FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Priorities of Science Committee Republicans on DOE Science, NASA, NIST, NOAA, and NSF

Richard M. Jones
Number 56 - April 5, 2013  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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A good indicator of the views of House Science Committee Republicans on the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation can be found in a eight-page document submitted to the House Budget Committee.  “Views and Estimates; Committee on Science, Space and Technology; Fiscal Year 2014” provides insight into the positions of twenty of the twenty-one committee Republicans on these agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation. 

The committee has a new chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). 

Without elaboration, the report notes that the committee plans to develop reauthorization legislation for NASA, NIST, and NSF “in the coming months.”

Selections from this document follow.  Headings and paragraph breaks have been inserted.

Department of Energy’s Office of Science:

Top RDD&CA Priority – Basic Research

“In response to the President's emphasis on the promotion of green energy as a domestic policy priority, the balance of DOE RDD&CA [research, development, demonstration and commercial application] activities within the Committee's jurisdiction has shifted significantly toward late-stage demonstration and deployment efforts.”

“While the Committee supports an ‘all of the above’ approach to reduce the cost of all energy sources, the Department's top RDD&CA priority should be basic research and foundational science centered on domestic energy resources. Basic research serves as a long-term economic driver and provides the foundation for sustainable growth, rather than short-term, potentially expensive commercialization activities that result in the government picking winners and losers in the energy technology marketplace.  Additionally, the Committee is concerned that the Administration has created multiple, duplicative RDD&CA efforts throughout DOE and other research agencies to promote the Administration's preferred ‘green’ energy  technologies.”

Highest RDD&CA Priority - Office of Science

“The Committee recognizes the unique role the Office of Science performs in the federal Government’s research enterprise.  The Office of Science has an established record of making crucial scientific discoveries and serves as a long-term driver of innovation and economic growth through stewardship of world-class scientific facilities that deliver revolutionary scientific breakthroughs in numerous scientific disciplines. Accordingly, the Committee believes the Office of Science should be the highest priority for DOE RDD&CA programs.” 

Atmospheric System Research and the Climate and Earth Systems Modeling

“the Committee is concerned that the Atmospheric System Research and the Climate and Earth Systems Modeling programs are duplicative of research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).”

Fusion Energy Sciences

“although the Committee supports Fusion Energy Sciences within the Office of Science, the program is an area of concern due to high-risk program management associated with large-scale international projects.”

National Institute of Standards and Technology

“The Committee recognizes the need for strengthening our nation's manufacturing sector and the need for ways to improve the transfer of federally-funded manufacturing research at universities and government laboratories to the private sector.  . . . as identified during Committee hearings in the last Congress, the Administration has not been forthcoming with basic information about its proposal of $1 billion in mandatory spending for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) to be managed by NIST. The Administration needs to be more forthcoming and transparent when proposing such costly initiatives.”

NASA:

Overall Budget

“the Committee remains concerned with the Administration's budget priorities for certain programs and the lack of leadership in space exploration, both human and robotic.  The Administration is ceding America’s leadership in space exploration and instead funding more environmental-monitoring  satellites and studies.”

Earth Science and Planetary Science

“NASA’s Earth Science budget request of $1.785 billion in FY2013 is over $300 million more per year than the agency spent prior to the Obama Administration taking office. The Administration's budget request cut NASA's Planetary Science budget request by $300 million in FY 2013. This prompted a senior NASA scientist and program manager with almost 33 years of experience to quit and speak out publicly against the Administration's budget proposal.”

James Webb Space Telescope

“The Committee supports NASA's re-plan for the James Webb Space Telescope with a targeted launch date of fall 2018. The Administration failed to address known budget and schedule problems for several years due to the technical complexity of the project, which remains the top priority of the astronomy and astrophysics scientific community. The Committee will continue to closely oversee this program to ensure it remains on schedule and within budget.”

Top NASA Priority - Space Launch System and Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle
 
“The Committee generally supports technology development, but these funds are better spent in bringing NASA astronaut crew transport systems online operationally as soon as possible. American astronauts should be launched into space onboard American rockets, not Russian.

“With regard to human space flight, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 directed the Agency to prioritize development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to replace the Space Shuttle, which was retired in 2011.  The Act also authorized NASA to continue activities related to development of a commercial crew launch system, but emphasized Congressional intent that NASA develop the SLS and MPCV as soon as possible to ensure U.S. backup access to the ISS in case commercial crew or cargo capabilities fail to materialize. NASA's budget proposes to reverse the priorities established by Congress in both authorization and appropriation legislation. NASA seeks to reduce funding for the SLS and Orion MPCV.  Under this budget proposal, the SLS/MPCV system would not be operational until 2021.

“The Committee finds it unacceptable for the U.S. to rely on the Russian Soyuz system. NASA needs to develop a vehicle to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as possible. We must keep an eye on safety and strategically balance the next steps of human exploration (e.g., the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars). However, all other priorities are secondary to this immediate goal of space transport.

“While NASA's Commercial Crew program could be the primary means of transporting American astronauts, we cannot be solely reliant on this program.  The Orion MPCV, Space Launch System, and Commercial Crew programs require a program track with a sufficient budget to support the Space Station as soon as possible in preparation for the next steps of human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit and ensure American preeminence in space.

“Due to a constrained budget environment, goals - such as maintaining 2.5 commercial teams or demonstration flights beyond low-Earth orbit - need to be secondary to the primary goal of developing a vehicle to safely transport American astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Top Priority – Shifting Money to Severe Weather Prediction

“The Committee's top priority for NOAA is rebalancing the agency's research portfolio to better predict severe weather to protect American lives and property. The Committee supports a strong research enterprise at NOAA; however, the Administration continues to direct NOAA research funding increases almost exclusively to climate rather than weather. The Administration's most recent budget request would only exacerbate the imbalance between these priorities, resulting in a climate research budget three times larger than that for weather research ($210 million vs. $70 million, respectively). This portfolio is not in sync with the needs of the American public and should be rebalanced.”

Weather Satellite Data

“The Committee is gravely concerned with the cost, potential forthcoming gap in weather satellite data, and NOAA's mismanagement of the JPSS [Joint Polar Satellite System] (currently estimated total cost for JPSS weather satellites is $12.9 billion through 2028). For years, this program and its predecessor have been plagued with cost over-runs, poor management, agency infighting, technical problems and contractor mistakes. A recent review found NOAA's management still to be ‘dysfunctional’ and elucidated on various management problems and recommended solutions. The Committee supports full-funding for the JPSS and GOES-R weather satellites, because they are too important to fail the American public. However, the Administration needs to practice greater transparency with independent cost estimates for these programs and encourage more proactive management within NOAA and the Department of Commerce.  The Committee has been conducting on-going oversight of these programs.”

National Science Foundation:

Environment

“while we support a healthy budget for NSF, the Committee remains concerned that the Administration is diverting research and development (R&D) funds to its extreme environmental priorities rather than the merits cited earlier. For example, the NSF's contribution to the interagency US Global Change Research Program (with over $2.5 billion requested in various agencies) has increased to $333 million in FY 2013 from $205 million in FY 2008, prior to this Administration taking office. Further, NSF's Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) budget increases to $203 million in FY 2013, and the Committee is concerned that NSF R&D on the SEES program to develop renewable energy technologies and conduct climate change research is duplicative of work at other agencies. Also, the House voted against funding the $10 million request for the NSF's Climate Change Education Program in FY13.”

Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences

“The Committee is concerned that the Administration has lost sight of the NSF's core mission in support of the physical sciences when so much funding is provided for SBE.  Several recent studies conducted using the NSF's SBE funding have been of questionable value, and something our nation can ill­afford.  These SBE funds are better spent on higher priority scientific endeavors that have demonstrated return on investment for the American taxpayer.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095