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House Rejects Move to Cut $1.2 Billion from FY 2013 NSF Appropriation

Richard M. Jones
Number 71 - May 23, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Sixty-three amendments were offered to H.R. 5326, the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill, when it was considered on the House floor earlier this month.  Thirty-six of these amendments were adopted.  Of note were four amendments to reduce or eliminate funding for the National Science Foundation, a climate change education program, political science research, and NASA’s planetary science program.  This is the first of four FYIs on these amendments.

Rep. Jeff Flake, a six term Republican representing Arizona’s sixth congressional district, offered an amendment to reduce the FY 2013 appropriation to the National Science Foundation by approximately $1.2 billion.  Speaking in opposition to the amendment were the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 121 to 291.  All Members voting for the amendment were Republicans.  Nineteen Members did not vote.

The remarks on this amendment follow:

Rep. Flake:

“Madam Chair, this amendment would return National Science Foundation funding to its pre-stimulus level, and it would save the taxpayers about $1.2 billion.
Just before voting against the stimulus bill a while ago, I stood in this same Chamber and stated what I thought was pretty obvious at that time: that the only thing that this stimulus bill would stimulate is more spending later, and I think we have found that to be the case.

“Leave it to the NSF, an agency that doles out billions of dollars testing theories, to prove me right on this.
“In the 4 years leading up to the stimulus bill, funding for the NSF averaged more than $5.7 billion. That's not exactly a drop in the bucket, even by Washington standards. By comparison, in the 4 years since the stimulus bill passed, NSF average spending has climbed 31 percent to a staggering $7.6 billion.
“For whatever reason, rather than draw down from this inflated level, Congress appears content to maintain it. The bill before us today funds the NSF at $7.3 billion for fiscal year 2013. That's $300 million more than last year.
“While I acknowledge that the NSF does some noble work, it also has drawn its fair share of criticism. Notably, there was a recent investigation by our colleague in the Senate, Senator Tom Coburn. He identified $3 billion in mismanagement by the agency. The report uncovered a lot of highly questionable research projects that would be laughable if the taxpayers weren't paying the tab. Just a few of them here:
 -  $755,000 to find out how rumors start. Again, $755,000 to find out how rumors start;
 -  $315,000 to answer if playing FarmVille on Facebook helps people make friends;
-   And then there's the infamous $559,000 for a project to have shrimp run on a treadmill.
“To me, that hardly sounds like justification to give the NSF more money. Rather, Congress ought to make the necessary commonsense cuts to programs like the NSF that have been far too long bloated from the stimulus legislation.
“This amendment would employ a reasonable approach to do that. It would simply reduce NSF funding to the highest pre-stimulus level of $6 billion. This would save the taxpayers, again, more than $1 billion.
“I think we have to remember that this discretionary budget that we are dealing with this year, we'll do 12 appropriation bills for somewhere just over $1 trillion. Our deficit is more than that, meaning that everything we consider in our process this year, the appropriations process, is money we are borrowing from our kids and our grandkids. When that is the case, I think that we need to be a little more prudent about the programs that we increase funding for. I don't think there's a justification to increase funding for the National Science Foundation this year.
“And when you look back to 2008, which is where this would bring us back to if this amendment passes, as I said before, that wasn't the year where ‘Grapes of Wrath’ music was exactly playing in the background. That was a year that we spent a lot of money. But we're spending more now, even given the current deficit that we're running and the current debt that we've piled up.
“So I would urge support for the passage of this amendment.   I yield back the balance of my time.”


House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fatah (D-PA):

“Even though I agree with my colleague from Arizona about some of the issues related to trade embargoes with neighboring countries, in this matter I absolutely oppose him.
“Now, he says that the National Science Foundation, we should cut it; we should cut it to some mathematical certainty to the 2008 number. Let me just take a minute because I don't want the House to act without information.
“This is the premiere science research agency in the world. It is not the only one. We are not shadowboxing with ourselves. We have a country of 309 million people. Singapore, which is a country of 4.8, less than 5 million people, probably less people than in the Phoenix area alone, invests some $7 billion in their National Science Foundation. They're stealing talent from us today, hired away some of our top cancer researchers and other scientists, right? We have China, a much larger country. It's built over the last 5 years 100 science-only universities.
 “The nation that leads in innovation and science will lead the world economically and militarily. The notion that we can unilaterally retreat in terms of investments and the development of future generation of scientists -- now, the gentleman and I agreed in committee that when we have nonnative-born students here who are foreigners but who are in school here who get terminal degrees, we should invite them to stay. If we follow through with his cuts at the National Science Foundation, what we're saying to American-born students is, if you're pursuing terminal degrees in the hard sciences, that somehow we're going to cut the legs from up under you.
“I think this works at cross purposes. The idea that we would retreat in any respect, in terms of scientific research, should be rejected by this House if what we're trying to do is to ensure America's global leadership.
“Now, if this is a math exercise, we should just zero out the National Science Foundation. If we're just trying to save money, then let's zero it out. If we're trying to lead the world, as we have, in science, then we have to make these investments. We should even do more.
“I thank the chairman for where he set the bar, and I hope that the House, on a bipartisan basis, rejects this notion that we should cede to our economic competitors scientific superiority for our children and grandchildren and their generations that will follow.  I yield back the balance of my time.”


 House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA):

“I rise in opposition. I want to thank the gentleman from Arizona. He's a good Member and very consistent in trying to cut, but I rise in opposition to this amendment, which would reduce NSF funding by $1.2 billion from the levels provided in the bill.
“This amendment challenges broad, long-standing, bipartisan agreement on the needs to prioritize Federal investments in basic research, math and science and physics and chemistry and biology in order that America can be number one. This agreement is based on a strong and unambiguous link between investments in research and development and growth and employment and productivity and GDP. This link has been documented repeatedly by expert researchers, economists, and analysts working in administrations and congressional majorities in both parties, as well as private and nonprofit entities.
“The link is also well-known and understood internationally, where major foreign competitors, including the European Union, China, and South Korea are investing strongly, are investing much higher, at a much higher level than we are, at a much higher level than we are in research, in the hopes of producing or attracting high-value economic activity. We have already lost a good deal of competitive advantage that we previously held over those countries, and if we fail to keep pace with them in research and development, our situation will only worsen.
“Unfortunately, this amendment would contribute to precisely that scenario by not only eliminating any potential growth in NSF basic research next year, but actually reducing basic research expenditures by nearly $1 billion.
“As a father of five kids, my wife and I, we have 16 grandkids. I want the 21st century to be the American century and not the Chinese century.
 “I urge strongly, I urge a ‘no’ vote for this amendment. I yield back the balance of my time.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics