On May 19, the House of Representatives approved (395-13)
its version of the FY 2001 Transportation appropriations bill (HR 4475)
for the Department of Transportation (DOT). The Transportation bill
is generous with increases because funding for most of its programs
increases automatically with increasing gasoline and other transportation
tax revenues. The House would provide $694 million for DOT's R&D
in FY 2001, an increase of $87 million or 14.4 percent (see Table).
This increase, though substantial, would still be well below the President's
request for $778 million. DOT's R&D would grow slightly faster than
the DOT budget as a whole, which would reach $55.2 billion, an increase
of $5.1 billion or 10.2 percent.
Much of the spending in the Transportation bill is exempt from limits on discretionary spending set out in spending caps and the annual budget resolution because of two new categories of discretionary spending created in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) of 1998. TEA-21, a six-year reauthorization bill for most highway and transit programs, dedicates all highway and transit trust fund receipts to transportation and creates two new categories of discretionary spending (highways and transit programs) for that purpose. Spending in these two categories is determined by receipts from transportation taxes and not by legislative limits. (Previously, Congress had diverted a substantial portion of transportation receipts to other discretionary programs, which had the effect of limiting transportation spending.)
Because transportation revenues have been rising and all these revenues are required to be spent on transportation, the Transportation bill is especially generous toward the two primary beneficiaries of TEA-21 spending, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA; $30.7 billion, up 6.9 percent) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA; $6.3 billion, up 8.4 percent). In FY 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would receive an even larger percentage increase (up 20.1 percent or $2.0 billion to $12.0 billion) because the recently-enacted Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) would provide TEA21-like guarantees of increased funding for many FAA programs beginning in FY 2001.
Most other DOT agencies, which are funded primarily or partially from general discretionary funds, also increase in the House bill because these programs deal primarily with transportation safety, a high priority for the House Appropriations Committee.
FHWA's R&D programs would receive $273 million,
a gain of $15 million or 6.0 percent over FY 2000, mostly because of
the guaranteed funding in TEA-21. The Administration's request was for
$314 million. In the budget request, DOT had proposed to reallocate
a portion of unexpected additional revenues from the highway trust fund
toward uses not specified in TEA-21, including a significant diversion
of funds to R&D. The House bill would reject this proposal and would
distribute all the additional revenue to the states according to the
TEA-21 distribution formula, just as Congress rejected a similar proposal
in last year's budget request. The FHWA total includes $49 million for
R&D in the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program,
up from $41 million in FY 2000. There would be increases for most FHWA
R&D programs, though not as significant as those proposed by the
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), because of the increased guaranteed funding in AIR21, would receive $291 million for R&D activities, a substantial increase of $64 million or 28.5 percent. FAA's R&D, however, totaled over $300 million annually in the early 1990s until FY 1995, and then declined sharply due to budget cuts. The increase would be concentrated in weather research, aircraft safety technology, and further development of free flight technologies and other new commercial aviation technologies.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would receive $55 million for R&D in FY 2001, up $4 million from this year. Most of NHTSA's R&D involves highway safety research and the development of new safety-related technologies. R&D in the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would decline to $14 million from $17 million.
The majority of DOT's R&D is performed by intramural laboratories and industrial performers. Universities and colleges perform about a tenth of DOT's R&D, and a similar proportion is performed by state and local governments.
Nearly two-thirds of DOT's research (excluding development and R&D facilities) is in the engineering sciences, particularly in civil engineering, but DOT also is a key federal funding source for research in psychology and physics. DOT is only the fifth-largest supporter of engineering research despite its importance in the DOT portfolio, funding 5 percent of all federal support for engineering. The major sponsors of engineering research are the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with about a third each of total federal support, followed by the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation. FAA funds 5 percent of total federal support for psychology, mostly into the role of human factors in aviation safety.
The generous funding increases in the Transportation bill made it easy to draft and pass in the House, and the Senate should also find drafting and approving its version easy. Because so much of DOT funding is already set by TEA-21 and AIR21, the Senate bill should contain increases similar to the House bill both for DOT's R&D and overall DOT spending.
- May 22, 2000
AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20005