On October 27, Congress sent President Clinton a final
FY 2001 Commerce-Justice appropriations bill (HR 4942) that gives substantial
increases to most R&D programs in the Department of Commerce. Although
the Department's total R&D rises only modestly by 3.3 percent or
$35 million to $1.1 billion, Commerce's main R&D programs in the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) receive substantial increases,
offset by a planned reduction in R&D facilities construction (see
Table). President Clinton has stated his
intention to veto the bill, however, because it does not contain certain
changes to immigration law that he favors.
The Commerce-Justice bill is a leading example of the chaos and confusion that surround the congressional attempt to finish up FY 2001 appropriations before Election Day. Already delayed well beyond the October 1 start of FY 2001, the appropriations process is likely to extend well into November. Although the House drafted and approved its version of the Commerce-Justice bill in June, the Senate never approved its own draft version. Because the Senate had not approved its version, a formal House-Senate conference could not be convened. Last week, however, appropriators completed an informal conference agreement and then attached it to the conference report for the District of Columbia appropriations bill. The House and Senate quickly approved the combined conference report on October 27, and sent it to President Clinton for his signature. But the President has threatened to veto the bill, not because of any disagreements over what is in the bill but rather with what is not: the final bill does not contain legislation he wanted extending amnesty for certain illegal immigrants from Latin American nations. Thus, although the final Commerce-Justice bill contains substantial increases for most Commerce programs, the bill may have to be repackaged with new immigration legislation after his veto, delaying final approval of the Commerce budget until next week or later.
The final Commerce-Justice bill offers less for R&D
than the President requested, but more than the House and Senate had
proposed earlier in the appropriations process. While the President
requested $1.1 billion for Commerce R&D, including large increases
for NIST programs, the House voted to slash Commerce R&D by nearly
25 percent down to $816 million, while the Senate proposed to cut 2.7
percent off the FY 2000 funding level for a total of $1.0 billion. The
final appropriation of $1.1 billion, an increase of 3.3 percent over
FY 2000, exceeds the earlier House and Senate-proposed funding levels
but falls $40 million short of the request. This matches the pattern
of other conference reports, which have generally provided far more
than either the House or Senate bills, and in many cases more than the
President's request. (For details of House appropriations for Commerce,
please see the June 16 AAAS R&D Funding Update;
for details of Senate appropriations, please see the July
26 AAAS R&D Funding Update.)
The final bill provides $420 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) R&D, far more than the $270 million House appropriation, though less than the request for $497 million. The overall total declines 8.3 percent because NIST's Construction of Research Facilities program declines from $107 million down to $35 million. NIST itself only requested $36 million for FY 2001 because most of the FY 2000 funding was a one-time appropriation to fund the construction of a new Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) at NIST headquarters in Maryland. The final bill provides most of the request, but diverts $14 million for congressionally designated projects not in the NIST request. Neither the House, the Senate, nor the final bill provide funds for a proposed Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (IIIP), in contrast to the request for $50 million out of which $44 million would have funded R&D. IIIP would have supported research and technology development to protect critical information and telecommunications infrastructures from attack or other failures. IIIP would have fostered partnerships between industry, universities, and government through competitively awarded research grants, mostly to external performers. Instead, the final bill allocates $5 million within NIST's intramural research account for infrastructure protection research.
Other NIST programs, however, receive substantial increases in funding. NIST intramural laboratory research programs grow by 9.0 percent to $257 million for R&D in the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, part of the Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account. (This total excludes the $5 million provided for infrastructure protection research.) R&D in the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) also grows, by $8 million or 7.0 percent to $123 million. While this appropriation falls short of the request, it is far better than the House version of the bill, which would have eliminated the program. ATP is NIST's extramural research grants program to provide precompetitive cost-shared R&D support for promising market technologies. The House has repeatedly voted to terminate the program, including in last year's Commerce-Justice bill, but the Senate and the Clinton Administration have managed to preserve it in past budget struggles, a pattern that is repeated this year.
The total NIST budget in the final bill is $598 million (for both R&D and non-R&D programs), down 5.9 percent from FY 2000, but an increase after taking out the Construction of R&D Facilities account.
The final bill boosts funding for the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s R&D programs with an
R&D appropriation of $635 million in FY 2001, an increase of $44
million or 7.4 percent over FY 2000. The bill boosts funding for NOAA's
main R&D account, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), from $301
million in FY 2000 to $323 million. Included is a boost in Climate and
Air Quality Research from $130 million to $144 million.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within Commerce increases its support of R&D from $20 million to $50 million in FY 2001. In addition to its support for telecommunications sciences research, NTIA nearly triples its support of Technology Opportunity Grants from $16 million to $46 million. These grants fund the development of innovative information technology systems to provide the benefits of information technology to Americans in under-served communities.
Figure 1. (click on the image to view
or download a full-size PDF version of the chart)
The FY 2001 increase, after adjusting for expected
inflation, keeps Commerce R&D at a stable funding level. Mostly
because of strong Clinton Administration support for NIST programs,
and secondarily because of bipartisan support for NOAA's R&D programs
in the early 1990s, Commerce R&D in FY 2001 is nearly double the
funding level of a decade ago (in inflation-adjusted terms; see Figure
1). Commerce is now one of seven agencies to fund more than $1 billion
in R&D annually. However, Commerce R&D peaked in FY 1995 and
has been up and down since then because partisan disagreements on the
proper role of the federal government in commercial technology have
made ATP a contentious political issue, because Republican hostility
toward some environmental R&D programs have resulted in cuts to
NOAA, and because tight discretionary spending caps have limited the
pool of money available for both NIST and NOAA. Even though other R&D
funding agencies have benefited in the past few years from additional
resources made available because of budget surpluses, Commerce R&D
has actually declined slightly since FY 1998, the first year of the
current string of surpluses.
Figure 2. (click on the image to view
or download a full-size PDF version of the chart)
Because of the differing missions of NOAA and NIST, Commerce has a diverse research portfolio, as shown in Figure 2. Although Commerce is not the dominant supporter of research in any one discipline, it does provide significant amounts of research funding for several disciplines. NOAA is a leading supporter of research in the life sciences and especially the environmental sciences, including atmospheric and oceanographic research. NIST is a leading supporter of research in the physical sciences (including chemistry and physics), computer sciences, and the engineering sciences. Most of NOAA's and NIST's research is performed in intramural laboratories.
3. (click on the image to view or download a full-size PDF version of
Commerce funding for many of these disciplines has
stagnated or declined in recent years because of continuing disputes
over the proper role of NIST in funding R&D and up-and-down funding
for NOAA. The trends in Commerce's total R&D budget are mirrored
in trends for Commerce support of specific disciplines, as shown in
Figure 3. NOAA's support of environmental sciences and life sciences
has declined in tandem with losses in purchasing power in NOAA's overall
R&D budget, although funding levels are somewhat higher than they
were in the early 1990s. NIST dramatically expanded its support of engineering,
physical sciences, and computer sciences research in the early 1990s
after ATP started. But since 1995, when the Republican Congress began
casting a harshly critical eye to NIST's activities (especially ATP),
its support of these disciplines has stagnated or declined. The increase
in Commerce's R&D in FY 2001 should reverse these downward trends
somewhat, although funding levels will remain well below their peaks.
The final DC/Commerce-Justice bill is now on the President's
desk awaiting his signature, but the President has signaled his intention
to veto it. Because his opposition to the bill is not related to the
funding levels in the bill, the Commerce R&D funding levels in this
Update will be the final ones, but final passage of the agency's FY
2001 budget will have to wait until Congress and the President can negotiate
mutually acceptable immigration amnesty legislation that can be attached
to the bill.
-October 30, 2000
AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20005