calling for making the appropriation for the Office of Science a priority.  This letter was sent by the Energy Sciences Coalition and the Task Force on American Innovation, and was signed by many organizations, corporations and universities, including the American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN) also spoke in favor of Holt’s amendment:

“While I have stated many times in committee as well as on floor debate that I applaud the chairman's [Frelinghuysen] bringing funding into the science account almost to where we were in fiscal year 2011 and have described it as a not insignificant achievement, adding these $43 million to bring it into parity with current year spending is not asking too much and, as the previous speakers have indicated, is very important to making an economic investment in knowledge and jobs that we so desperately need in the United States.   In the committee report we indicate that, relative to the Office of Science, understanding that harnessing a scientific and technological ingenuity has long been at the core of the Nation's prosperity. We talk about that national prosperity linkage to scientific research and curiosity. I also, relative to the concerns the chairman expressed about the weapons account, think that that important priority will not be adversely impacted by the shift of funding called for in the amendment.”

Also offering this amendment was Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-NY) who told his colleagues:

“How many times have we heard Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle [who] come to this floor and espouse the benefits of innovation on job creation? How many times have we heard from both the current President and past Presidents talk about moving our Nation forward into the 21st century where technology and scientific advancement will fortify our Nation's economic growth?   The Office of Science within the Department of Energy, including our national laboratories, is one of the most powerful tools the Federal Government has at its disposal to promote scientific innovation, to support private industry advancements, to foster medical breakthroughs, and to gain a better understanding of the world around us.”

The House rejected the amendment by a vote of 164 “yes” votes to 261 “no” votes, largely along party lines

The House then considered two amendments to reduce the appropriation for the Office of Science.  The first was offered by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and would have reduced the Office of Science’s appropriation by $10 million.  Royce spoke against spending $10 million for methane hydrate research and development, arguing that production of this resource from Arctic waters would be uneconomical and hazardous.  Frelinghuysen and Visclosky both opposed the amendment; Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) supported it.  There were 291 bipartisan votes against the amendment, and 136 votes in favor of it (two of which were from Democrats.)

Of a far larger magnitude was an amendment offered by Rep. Broun, who is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  His amendment would have reduced the appropriation for the Office of Science by $820.5 million – a reduction of 16.9 percent from the current year.  He stated the following:

“[M]y amendment cuts funding within the Department of Energy's Office of Science, transferring more than $820 million to the spending reduction account. Contained within this $820 million reduction are some of the most egregious examples of government waste imaginable, such as $47 million for undetermined upgrades - undetermined upgrades - $20 million for the Energy Innovation Hub for batteries, $4 million for energy efficient-enabling materials, and almost $9 million for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research [EPSCoR]. In my extensions [of prepared remarks], I will list a whole lot of other egregious examples of government waste that this amendment will cut. These are just some of the many examples of duplicative, wasteful examples within the Department of Energy's Office of Science that are funded by taxpayer dollars that would be cut by this amendment.

“While I believe the Federal Government does have a role in vital basic science research, I do not believe the Federal Government should be spending scarce taxpayers' dollars on every type of research imaginable or suggested here in Congress. Much of the research done in the agency should be done in the private sector. Tough fiscal decisions have to be made, and they have to be made right now. We have put off bringing discipline to the budget and appropriations process far too long. Members of Congress need to look far and wide through every single nook, cranny, and corner of the Federal expenditures and cut wasteful, duplicative spending. And this is just an amendment that will cut over $820 million of those kinds of projects that we just cannot afford.”

Both Frelinghuysen and Visclosky opposed the Broun amendment.  Said Frelinghuysen:

“The Energy and Water bill makes available a very limited amount of funding for activities which are Federal responsibilities, activities such as basic science research and development. This is very early stage work which the private sector simply has no profit incentive to invest in. It funds cutting-edge research that will be the foundation of technology in future decades. This science research leads to the breakthroughs in innovation that will make our Nation's energy sector self-sufficient and keep America competitive as the world leader of science innovation. This is why we work so hard to sustain funding for this program. Blindly cutting it will not only cut hundreds of more jobs around the country; it will put at risk our Nation's competitive edge in intellectual property and potentially set back our country's energy future.”

Visclosky strongly opposed the amendment.   In his remarks he praised the management improvements the Office of Science has made, mentioning its former director Ray Orbach, and said:

“The Department of Energy owns world-class facilities and researchers, and we should be taking full advantage of these facilities and not cut this account to where we are not able to use the capital fixed assets we have for this significant request in a reduction in funding.   I would point out to my colleagues, in 2006 President Bush made a commitment to double the budget for the Office of Science over a decade. The commitment to double funding for research and development by President Bush in science and technology was a response to stark warnings from a group of government experts and business leaders that warned in their report, known as ‘Rising Above the Gathering Storm,’ that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.”

A roll call vote was taken.  There were 99 votes in favor of Broun’s amendment (with one vote from a Democrat), and 328 votes against it. 

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics