From the Hill


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From the Hill

Bush proposes 3.3% increase in FY 2009 R&D budget

After a rocky end to the fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations process, in which R&D funding was hit hard, President Bush on February 4 released a proposed budget of $3.1 trillion for FY 2009. The president’s budget includes increases for the three physical sciences agencies in his American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), increases for human spacecraft development, and flat funding for biomedical research in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Overall, Bush requested $145.4 billion for R&D, up $4.6 billion or 3.3% over FY 2008. However, increases for some agencies will mean cuts or flat funding for other agencies.

Congress on December 19 approved an omnibus appropriations bill (signed by Bush a week later) that combined 11 unfinished FY 2008 appropriations bills. In doing so, however, Congress failed, after a veto threat from Bush, in its bid to add $22 billion in new domestic spending. As a result, the final bill did not include a roughly $2 billion increase that Congress had sought for nondefense R&D. Federal investment in basic and applied research for FY 2008 will increase just 1.1% to $57.5 billion, less than the 2.4% expected inflation rate. Total federal R&D (including development) would increase 1.2% to $142.7 billion.

Funding for basic research in the physical sciences, a key element of various plans to sustain U.S. economic competitiveness, fell well short of a planned doubling path over the next decade. The omnibus bill would take away most of the requested increases for the three physical sciences agencies in the ACI in order to reverse requested cuts in medical research, energy R&D, and environmental research. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would see only a 1% increase in its R&D funding instead of a larger increase requested by the president. Most National Institutes of Health (NIH) institutes would get flat funding at FY 2007 levels instead of the cuts the president had requested. A requested 15% increase for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s Office of Science was trimmed to 5% in order to provide a 23% increase in DOE’s energy R&D programs, including carbon sequestration, biomass, and solar energy. The omnibus bill restores funding for climate change science and other environmental research in several agencies, including R&D in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), up 3.4% to $583 million, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), up 7.6% percent to $573 million. In addition, appropriators boosted climate change research in other agency budgets, including increases for earth-observing satellites and related research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In the president’s FY 2009 budget proposal, the ACI would once again be the big winner among science-related domestic programs. NSF, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories, and DOE’s Office of Science would collectively receive $12.2 billion, up 15%.

NSF’s budget of $6.9 billion would be a 14% boost, with increases approaching 20% for the mathematical and physical sciences, engineering, and computer science directorates and smaller increases for nonphysical sciences directorates. The proposed $4.7 billion for DOE’s Office of Science would be a 19% increase, restoring funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, physics, and other basic research projects hard hit by the FY 2008 final appropriation. The NIST labs would receive a large increase, though at the cost of a proposal to eliminate the Technology Innovation Program and the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The Department of Defense (DOD) would receive a 4% increase in its basic research portfolio, to $1.7 billion, which would be a 16% boost if earmarks in the 2008 base are excluded. DOD weapons-systems development would increase by $4.5 billion or 6.9% to $69 billion, but once again there would be steep cuts in DOD’s S&T programs because of the proposed elimination of earmarks. DOD S&T would plummet 11.7% to $11.7 billion, but would increase 5.6% if 2008 earmarks are excluded.

Nondefense R&D would increase 2.7% to $60.9 billion. The increase is due to boosts for the ACI agencies and space vehicles development at NASA, which helped to offset requested cuts to earmarks and other smaller nondefense R&D programs and flat funding for NIH R&D. Excluding the ACI/space programs, the nondefense portfolio continues to be flat or declining since peaking in 2004.

Total federal support of research (basic and applied) would fall 0.5%, or $282 million, to $57.1 billion, even after taking into account the large proposed increases for physical sciences and related research at NSF, DOE, and NIST. Removing 2008 congressional earmarks from the new budget request ($1.1 billion in research earmarks for DOD alone) accounts for the cut.

NIH would receive exactly the same amount ($29.5 billion) in 2009 as in 2008; nearly all of NIH’s institutes and centers would also get the same budgets as this year. A number of biomedical research advocacy organizations have already decried the 2009 proposal for leaving NIH 13% below the 2004 funding level after adjusting for biomedical research inflation. The number of new grants, the average real size of a grant, and the expected success rate for grant competitions are all expected to fall in 2009.

NASA R&D would increase to fund the development and construction of new human spacecraft. NASA R&D, in preliminary figures, would gain 2.9% to $10.7 billion, but the entire increase and more would go to the two big projects: finishing the International Space Station and developing the Crew Launch Vehicle and Crew Exploration Vehicle combination. As a result, NASA support of research in the physical sciences, environmental sciences, aeronautics, and other disciplines would fall once again.

The Department of Agriculture budget would decline 1% even when $369 million in 2008 R&D earmarks are not counted, and the Environmental Protection Agency R&D and USGS R&D would fall 1% and 7%, respectively, because of proposed program cuts. NOAA’s R&D budget would fall slightly to $582 million, but after taking out 2008 earmarks, the 2009 increase for core NOAA research programs would be 8%.

Homeland security-related R&D would rise 10.2% to $5.5 billion, a gain of $512 million, reflecting a budget proposal that favors defense spending and homeland security over most other domestic priorities. The majority of the multi-agency portfolio remains outside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the largest part in NIH for its biodefense research portfolio. NIH’s portfolio, mostly in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, would total $1.9 billion, up 1%. The largest domestic increase would be a $250-million allocation (more than double the $102 million this year) in the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for R&D on biomedical countermeasures.

Energy bill boosting CAFE standards approved

In December, Congress approved and President Bush signed an energy bill that will increase motor vehicle fuel-economy standards and boost ethanol production. However, more ambitious energy proposals, supported mostly by Democrats, were defeated.

The law requires an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards from 25 to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. It was the first increase in CAFE standards for passenger cars since 1990. To assist the auto industry in meeting the new requirement, the bill provides grants and loan guarantees for making efficient vehicles and their parts.A House-passed provision that would have required investor-owned electric utilities to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources was dropped from the bill. In addition, the Senate eliminated a proposal that would have allotted $21.8 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. This provision, approved by the House, was particularly contentious because the bulk of the funds required to finance the incentives would have come from scaling back tax incentives for oil and natural gas producers. The White House had made it clear that it would veto the bill if the provision was not shelved. Democratic leaders vowed to try again next year to enact these provisions, because many of the tax incentives are set to expire in 2008.

The new law also requires new efficiency standards for appliances, provides incentives for energy efficient buildings, and phases out the use of conventional light bulbs. The law requires the federal government to make all of its buildings carbon neutral by 2030 through the use of energy efficiency and clean energy.

Report faults food-safety agency

A report released in November 2007 says that budget woes at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have resulted in the agency falling behind not only on the growing number of tasks in its purview but also on advances in research and technology. It says the agency’s “inability to keep up with scientific advances means that American lives are at risk.”

The report, FDA Science and Mission at Risk, was produced by a panel formed by the FDA’s science advisory board and is the latest in a number of reports detailing the agency’s difficulties in overseeing food and drug safety. The reports have prompted stepped-up pressure for change from Congress.

The new report says that during the past two decades Congress passed 125 laws increasing FDA’s workload, yet agency funding decreased by $300 million after accounting for inflation.

In response, a bipartisan group of 23 senators asked President Bush to request a significant boost in the FDA’s food-safety budget. They pointed out that although FDA is responsible for 80% of the food supply, it receives just half the money given to the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which is responsible for the other 20%.

The president’s FY 2009 budget request would increase the agency’s food-safety budget by $42 million, to $662 million. However, the science board report stated that even a boost of $250 million, a number touted by an FDA support coalition, “may not be sufficient.”

Four House Energy and Commerce Committee members who have been active on the FDA front—Chairman John D. Dingell (D-MI) and Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), and Henry Waxman (D-CA)—called the funding request “grossly inadequate.” They requested an assessment of the FDA’s funding needs from members of the same science advisory board group that issued the recent safety report. “In recent years,” they wrote, “its annual budget requests have not covered its own needs, its annual appropriations have not kept pace with inflation, and the agency has become increasingly dependent on user fees.”

FDA watchers in Congress were pleased, however, when news surfaced in January that the FDA was reversing a previous recommendation to close 7 of its 13 food and drug inspection labs, an idea that had been vigorously opposed by members of Congress.

Lawmakers are also continuing to focus on passing a bill that would allow FDA to approve generic versions of biologic drugs, which are complex drugs that are derived from natural sources. Under a compromise forged by members of Congress last year, pharmaceutical companies would get 12 years of exclusivity on biologics before the drugs could enter the generic marketplace. The language passed one Senate committee but failed to make it into a FDA reauthorization package approved in September 2007.

Oil lease sales begin despite polar bear concerns

The Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) said on February 2 that it would proceed with the sales of leases for oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the northern coast of Alaska, starting on February 6. The announcement came despite appeals from members of Congress and wildlife advocates that MMS should not make a decision until the Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had determined whether polar bears should be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If polar bears had been designated an endangered species before the lease sales were announced, additional consultations on the effects of the leases on polar bears and their habitat would have been required.

A final FWS decision on whether polar bears are endangered was scheduled to be issued in January but was postponed by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who said that the agency had not been able to process all the related public comments that were submitted.

House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA) held a hearing on January 17 to review the decisions. FWS Director Dale Hall and MMS Director Randall Luthi testified, both defending the decisions of their agencies and saying that the lease sales were are not likely to significantly endanger polar bears or their habitats.

Markey introduced legislation that would bar the department from selling leases until after FWS has made a final determination on the polar bear listing. However, the Interior Department later said it would move ahead with the sales.

The department has been sued by an alliance of environmental activists and Alaskan native groups for not adequately investigating the environmental consequences of the lease sales.

EPA denies California emissions waiver

On December 19, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied California permission to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson said the agency would not grant a waiver under its Clean Air Act authority because the state had not proven the existence of “compelling and extraordinary conditions” for regulating the emissions.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, held a hearing in response to the decision. Democrats said that EPA’s decision was not based on the scientific or legal recommendation made to the administrator by his own agency. Boxer introduced legislation, cosponsored by 21 senators, requiring EPA to grant the waiver.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent letters to the EPA pressing it to release various documents related to the waiver decision, including key presentation slides made to the administrator by his staff, which the agency has delayed releasing. In response, Waxman issued a subpoena on February 8.

Meanwhile, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and governors of 13 other states sent a letter to the EPA saying that its decision was “without merit.” The states had been considering implementing the California standards once the waiver was granted. On January 3, California announced that it would sue the EPA to reverse the decision and was joined by 15 other states along with several environmental organizations.

Climate change bills advance in Senate

In December Senate committees approved four bills dealing with climate change, including a bill designed to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change and a bill aimed at adapting to climate change.

On December 5, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-8 in favor of the America’s Climate Security Act (S. 2191), a bill cosponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) that establishes a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Warner was the lone Republican to support the bill.

The bill would establish a complex trading system for emissions credits with the 2050 goal of reducing by 70% greenhouse gas emissions from covered sources, which represent about 80% of total U.S. emissions. (Covered sources include facilities in the electric power or industrial sectors that emit more than 10,000 carbon dioxide equivalents of greenhouse gas in any year as well as any other facility that produces or imports chemicals whose use will emit more than 10,000 carbon dioxide equivalents of greenhouse gas, assuming no capture and permanent sequestration.)

The bill would create a Climate Change Credit Corporation to auction permits and distribute the proceeds for technology development and for mitigation of climate change effects. About 25% of the allowances would initially be auctioned (the rest would be given away), with the auctioned amount growing over time.

The bill would also create a Carbon Market Efficiency Board, modeled on the Federal Reserve Board, to regulate the market for carbon allowances. The board would be able to adjust the price of emissions permits, thus addressing the issue of price volatility that critics of cap-and-trade legislation argue it could induce. When prices reach too high a level, the board could expand the ability of companies to borrow extra permits, with a requirement of offsetting reductions in future years or, if needed to further reduce prices, the board itself could release a larger number of permits to the entire market to be compensated for by reducing available permits in a later year.

The bill includes a provision originally introduced by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) in S. 1766 that would require countries that are not taking comparable climate mitigation measures to submit emission allowances for certain high-carbon imports. This provision is aimed at satisfying critics who have argued that if U.S. industries are constrained by carbon prices, they may be less able to compete against foreign industries. Forcing foreign industries to pay for allowances on products whose production involves greenhouse gas emissions would put the same financial constraints on foreign industries, say the bill’s proponents.

On December 4, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced legislation proposed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) aimed at developing actions needed to adapt to climate change. Cantwell said her bill, the Climate Change Adaptation Act of 2007 (S. 2355), is meant to ensure that the government plans for global warming and has the necessary tools to address its effects. Her concerns are based in part on a recent Government Accountability Office report that found that most agencies are unprepared for the effects of climate change and do not take global warming into account when managing their lands.

The bill authorizes a five-year national strategic plan to address the effects of climate change. Within a year of the release of the national plan, each executive branch department and agency will be required to develop a detailed plan for addressing climate change effects.

The bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to conduct regional assessments of the vulnerability of ocean and coastal resources. The bill would also require national and regional coastal and ocean adaptation plans that include tools to address effects associated with climate change, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. The bill emphasizes interactions with states and local regions and provides grants for coastal states to develop and begin implementing adaptation programs. The bill authorizes $35 million for each of the fiscal years 2009 through 2013 for the ocean and coastal provisions.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also passed with no discussion the Global Change Research Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 2307), sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). The bill would restructure the federal Climate Change Science Program and require a new 10-year strategic plan. It would also establish a National Climate Service within NOAA and require the Secretary of Commerce to initiate programs on abrupt climate change and develop standards and measurement technologies for calculating greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would also create a Science and Technology Assessment Service within the legislative branch.

The committee also passed the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (S. 1581), sponsored by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Cantwell, which provides for a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification. As atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen, the oceans have absorbed additional carbon dioxide, changing ocean chemistry to make the oceans more acidic. The change has effects on marine ecosystems, particularly through its impact on plankton and coral.

The bill would establish an acidification program within NOAA to implement activities recommended by an interagency committee, including outreach activities, education opportunities, a monitoring system of acidic levels in the ocean, and research grants. The program is authorized at $10 million for fiscal year (FY) 2009, $15 million for FY 2010, $20 million for FY 2011, $25 million for FY 2012, and $30 million for FY 2013, with 40% allocated to NOAA and the remaining 60% to other agencies.

EPA launches nanotechnology program

Despite public reservations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on January 28 unveiled a new program aimed at improving the agency’s understanding of existing nanoscale materials and providing a basis for possible future regulations.

The new Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP) will be implemented under the authority of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It is contentious because of EPA’s position that nano-sized substances should not be categorized as new if their chemical structure is the same as existing larger chemicals. By contrast, many public health and environmental advocates claim that size does matter when considering toxicity of these new materials and that EPA’s approach will reduce the effectiveness of regulation and enforcement under TSCA.

The EPA is currently calling on companies that work with nanotechnology to participate voluntarily in both the basic program and the in-depth program that requires that additional data be submitted to EPA. The basic data program will collect data on material characterization, hazard, use, potential exposures, and risk management practices. The in-depth program will focus on data development efforts by participating firms through testing nanoscale materials.


“From the Hill” is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org/spp) in Washington, D.C., and is based on articles from the center’s bulletin Science & Technology in Congress.

Cite this Article

"From the Hill." Issues in Science and Technology 24, no. 3 (Spring 2008).

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