July 31, 2002
NSF RESEARCH ON DOUBLING PATH
The next step toward doubling the budget for research and development funded by the National Science Foundation was taken in the Senate just before the August recess. The Senate Appropriations Committee called for an 11.8 percent increase in the NSF fiscal year 2003 total budget over the FY 2002 level, exceeding the Administration’s request by approximately $400 million. Under the Senate appropriations bill, NSF’s R&D funding would increase 11.9 percent, including a 14.8 percent boost in the Research and Related Activities account which may be the first step toward a doubling over five years. Within Research and Related Activities, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences budget would increase 14.8 percent; Engineering would increase 20.3 percent; Education and Human Resources would increase 8.3 percent.
The Appropriations Committee’s report language, always important in how the money actually gets spent, is particularly instructive this year. In discussing the large increase for the math and physical sciences directorate, the Committee says it “remains concerned that support for the physical sciences has not kept pace with the growth in other disciplines. Yet it is the sustained investment in these disciplines that has enabled the development of today’s advanced weapon systems, state-of-the-art medical diagnostic equipment, and improved communications systems.” Among other programs, the bill provides an additional $50 million for the major research instrumentation program. In its report, “The Committee reiterates its long-standing concern about the infrastructure needs of developing institutions, historically black colleges and universities, and other minority-serving colleges and universities. The Committee directs NSF to use these additional funds to support the merit-based instrumentation and infrastructure needs of these institutions. The Committee’s recommendation includes and additional $10 million for the innovation partnership program. With these funds, NSF is to support competitive, merit-based partnerships, consisting of States, local and regional entities, industry, academic institutions, and other related organizations for innovation-focused local and regional technology development strategies.”
While the appropriations action is important and welcomed by the science and technology community, there is still concern that the Senate has not yet passed an NSF authorization bill setting out a plan to double the research budget over five years, as the House has done. Jurisdiction over NSF is divided between two Senate committees – the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee – both of which plan to mark up NSF authorization bills in September.
When Congress returns in September, conferees will be working to resolve differences between the massive “comprehensive” energy bills passed by the House and Senate. The Senate version is much more generous to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and now a move is underway in the House to pressure conferees to adopt those provisions. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and a number of cosponsors introduced legislation to double the DOE Science budget over five years and to upgrade science management within the Department. Rep. Biggert notes that the budget for the Office of Science is still only at its 1990 level, and that current appropriations allow the Office to fund only 10 percent of the unsolicited, peer-reviewed proposals it receives annually. Additional funding is needed for new initiatives planned by the Office of Science, including nanoscience centers, Genomes to Life, Advanced Computing, and workforce and education programs. On the management side, while the House-passed energy authorization bill provides for only a study of the best way to raise the profile of science at DOE, the Senate version and Rep. Biggert’s new bill would create a new Undersecretary for Science and Energy Research, and elevate the Director of the Office of Science to an Assistant Secretary.
The Department of Homeland Security bill approved by the House on July 26 included key provisions developed by the House Science Committee creating an Undersecretary for Science and Technology and otherwise increasing the visibility of science and engineering concerns. Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert said that “With this Undersecretary, the bill ensures that one senior official in the new Department will be responsible – and accountable – for the science and technology activities of the entire Department. This approach will also ensure that the science and technology activities of the Department have the critical mass and the skilled leadership they need to succeed.” Science Committee provisions included in H.R.5005 also blocked the transfer of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Computer Security Division, strengthened cyber security provisions of the bill, and ensured that entrepreneurs and inventors can get through quickly and easily to government officials who can help them develop their ideas for Homeland Security.
The Senate will take up its Homeland Security Department bill as soon as it returns from the August recess, but it is unlikely that legislation will be on the President’s desk by September 11, as originally envisioned.
SIGNIFICANT DOD INCREASE ADVANCES
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a 9.2 percent increase in the Department of Defense science and technology programs, increasing 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 programs by $904 million in FY2003. In terms of percentage of the total defense budget, the Senate bill allocates 3.0 percent for S&T, exactly what is recommended by the Defense Science Board. The Administration had requested 2.7 percent, and the House Appropriations Committee approved 3.2 percent.