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House Science Committee Views and Estimates Fiscal Year 2004 - Part 1

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2003

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WASHINGTON - Today, the House Science Committee publicly released its recommendations, or "Views and Estimates," on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 budget.

BACKGROUND

Science and technology are the keystones of our economic prosperity and national security.

Economists attribute much of the nation's improvement in productivity in recent years to the fruits of research and development (R&D) – and that productivity improvement fueled the longest period of economic expansion in our nation's history.

Advancements in science and technology were also critical to the nation's ability to triumph in the Cold War. (Indeed, Cold War-era investments in science and technology, especially those made in the wake of the Soviet launch of Sputnik, laid much of the foundation for the broad, successful scientific and engineering enterprise the U.S. boasts today.) New ideas, understandings and technologies spawned by research and development are likely to be just as essential to winning the war against terrorism.

Moreover, science and technology have the potential to cure numerous domestic and global social ills – disease, poverty, hunger, cultural isolation and environmental degradation, to name just a few.

But advances in science and technology do not come cheap or without focused effort; nor are they solely the responsibility of the private sector. Throughout our history, and especially in the years since World War II, the federal government has played a fundamental role in underwriting research and development, especially (but not exclusively) basic research at the nation's universities. This investment, which has a long history of bipartisan support, has paid off with handsome benefits for all Americans.

While the percentage of national R&D sponsored by the federal government has declined in recent years, the federal role remains essential. Indeed, as competitive pressures have led many industrial enterprises to focus research on projects with shorter-term benefits, longer-term research depends more than ever on federal support.

None of these assertions is new or unfounded. They are, for example, discussed in the Committee's report Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy, prepared by Congressman Vernon Ehlers, at the request of the Speaker, in the 105th Congress.

INTERAGENCY AND HOMELAND SECURITY ISSUES

In the first session of the 108th Congress, the Science Committee will focus on homeland security issues, including cybersecurity, the establishment of the new Department and the impact of security concerns on the conduct of research; reauthorization of the nation's space and aeronautics programs and the investigation into the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia; and oversight of the Department of Energy and the development of the research title for a comprehensive Energy Bill. Many of the Committee's concerns and interests in these and other areas are captured in the agency-by-agency discussion in the next session. But three sets of central concerns that cut across agency lines need to be reviewed first.

Presidential Initiatives

The Administration's budget highlights five "multi-agency R&D priorities" and provides a precise budget breakdown for three of them – work on networking and information technology, nanotechnology, and climate change. (Analytical Perspectives, p. 185) The Committee strongly endorses these initiatives, and agrees that they deserve priority in funding.

The Administration proposes a 6 percent increase from the Fiscal Year (FY) 03 request for the interagency program on Networking and Information Technology (NITRD). The Committee believes this is the minimum the program needs.

The Administration proposes increasing spending on nanotechnology by 10 percent. This promising, broadly applicable technology field merits the additional spending. The Committee plans to report out authorizing legislation for the nanotechnology initiative (H.R. 766) later this spring. . The Administration proposes spending about $1.75 billion on climate change science, an amount equivalent to FY 03 enacted levels. The Committee believes this is an adequate investment in this important research. The Committee supports the proposal to dedicate $182 million to the Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI), compared to last year's $40 million request. However, the Committee notes that much of the increase appears to be the result of the reclassification of several ongoing research programs.

The Committee commends the Administration for working to develop a strategic plan to guide all federal research activities regarding climate, including the CCRI. The Committee plans to work with the Administration to complete the plan this year and ensure that areas of climate research the plan identifies as priorities receive adequate funding.

The Committee also endorses the two other multi-agency R&D initiatives, which relate to combating terrorism, which is mentioned in the next section; and to education, some of which is discussed in the section on the National Science Foundation.

Homeland Security

The Committee played an active role in drafting the legislation that established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), particularly in creating the Science and Technology Directorate and in outlining the Department's role in cybersecurity.

The Committee is therefore pleased that R&D to combat terrorism is one of the top priorities in the Administration's FY 04 budget proposal. The FY04 budget request includes an estimated $3.2 billion across all agencies for homeland security R&D, including over $900 million for R&D within DHS – almost one-third more than was requested in FY 03 for R&D by the agencies being transferred into the new Department.

Most of the R&D funding for DHS ($803 million) will go to the Under Secretariat for Science and Technology, including $350 million for the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA).

The Under Secretariat for Science and Technology is unusual among the divisions of DHS in that its mission and responsibilities require new capabilities that cannot be met by the programs and agencies being transferred into it. Perhaps more than any other part of the department, the challenge will be to build a division with greater capability than the sum of its individual pieces. Ultimate success will depend on careful planning and the investment of significant new resources.

While the Committee is generally supportive of the scale of the proposed budget for DHS, the Administration has not yet provided enough information to fully evaluate the proposed budget, despite repeated requests dating back several months. Important questions remain regarding the new Department's R&D agenda and how it will be carried out.

The Committee is concerned that the primary early focus of DHS R&D will be on development, with basic research comprising only 5 percent, or $47 million, of the DHS R&D request. More information is needed on the R&D agenda both within and outside the Department to determine if this is adequate, especially given the proposed cuts in basic research at the Department of Defense.

The Committee is also concerned that the proposed budget fails to adequately address the nation's critical needs for cybersecurity R&D. The President's National Strategy to Secure Cyber Space tasks DHS with the responsibility to conduct research and development to reduce the vulnerability of our nation's computer networks. Nowhere, however, is this responsibility noted in the proposed budget.

Balance in the Federal Research Portfolio

While the Committee believes that the Administration has chosen the appropriate priorities for the federal R&D budget, it is nonetheless concerned that the biomedical sciences, in general, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in particular, continue to dwarf the remainder of the R&D budget. While the budget documents acknowledge the need to increase support for the physical sciences, the proposed spending levels would not allow that to occur, especially when compared to the enacted levels for FY 03.

Similarly, while Defense Department development programs are critical to our national security, those programs alone cannot create a stable and secure American society or even ensure our protection from enemy attacks over the long-term. Yet while the Pentagon is slated to receive a 12 percent increase, basic and applied research in the Defense Department would decrease substantially from FY 03 requested levels.

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