House Votes on Funding for DOE Office of Science

Print this pagePrint this page
Publication date: 
12 July 2013
Number: 
116

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 227-198 the FY 2014 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  During its two days of deliberations on H.R. 2609, the House considered more than seventy amendments to this legislation on programs such as ARPA-E, energy efficiency, Yucca Mountain, and life extension programs for nuclear weapons.  Among these amendments were several relating directly to the Office of Science.

The bill the House considered provided $4,653.0 million for the Office of Science.  House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) told his colleagues in his introductory remarks that the $4.7 billion in basic science program funding was “just above last year’s [2013] post-sequestration level,” later saying “This bill recognizes our fiscal realities and makes the tough decisions to ensure we get our spending under control without sacrificing our most critical of Federal functions.”  The Obama Administration requested $5,152.8 million for the Office of Science for FY 2014.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) praised Frelinghuysen for his efforts, while criticizing the Republican leadership and the House Budget Committee for imposing a reduction of $2.8 billion, as compared to FY 2013, on the overall amount of funding the subcommittee could work with.  This allocation, she said, “move[s] America backwards in a global economy where our Nation’s future is at stake.”  She was particularly critical of a cut of more than 50 percent in applied research and development supported by DOE.

A series of amendments sought to alter the amount of funding for the Office of Science.  The first was offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and would have shifted $1.7 billion in proposed funding for DOE’s defense environmental cleanup program to several energy research programs, including the Office of Science. 

Johnson told her colleagues “I have heard it said that this bill has been cut to the bone, and I know that. It is important that DOE's Office of Science is actually the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the country, and it [supports] 30 national scientific user facilities whose applications go well beyond energy innovation.   Our Nation's top researchers from industry, academia, and other Federal agencies use these facilities to examine everything from new materials, which will better meet our military's needs, to new pharmaceuticals, which will better treat disease, to even examining the fundamental building blocks of the universe.  I believe that this stewardship of unique scientific research, which includes the Nation's major national user facilities, is another important role that I hope the Department will continue to make one of its highest priorities.  It is no secret that Congress' inability to date to come to an agreement on a sensible budget plan has led to some devastating cuts to many of these important programs, with serious impacts on our Nation's future.”  Also speaking in favor of this amendment was Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA).

Frelinghuysen, who was managing the bill for the Republican side, outlined his opposition to Johnson’s amendment that would reduce funding for nuclear weapons waste cleanup programs, saying “The Federal Government has an inherent responsibility to address this legacy and to ensure that the materials created to build our nuclear weapons stockpile do not endanger the public health and the environment. There are also some other daunting technical challenges in cleaning up this waste, and this amendment would, frankly, completely gut those types of programs. It is doubtful that this level would even sustain the basic operation and maintenance of the facilities, let alone allow for any progress in the cleanup effort. The cleanup effort needs to be sustained.  Our allocation has made, as I said earlier in the afternoon, for very tough choices. We placed the highest priority on activities on which the Federal Government must take the lead. While the applied energy and advanced research programs are down substantially, admittedly, there is a strong interest in advancing these areas of research, and the responsibility for conducting that research can shift, in many ways, to the private sector.”  Also speaking in opposition to this amendment was Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA).

The Johnson amendment failed on a voice vote.

Later Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) stood to offer an amendment, explaining “My amendment redirects the $25 million designated for the Yucca Mountain High-Level Waste Geological Repository into the High Energy Physics program within the Department of Energy's Office of Science for the development of a 21st century solution to this problem.  The High Energy Physics program is currently researching and developing ways to use accelerator technology to reduce the toxicity of nuclear waste, transforming it into a more stable, less hazardous form.”  He later added “Other countries have already made significant investments in the research and development of accelerator technology that will help make long-term storage facilities, like the facility supported in this bill, obsolete. It is time that the United States begins to make up the ground it is losing to the rest of the world when it comes to accelerator technology and begin focusing on 21st century solutions to deal with nuclear waste.”  Also speaking in favor of this amendment was Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). 

Frelinghuysen opposed the amendment, stating: “while I appreciate the concerns that he has raised about the Office of Science, just for the record, the Office of Science has been funded at $32 million above the current post-sequester levels, so they have plenty of money.   I rise, more importantly, on the second issue. This money comes from $25 million that we've set aside to address Yucca Mountain where we, as taxpayers, have put well over $12- to $15 billion of investment as a repository for high-level nuclear waste. We understand the dynamics of the State and resistance on the part of many there, but we also know that if we are ever to recoup that investment in the future, since consumers and taxpayers pay for that facility, that we are going to need some money to reopen Yucca Mountain.”  Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) voiced his support of Frelinghuysen’s position, as did Ranking Member Kaptur. 

Heck’s amendment failed by a vote of 81 yes to 335 no.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee later rose to offer an amendment.  “Mr. Chairman, my amendment would reduce funding for basic energy science research by cutting 10 percent out of its $1.5 billion budget. It would apply those funds to the spending reduction account.  Basic energy science is a worthy goal to explore fundamental phenomena and create scientific knowledge to keep our technologies and ideas on the global, leading edge. However, it is not the Federal Government's function to act as a venture capitalist for science theory research. I believe that this endeavor is instead best left to our world-renowned universities and private institutions,” Broun said.      

Broun continued, “My amendment does not stop this research. It would simply put it on balance with the reductions that have already been applied in the bill to our present energy resources.   In this bill, general science is cut by only 5 percent, while research on fossil fuels and nuclear energy is cut by 17 percent and 14 percent respectively.   We're in an economic emergency, Mr. Chairman. Our Nation is facing an economic meltdown, and Federal dollars are very scarce. As we face this huge budget deficit together, we've got to look at every option available to meet the challenges of doing more with less.”

Frelinghuysen rose in opposition: “His amendment would cut $158 million from the Office of Science within the Department of Energy in favor of deficit savings. I should say for the record we cut approximately $220 million from last year's number. So we've substantially reduced this account.   Let me just say, too, that the basic science program within the Department conducts research with a staggering potential for benefits for our Nation.  Cutting the program further, which is what he seeks, threatens our long-term energy security, hurts American scientists and industry, and I think to some extent blemishes our credibility as a worldwide leader in basic science programs.”

Kaptur was more pointed in her opposition to the amendment: “for the gentleman to be suggesting that we reduce our science accounts even more flies in the face of reality. The science account is $223 million below this year's level and $500 million below the budget request. Innovation is an area where we as a Nation should be leading, and reducing investment in basic science risks world leadership. We are already at the edge.   Investment from publicly funded research yields a 20 percent to 67 percent return. With that kind of return, we should be investing more in science so that we produce the requisite talent that we need to meet the needs of the future, not the past. We can't ride on past laurels.”

Broun’s amendment failed on a voice vote. 

Rep. Alcee Hasting (D-FL) later rose to offer his amendment.  “Today, I offer a modest amendment that makes a profound statement about our country's priorities.  Federally supported basic research at the Department of Energy has helped to lead the development of lithium ion batteries, digital recording technology, communications satellites, and water-purification techniques, among other vital and incredible advances. I might add, some of this work would not be done by the private sector. It may come as a surprise to some to know that some of the research that led to Google came out of the National Science Foundation.

Hastings continued, “Many of my Republican colleagues' insistence on cutting everything except defense spending ignores the realities of our modern world. China, South Korea, and Australia are but three examples that are increasing their percentage of their GDP that's spent on research.     If we continue to cut, cut, cut, pretty soon we're going to cut ourselves right out of the equation in innovation and technology. Yet this bill provides $223 million, 5 percent less than the fiscal year 2013 enacted levels, and $500 million, 10 percent less than the administration's request for basic scientific research.  The amendment that I'm offering restores basic science research to the enacted levels, and it offsets this change with funds from the $7.7 billion appropriated for nuclear weapons. . . . ”

Frelinghuysen opposed this amendment, explaining: “I do oppose the amendment because it would increase funding for the Office of Science, not because I don't support the Office of Science, but it would hit our National Nuclear Security Administration's weapons activity account. I do support the basic science programs championed by our colleague. We worked hard in our committee to prioritize basic science. As I said earlier, this bill actually increases the Office of Science's budget by $32 million above the current post-sequester level, but we still make national defense the first priority in our bill. . . . ”  Kaptur, while saying she agreed with Hasting’s intent, opposed the amendment so the President will “be able to negotiate from a position of strength” in nuclear weapons reduction talks.

The Hasting’s amendment failed by a vote of 156 yes to 266 no.

An amendment offered by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) would have also increased funding for the Office of Science.  Said Foster: “I rise today to present an amendment that addresses an imbalance in our efforts to promote the long-term economic and national security interests of the United States.   This amendment reverses the deep and harmful cuts to the Department of Energy's Office of Science and balances this by a corresponding reduction - amounting to 6 percent - in the nuclear weapons production and life extension accounts.   The greatest long-term threat that our country faces on both the military and economic fronts is the threat of losing our role as world leaders in innovation in science and technology. Nothing is more crucial to preserving that role than the fundamental and applied scientific research, at both universities and national laboratories, supported by the DOE Office of Science. This appropriations bill would cut funding for the Office of Science by $500 million below the President's request for the next fiscal year.

Foster continued: “As a physicist who worked at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for over 20 years and collaborated with universities and other national labs all over the United States, I understand the productivity and the potential of the Department of Energy's national lab system and the wide range of basic scientific research that they support.   The Office of Science is responsible for supporting university-based research, but it also supports basic research facilities that are too big for any single company or university to develop.   The Chicago area that I represent is home to a number of scientific centers, including Fermilab, Argonne National Laboratory, and university-based centers. The economic impact of Argonne and Fermilab in Illinois alone is estimated to be more than $1.3 billion annually, and there are thousands of good-paying jobs that are supported by those investments.”

Foster cited research conducted at Argonne and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and continued, “Study after study has shown that there are few investments that government can make that provide as high a return on investment as scientific research and development. The cuts proposed by Republicans in this underlying bill will have a wide-ranging impact, both to the local economy in Illinois and to our national economy. And with wages as a percentage of our economy at a record low, it is not time to retreat and to stop investing in American innovation. We need to maintain a competitive advantage now more than ever.   Mr. Chairman, I rise today because we must continue to invest in American innovation and to fully fund the research and development conducted through the DOE Office of Science.”

Frelinghuysen responded: “I rise to oppose the amendment, but I do salute the gentleman for his work at the Fermilab, one of the finest labs in the Nation. Obviously, we appreciate his knowledge, and I would salute his contributions to science during his career before he came here.  Nevertheless, Mr. Chairman, I oppose his amendment. A cut of this magnitude to the weapons activities would seriously endanger our ability to carry out the modernization work that I talked about earlier, and so I oppose the amendment.”

Speaking in support of the amendments offered by Foster and Hastings was Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX). 

The Foster amendment failed by a vote of 143 yes to 273 no.   

 

The House passed this bill with the funding level for the Office of Science unchanged.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its version of this legislation.  As noted in FYI #111:

  • The FY 2013 budget (not including the mandatory reduction) for the Office of Science is $4,876.0 million
  • The FY 2014 request is $5,152.8 million, an increase of $276.8 million or 5.7 percent
  • The House-passed bill provides $4,653.0 million, a decrease of $223.0 million or 4.6 percent
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee recommendation is $5,152.8 million, an increase of $276.8 million or 5.7 percent

Note that the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee had different amounts of funding to work with, a situation that will lead to significant problems in later passage of final legislation.