|105TH CONGRESS ADJOURNS
AFTER PRODUCTIVE YEAR:
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY ISSUES PERVADE FIRST SESSION
The 105th Congress accomplished a lot in its first session, passing a balanced budget agreement, a new tax bill, and, most importantly, thirteen appropriation bills in time to avoid a government shutdown. While Congress may have been very active, many issues such as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), campaign finance reform, and fast track trade agreements remain unresolved at the end of the first session.
Both the White House and Congress heralded the balanced budget agreement reached this year as a historical triumph. Predictions from some economic observers that the budget would have balanced without the agreement due to the rapidly growing economy did little to dampen excitement over the deal. In fact, a budget that balances in 1998 may reflect well on incumbent Members of Congress. In addition, if the budget balances, the President will be unable to use the line-item veto power he has wielded for the first time this year. This would please many Members who disliked the way that the President exercised his discretion in the FY 1998 appropriations bills.
Science and technology research reached a new level of exposure on Capitol Hill in 1997, due in large part to the efforts of concerned policy-makers and an increasingly organized and motivated science lobbying endeavor. In an unprecedented event, Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced legislation to double funding in basic scientific, medical, and precompetitive engineering research over the next ten years. On the House side, Rep. George Brown (D-CA) proposed an "Investment Budget Initiative" which targeted growth in research and development (R&D), physical infrastructure, and education and training. In addition, the House Science Committee launched a year long Science Policy Study with the goal of developing a "new, sensible, coherent long-range science and technology policy, including a review of our nation’s science and math education programs." The Science Policy Study was commissioned by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and is expected to result in a report to Congress in the fall of 1998.
Environmental science claimed a great deal of congressional attention in 1997. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new particulate matter and ozone standards raised awareness of the need for reliable and comprehensive data on health and the environment. The dialogue between the Administration and Congress about global climate change revolved around the axis of scientific knowledge. In recognition of the need for scientific clarity in order to make policy decisions, both Congress and the President have identified environmental research as a priority, boosting EPA’s research budget accordingly. Forecasts for the most powerful El Niño event in 15 years also encouraged Congress to increase funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The first successful cloning of an adult mammal, resulting in Dolly the sheep, generated a great deal of excitement in the media and on Capitol Hill. In considering the ramifications of a clone’s existence, Members of Congress began to draw on and try to reconcile perspectives from the realms of science, theology, law, and ethics. While the debate over Dolly has quieted after the initial uproar, the policy questions she raises regarding ethical research practices, individuality, reproductive freedom, and human dignity still exist.
Many of the most dramatic science and technology-related issues encountered in the 105th Congress were concerned with international cooperation. The International Space Station was delayed yet again due to the Russian space agency’s financial troubles. The Shuttle-Mir program, the first phase of the International Space Station, almost came to a premature end due to numerous mishaps aboard the aging Mir station. Although still smarting from the demise of the Superconducting Supercollider that was to be built in Texas earlier in the decade, Congress approved funding for the Large Hadron Collider to be built in Switzerland by a consortium of nations. U.S. participation in the project was in question early in 1997, but a revised agreement, meeting congressional approval, was drawn up to clarify the terms of U.S. involvement.
In 1997, Congress continued to grapple with the policy
issues raised by new information technologies. The 105th Congress
saw the introduction of the first proposal to implement restrictions on
the domestic use of encryption. While the proposal was defeated in committee,
cryptography policy remains controversial. The FY 1998 appropriations provide
funds for the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative. NGI aims to develop
new technology for public networks and devise new applications. Intellectual
property issues in the digital age received a lot of attention as well.
Late in 1996, the U.S. signed an international treaty to improve protection
in the face of digital manipulation and distribution of copyrighted works.
In 1997, Congress began the process of implementing the terms of the treaty
through domestic legislation.