Science &Technology in Congress
At press time, the House and the Senate are set to approve their separate defense authorization bills setting policy and recommended spending levels for national defense in FY 1998. The bills, H.R. 1119 and S. 936, would not actually appropriate money for defense programs, but would serve as guides for the appropriators in both chambers as they write their legislation.
In the House bill, H.R. 1119, total defense R&D would be authorized at $40.9 billion, a 2.7 percent increase over FY 1997 and the Senate bill would authorize $40.6 billion, up 2.1 percent. If the 2.7 percent increase proposed by the House bill prevails, then defense R&D would stay even with inflation for the second year in a row, after nearly a decade of decline. Defense R&D accounts for over half of total federal support for R&D.
Both the House and the Senate tend to agree with the Administration that basic and applied research are important to the long-term missions of the Department of Defense (DOD). Total basic and applied research would be authorized at over $4 billion in both bills. Basic research is an especially high priority, and would be authorized at levels close to the President's request of $1.2 billion, an increase of more than 8 percent over FY 1997.
Congress departs from the President's budget request in funding development, which makes up the bulk of DOD's R&D budget. The Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, recently admitted that the President's request of $2.6 billion for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) would be inadequate to meet the stated goal of deploying a national missile defense system by 2003. In acknowledgment of this, the House would authorize $3.4 billion for BMDO's R&D, fully $818 million more than the President's request. The Senate would set BMDO's budget at $3.1 billion.
Dual use technology programs remain a source of contention between Congress and the Administration. The House defense authorization bill would eliminate the Dual Use Applications Program (DUAP), thus reducing the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) FY 1998 budget to $1.9 billion, down 13.1 percent from the President's request and 7.4 percent less than the FY 1997 level. The Senate bill would not eliminate DUAP, but would authorize it at $125 million (the President's request for the program was $225 million).
The bills also authorize defense activities at the Department of Energy (DOE), which is responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear arsenal. With the recent ban on nuclear testing, DOE is moving toward a more science-based approach to ensuring the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons. The Stockpile Stewardship Program, key to DOE's effort to use science to replace nuclear testing, would receive $1.7 billion in FY 1998 under both the House and Senate authorizations, 4.6 percent more than the FY 1997 level.
The President's budget request asked for full up-front funding for large DOE science facilities construction projects, including the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Of the $3.7 billion the President requested for DOE's defense R&D, nearly $1 billion would have been for construction costs in FY 1999 and later, in order to avoid uncertainties in future funding and to guarantee completion of facilities like the NIF.
The House and the Senate, however, preferring to fund projects from year to year, rejected the up-front funding plan. The House authorizes $918 million less than the request, for a total of 2.8 billion, 0.6 percent less than the FY 1997 level. Most construction projects' FY 1998 costs would be authorized by both the House and the Senate. The NIF, for example, would receive $198 million towards construction in FY 1998, but not the $876 million that will be needed to complete it over the next few years.