Science & Technology in Congress
On April 24, the House of Representatives approved bills authorizing funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). These authorizations are part of a set of bills approved by the House Science Committee on April 16.
In a bipartisan fashion that differs sharply from the battles waged in the 104th Congress, the Science Committee, chaired by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), approved funding for the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction in a surprisingly timely fashion. Despite being the last committee to organize, due to disagreements among congressional leaders over how many seats the committee would have, it was the first to the floor with its authorizations.
One of the major issues facing the Science Committee in approving the bills was funding for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is a high-energy physics project based in Switzerland and CERN, a consortium of European nations. It will be built over the next few years at a cost of $6 billion total. The Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed to contribute $450 million over several years to help pay for the project. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) introduced an amendment to completely eliminate funding for the LHC, but it was defeated by 12-20. The LHC revisited the debate over the United States based Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) which was killed by Congress in 1993. Supporters of the Barton amendment pointed to the lack of European support for the SSC as a rationale for careful consideration of funding for a European project. They also argued in favor of guarantees that U.S. scientists will have full access to the LHC, and for a formal management role in the project. The committee was also concerned that the U.S. is being asked to contribute at a significant level while at the same time, some European nations are reducing their contributions. In the end, the committee approved language in the DOE and NSF authorizations to prohibit the U.S. from providing funding for the project until Energy Secretary Federico F. Peña provides a report on the impact that the funding will have on U.S. high-energy physics.
The Science Committee also approved language in its authorizations to prohibit spending money on the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative until the committee has a chance to study it further. Funding for the NGI is likely to be approved as a separate bill once the committee holds hearings to consider the issues.
Discussion of the NASA authorization bill provided a good opportunity for members of the Science Committee to debate the issues involved in funding the International Space Station. Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) was one of the chief opponents of the Space Station. At the hearing on April 16, he introduced amendments to eliminate the Russians from the project, reduce funding for the project by $75 million, and to kill the project entirely. All of these amendments were defeated by the committee. However, an amendment requiring the Administration to formulate guidelines for future dealings with Russia on the project was approved by the committee and incorporated into the passed legislation. The bill authorizes the Administration's request of $1.4 billion for the Mission to Planet Earth program, which uses satellites to probe the Earth's atmosphere and environment. The bill also provides increases to the space science and life sciences accounts, authorizing $2.08 billion and $234 million respectively.
The House approved a 7.2% increase in funding for NSF in FY 1998, and a 3% increase in FY 1999. This is a substantial jump from the Administration's request of 3% for FY 1998. Within the authorized 7.2% increase, funding for the NSF research account would go up by 5.4% in FY 1998, to 2.6 billion. Funding by directorate is fairly consistent with the Administration's request. Funding for Education and Human Resources would remain nearly flat, with only a small increase over FY 1997 levels. As mentioned above, the bill withholds funding for the NGI. The bill authorizes $115 million to improve the facilities of the South Pole facilities, and fully endorses the recommendations of the U.S. Antarctic Program Panel, calling for replacement of the South Pole Station and renovation of two other Antarctic facilities.
Due to Republican pressure to reduce funding for the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), the Science Committee authorized $185 million for the program in FY 1998, $90 million less than the Administration's request. The committee narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to bring funding back up to the FY 1997 level. ATP has become a target for some members of Congress who are concerned that the program has turned out to be a form of "corporate welfare," because it provides grants to industries in order to develop new technologies.
The following agencies have had their science funding authorizations approved by the Science Committee, but the bills have not been voted on by the House. They are likely to go to the floor in May.
DOE civilian science funding has been authorized at $4.6 billion for FY 1998, a 2.6% increase over FY 1997 levels. One of the most contentious issues in the DOE authorization bill is funding for the LHC, mentioned above. The committee denied DOE's request of $35 million to contribute to the LHC. The bill also calls for the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate future options for three of DOE's programs: High-Energy and Nuclear Physics, Basic Energy Sciences, and the proposed National Spallation Neutron Source.
The Science Committee authorized $1.4 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The National Weather Service, a NOAA program, would see its funding increase by $26.8 million from FY 1997.