The House today approved increasing funding for two key science agencies called out for increases in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative last February. The House passed the FY 2007 Science, State, Justice, Commerce Appropriation bill by a large margin (393-23), approving an increase of nearly 8 percent to the budget of the National Science Foundation and 14 percent to core research programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. With the passage of the SSJC, along with the passage on May 24, 2006, of the FY 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, the House has now approved all of the funding the President requested for the three key agencies targeted by the ACI: NSF, NIST and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
As we noted in our previous coverage of the SSJC, there was some concern expressed by both Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the sponsor of the bill, and those of us in the science advocacy community that the increases for NSF and NIST called for in the bill might be at risk on the House floor. The fear was that Members of Congress who are fans of programs that received cuts in the bill (as many did) would seek to address those cuts in amendments. Because of the House rules, any amendment seeking to increase funding for one program in the bill must also seek to offset that increase by cutting program funding elsewhere in the bill. Given that the ACI agencies received very healthy increases in an otherwise austere bill, there was a fear that the ACI increases would be juicy targets for Members not as concerned about US innovation and competitiveness. However, that fear appears to have been unfounded, as the funding levels approved by the committee last week emerged unscathed in the floor debate yesterday and today.
As we noted previously, though, those increase remain at risk in the Senate, as appropriators there struggle with how to mitigate significant cuts to NOAA in both the House bill and the President’s budget request. We’ll have more on the Senate appropriations effort as the details emerge.
However, it’s hard to understate the significance of the House action today. The House acted to reverse a long-standing lack of support for research in the fundamental physical sciences, mathematics, computing and engineering. In doing so, they have sent a very clear message that this research forms the core of our economic and scientific future and is worthy of federal support. Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) put it well in his remarks on the House floor:
These agencies, which are not exactly on the tip of everyone’s tongue, are keystones of our nation’s economic future. Our nation will remain strong and prosperous only if we remain innovative. And we will only remain innovative if we have the most robust research and education enterprise in the world. And it is these agencies that help enable the U.S. to lead the world in science, math and engineering education and in research.
So, the community owes big thanks to Rep. Wolf, Ranking Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Rep. Boehlert, and Science Committee Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN), as well as to the other 389 Members of Congress who voted in support of securing America’s innovative future.