Science &Technology in Congress
Key decisions on federal funding for R&D in Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 were made in Congress in July, as both the House and the Senate raced to approve as many appropriations bills as possible before a month-long recess starting August 1. In the aftermath of a bipartisan budget agreement to balance the federal budget by FY 2002, House and Senate appropriators find themselves in an entirely different environment than the past two years. Because the budget agreement allows for increases in discretionary spending in FY 1998, appropriators are in the position of deciding which programs should receive increases and at what level, rather than deciding which program to cut or eliminate as in the FY 1996 and 1997 appropriations process.
Nearly every major R&D agency would receive an increase well above the rate of inflation, and key research accounts would be funded well above both the current year levels and the President's request. In sharp contrast to two summers ago, when the House and Senate were approving bills containing unprecedented cuts to R&D programs, this year's bills are notable so far for offering increases to R&D that would have been unthinkable last year or the year before. As the list of agencies below shows, these increases are both significant and widely distributed, signifying support for the breadth of the federal R&D enterprise.
National Science Foundation: The House has approved an 8.6 percent increase in FY 1998 to $2.6 billion for NSF's R&D programs. Including NSF's non-R&D funds, the total NSF budget would be $3.5 billion, $217 million or 6.6 percent more than in FY 1997. The House would provide $115 million to fully fund the renovation of the South Pole Station and other research facilities in Antarctica. The Senate is likely to approve a slightly smaller NSF budget this week of $3.4 billion.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration: The House has approved a 4.7 percent increase to $9.8 billion in FY 1998 for NASA's R&D activities, well above the President's request. NASA's total budget would decline slightly to $13.6 billion. The House would fully fund the Space Station, including $100 million for additional costs if Russia should fail to deliver its elements. The Senate is likely to approve the President's requested budget of $13.5 billion.
Environmental Protection Agency: The House would provide $610 million for EPA's R&D activities, a 12.7 percent increase. The Senate is likely to approve a smaller, 6.6 percent increase close to the President's requested level.
National Institutes of Health: A draft House bill would provide $13.5 billion for NIH in FY 1998, 6.0 percent or $765 million more than the current year increase and $427 million than the President's request. Every institute would receive at least 4 percent more than this year. The Senate has not yet acted on the NIH budget.
Department of Defense: The Senate has approved $37.4 billion for DOD's R&D. Included in this appropriation is an 8.7 percent increase for DOD basic research, and a 3.6 percent increase for applied research. The House has not yet approved a DOD bill.
Department of the Interior: The House appropriation for Interior contains $605 million for R&D in FY 1998, 4.2 percent more than the current year, with larger increases for natural resources research and National Park Service research programs.
Department of Energy: The Senate has endorsed an 8.7 percent increase for DOE's defense R&D to $3.0 billion, including $198 million for the National Ignition Facility. The Senate would also provide $240 million for magnetic fusion, $15 million more than the request, as part of a 2.6 percent increase for Energy Supply programs. Funding for high-energy and nuclear physics would stay level with FY 1997.
Department of Agriculture: The House would trim USDA's R&D budget by 2.7 percent to $1.5 billion because of cuts to earmarked R&D facilities projects. This would allow support for basic and applied research to increase at the rate of inflation. The Senate is set to approve a similar bill.
Department of Commerce: The Senate is set to approve a 9.4 percent increase to Commerce R&D this week, for a total of $1.1 billion. The Senate strongly endorses NOAA's R&D on oceans, atmosphere, and marine resources, and would provide a 12 percent increase, far above the President's request, to $630 million. The Senate would boost NIST's R&D by 5.5 percent to $604 million. ATP would receive $211 million, less than the current year. The House is expected to approve smaller increases for NIST and NOAA this week.
Department of Veterans Affairs: The House expressed its strong support for VA's research by providing $302 million for VA's R&D in FY 1998, 11.4 percent more than the current year. Included is $25 million to study gulf war illness.
At this stage in the process, the House and the Senate are acting independently in approving the appropriations bills, in contrast to the customary practice of the Senate waiting for the House to pass a bill. This means that much work needs to be done in August and September to bring the House and Senate funding levels into agreement, and there will be much balancing of competing interests.
Somewhat lost in the urge to heap increases on discretionary programs, and to enact tax cuts and entitlement reforms, is the fact that these appropriations bills and tax cut packages would increase the deficit in FY 1998, making it more difficult to balance the budget eventually in FY 2002. Recent figures place the most recent estimate of the FY 1997 deficit at less than $40 billion, down from $107 billion last year, because of surging tax revenues from continued economic growth. Another year of unexpectedly strong economic growth could erase the deficit entirely, if current spending plans and tax code were preserved. Ironically, it now appears that implementing the balanced budget agreement's package of tax cuts and spending increases in FY 1998, with spending cuts postponed until the 21st century, could actually prevent a balanced budget this century.
-Kei Koizumi, AAAS
R&D Funding Updates on each of the above agencies, complete with detailed funding tables, can be found on the World Wide Web at:
http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/rdwwwpg.htm in the "FY 1998 R&D" section. This site is continually updated as the appropriations process moves forward.