This article is published in the May 2007 issue.

Congress on Track to Continue Increases for Science


House, Senate Budget Resolutions Provide Funding ‘Room’ for R&D Agencies

Before leaving on their traditional two-week spring recess, members of the House and Senate approved their respective versions of the Fiscal Year 2008 Congressional Budget Resolution, with each providing space beneath the budget caps for increased funding for key federal science agencies. While the differences between both versions will have to be resolved in a compromise resolution when both chambers resume work in late April, the similar treatment of science accounts in both versions of the resolution bodes well for the agencies in the upcoming FY 08 appropriations process.

The Congressional Budget Resolution is the first legislative step in the annual process that ultimately results in appropriations for federal agencies in the upcoming fiscal year. It is Congress’s first official response to the President’s FY 08 budget request, introduced in February 2007, which included healthy increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC)—three research agencies at the core of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). (For more details on the President’s budget request, see Computing Research News, Vol. 19/No. 2, March 2007.)

The two Congressional Budget Resolutions appear to endorse the priority the President placed on the three ACI agencies. They included room, beneath the funding caps established by the resolution, explicitly intended for increases at the agencies, as well as increases in education spending and funding at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In providing the budget allocations, members of the House Budget Committee included “Sense of the House” language within the resolution to spell out the goals of the increased funding:

“America’s greatest resource for innovation resides within classrooms across the country. The increased funding provided in this resolution will support important initiatives to educate 100,000 new scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, and place highly qualified teachers in math and science K–12 classrooms.”

“. . . Independent scientific research provides the foundation for innovation and future technologies. This resolution will put us on the path toward doubling funding for the National Science Foundation, basic research in the physical sciences across all agencies, and collaborative research partnerships; and toward achieving energy independence through the development of clean and sustainable alternative energy technologies.”

The resolution initially reported out of the Senate Budget Committee failed to contain adequate allocations for federal science agencies. But in an amendment to the resolution on the Senate floor, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) managed to restore an additional $1 billion in allocations specifically for science funding. The amendment, adopted overwhelmingly by the Senate, specifies that NSF would receive $400 million more in FY 08 than in FY 07, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would receive $600 million more than FY 07, and that additional provisions of the Senate’s “America COMPETES Act” (S. 761) would have sufficient allocations in the resolution. In addition to continuing the doubling of NSF, NIST and DOE Office of Science, the COMPETES Act would create scholarship programs, summer academies, and AP training for current and future math and science teachers, set up new high-tech internships, and implement other recommendations of the National Academies Rising Above the Gathering Storm report.

If the two chambers can agree on a compromise resolution, that resolution will set the caps for the amount of money Congressional appropriators will have to spend as they begin the process of drafting and passing the 13 annual appropriations bills necessary to fund the operations of the federal government each year. If they fail to agree on a compromise, a different set of procedures in each chamber will dictate those caps. In either case, the fact that both chambers approved resolutions in which science funding was considered a priority should bode well for the science agencies at appropriations time. The approval in both chambers (and the near-unanimous approval in the Senate on a specific vote for the Bingaman/Alexander science funding amendment) argues strongly that there is clearly a “will of Congress” behind increasing science funding in support of innovation and competitiveness.

It will then be up to Congressional appropriators to actually use the allocations under the cap to fund federal science agencies, a process that will begin in late May or June as the first appropriations bills see introduction and consideration at the committee level. The Democratic leadership on the appropriations committee has already demonstrated its commitment to science funding by deeming increases at NSF, DOE, NIST and NIH “national priorities” that merited inclusion in an otherwise parsimonious final appropriations for FY 07 in February 2007 (see CRN, Vol. 19/No. 2, March 2007). The science advocacy community is already working hard to ensure that the same attitudes about the need for federal support of research persist throughout the FY 08 appropriations process.

House Approves HPC R&D Act

Members of the House approved a bill in March to amend the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, responsible for establishing what became the interagency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program. The High-Performance Computing Research and Development Act (H.R. 1068) aims to provide sustained, transparent access for the research community to federal HPC assets, assure a balanced research portfolio, and beef up interagency planning. Various versions of the bill have been introduced over the last four Congresses without passing the Senate. The latest version contains two noteworthy provisions that would change the status quo. The first directs the Director of the White Houses Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop and maintain a research, development, and deployment roadmap for the provision of federal HPC systems. This requirement originally appeared as a recommendation of the Presidents Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) in 2005, and is an attempt to get the agencies to work better together to facilitate technology transfer across the various R&D programs and a clear strategy for advancing the next-generation technologies.

The second noteworthy provision of the act is an explicit requirement that the Presidential advisory committee for IT (currently the Presidents Council of Advisors for Science and Technology [PCAST]) review the goals and funding levels of the NITRD program every two years and report back to Congress. This requirement is, in part, a response to frustration from the community over the lack of timely, independent reviews of the NITRD program, and the hope that an explicit requirement to review the funding will allow the community to assess whether the current federal investment is adequate.

The Senate is likely to consider its own version of the HPC R&D Act in the coming months. There appears to be bipartisan support for the action, so the computing community is cautiously optimistic that the act will find its way into law before the expiration of the 110th Congress.

For all the latest on the budget and the HPC R&D Act, check CRAs Computing Research Policy Blog (http://www.cra.org/blog)