Highlights from the House Science Budget Hearing

The biggest news from the annual House Science Committee budget briefing was confirmation that NSF Director Rita Colwell was indeed resigning and that NIST Director Arden Bement would become interim director beginning February 22, 2004.
Colwell will become head of the newly created Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc., and accept academic appointment with UMD and Johns Hopkins University.
Other budget hearing highlights:

  • There was much praise for NSF throughout the hearing, as well as praise of Colwell’s tenure. The committee was universal in expressing its disappointment for the President’s requested funding for NSF for FY 2005. The committee also almost universally condemned the President’s requested plan to move the Math and Science Partnerships program from NSF’s EHR directorate to the Department of Education.
    When asked what she would do with any additional funding Congress might be able to secure for NSF for FY 05, Colwell responded that her first priority would be to improve average grant size and duration.

  • Committee Democrats repeatedly raised the specter of “outsourcing” and noted that the President’s budget does little to help the US “maintain world leadership.” Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) noted the President’s budget would result in cuts in R&D spending at NASA, DOE, DOD, Agriculture, VA, Interior, EPA, and many more agencies.
    The Director of OSTP, Jack Marburger, said that the Administration’s position on outsourcing was to make sure we have a “strong innovation infrastructure to create value-added jobs” and to “make basic investments in infrastructure for innovative technologies to get into the marketplace.”

  • Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science and Technology Charles McQueary responded to questions about the percentage of short-term vs. long term research in DHS by noting that his first priority is to get existing technologies immediately deployed in homeland security applications. So the focus of the S&T directorate is almost exclusively short term for now. However, he says DHS intends to shift a larger percentage of research towards longer-term efforts in future years.
    McQueary’s written testimony suggests that research at the Department’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) will include “5 to 10 percent” basic research in FY05.

  • Finally, Ray Orbach, Director of DOE’s Office of Science noted that any additional funding Congress secures for DOE Office of Science in FY 2005 would be used first to increase university participation and support increased use of DOE facilities.

Overall, other than Colwell’s announcement, a pretty generic budget hearing. All five administration witnesses did their best to defend a very austere R&D budget, with Marburger going so far as to say (paraphrased) “what’s important isn’t the final funding number but the ‘symbolism’ of the increase on a percentage basis…”.
It’s going to be a challenging appropriations season.

Highlights from the House Science Budget Hearing