Category Archives: Feeding a Growing World Population

Fall 1997

From the Hill

From the Hill

House, Senate endorse big increases in FY 1990 R&D budgets

In the wake of the balanced budget agreement, this summer both the House and Senate endorsed big increases in the FY 1990 budgets of federal R&D agencies. However, no final decisions on appropriations had been made as Issues went to press in early September, and there were some major differences between various House and Senate appropriations bills that needed to be reconciled.

The terms of the balanced budget legislation, signed by President Clinton on August 5, along with a growing economy that is boosting government revenues, have provided at least a temporary boon for discretionary spending programs. This is in marked contrast to FY 1996 and 1997, when funding for many programs was cut. Appropriators have responded by singling out key R&D programs for increased funding, thus reaffirming the importance of science and technology for the nation.

The big R&D spending increases, however, are not likely to last beyond FY 1999. Appropriators will have to make sharp cuts in discretionary spending beginning in FY 2000 in order to balance the budget by 2002 as planned. In addition, even if this year’s proposed increases are enacted, the budgets of R&D agencies will still be below their FY 1994 levels in inflation-adjusted terms because of steep cuts made during the past three years.

The big picture

The House would provide $75.3 billion for federal R&D in FY 1990; the Senate, $75.4 billion, representing increases of 2.0 and 2.9 percent, respectively, from the FY 1997 budget of $73.3 billion. However, these increases are expected to only barely exceed projected inflation during the coming year.

Nondefense R&D would climb to $34.9 billion (up 4.4 percent) in the House plan and $35 billion in the Senate plan (up 4.6 percent) because of large increases for most of the civilian agencies. Although this would be slightly below the FY 1994 level in inflation-adjusted terms, it would still begin to reverse the cuts of the past three years.

Defense R&D, which includes Department of Defense (DOD) R&D and the defense activities of the Department of Energy (DOE), would rise only 1.4 percent under the House bills and 1.3 percent under the Senate bills because of cuts in defense development. Research would fare better than development, with applied research increasing 5.3 percent in the House and 3.6 percent in the Senate. The notable exception is basic research, which would be cut 4.4 percent in the House bill.

Spending on basic research overall in FY 1990 would increase by 3.4 percent under the House bill and 4.9 percent under the Senate plan. Both would represent an all-time high for federal investment in basic research in inflation-adjusted terms.

Nearly every major R&D agency would receive an increase well above the rate of inflation, and key research accounts would be funded at levels much higher than the current-year levels or the president’s request. Here is the proposed R&D funding breakdown by agency:

National Science Foundation (NSF): The House approved an 0.6 percent increase, to $2.6 billion, for NSF’s R&D programs. Including NSF’s non-R&D funds, the total NSF budget would be $3.5 billion, which is $217 million or 6.6 percent more than in FY 1997. The House would provide $115 million to fully fund the renovation of the South Pole Station and other research facilities in Antarctica. The Senate approved a slightly smaller increase, mainly because it allocated less money for the South Pole activities.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): A draft Senate bill would add nearly $1 billion to the NIH budget in FY 1990, for a total of $13.7 billion (up 7.5 percent). A draft House bill would provide $13.5 billion, which is 6 percent or $765 million more than the current year. Both amounts would be significantly above the president’s request of $13.1 billion. Every institute would receive at least 6 percent more than this year in the Senate bill and at least 4 percent more in the House bill.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): The House approved a 4.7 percent increase to $9.0 billion for NASA’s R&D activities, which is well above the president’s request. NASA’s total budget would decline slightly to $13.6 billion. The House would fully fund the Space Station and would provide $100 million if Russia fails to make its promised contribution to the project. The Senate approved the president’s requested budget of $13.5 billion, which includes a 3.1 percent boost to the agency’s R&D activities.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The House would provide $610 million for EPA’s R&D activities, a 12.7 percent increase. The Senate approved a smaller but still significant 6.6 percent increase. Both chambers would boost EPA’s research effort in particulate matter and other airborne hazards in order to improve the scientific foundation for EPA’s regulatory activities.

Department of Energy (DOE): The Senate endorsed an 0.7 percent increase, to $3 billion, for DOE’s defense R&D, including $190 million for the National Ignition Facility. The Senate would also provide $240 million for magnetic fusion, $15 million more than the request, as part of a 2.6 percent increase for energy supply programs. The Senate would allocate $6.3 billion for R&D, 4 percent more than this year. The House, however, would cut DOE’s R&D by 0.7 percent to $6.1 billion by holding defense-related R&D steady and cutting energy-related R&D. Both houses would support the Large Hadron Collider project and other physics research.

Department of Defense: The Senate approved $37.4 billion for DOD’s R&D, including an 0.7 percent increase for basic research and a 3.6 percent increase for applied research. The House, however, would cut DOD’s basic research by 4.4 percent within a $37.6-billion R&D budget. Both houses would add significantly to DOD’s growing effort in medical research.

Department of Commerce: The Senate approved a 9.0 percent increase in Commerce R&D this week, to $1.1 billion. The Senate strongly endorsed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) R&D on oceans, atmosphere, and marine resources, and would provide a 12.7 percent increase, far above the president’s request, to $634 million. The Senate would boost R&D at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) by 5.5 percent to $604 million. NIST’s Advanced Technology program would receive $211 million, $14 million less than this year. The House would increase Commerce R&D by 9.4 percent but would do so by cutting NOAA’s R&D and adding $110 million for construction of NIST’s R&D facilities.

Department of the Interior: The House appropriation for Interior contains $603 million for R&D in FY 1990, which is 4.2 percent more than the current year, with larger increases for natural resources research and National Park Service research programs. The Senate has proposed $610 million.

Department of Agriculture: The House and Senate would trim USDA’s R&D budget by 2.7 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively, because of cuts in earmarked R&D facilities projects. This would allow support for USDA’s basic and applied research to increase at least at the rate of inflation.

Department of Transportation (DOT): The House and Senate both approved a nearly $43 billion FY 1990 budget for DOT, a nearly 10 percent boost over the current year. Highway programs, air safety, Amtrak, transit grants, and the Coast Guard would all receive large increases, but the House would cut DOT’s R&D by 6.1 percent to $610 million, whereas the Senate would provide $654 million, which is only slightly above the FY 1997 funding level.

Department of Veterans Affairs: The House approved $302 million, which is 11.4 percent more than the current year. The Senate would allocate $276 million, slightly more than this year’s $271 million.

R&D funding updates, complete with detailed tables, can be found on the World Wide Web at: in the “FY 1990 R&D” section.

Climate-change conference evokes concern in Congress

With an important international conference on climate change set for December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, Congress is turning its attention to the issue amid concerns that any agreement signed at the meeting might require the United States to implement costly new environmental and other regulatory actions.

The scientific uncertainty associated with global climate change has aroused much consternation on the Hill. On July 10, a panel of scientists testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confronted the uncertainty problem head-on. The witnesses discussed the natural variability inherent in the global climate and pointed out the lack of continuity and consistency of environmental measurements. They said that more research is needed. When asked by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) if the scientific uncertainties could possibly be resolved by December, the panelists admitted that there probably would not be any good answers. Some of the panelists were quick to make the case, though, that the existence of uncertainty does not mean that there is an insufficient basis for good decisionmaking. “Sound science doesn’t mean certain science,” stated Stephen Schneider of Stanford University.

At a July 15 hearing of the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Power, committee members made clear their dissatisfaction with the fact that the Clinton administration has not yet taken a position for the Kyoto conference, during which the international community will try to agree on a treaty that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member, expressed strong concern about the possibility that developing nations such as China would be exempted from any binding emissions restrictions adopted in Kyoto. The administration, replied Timothy Wirth, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, is advocating a system by which developing nations could adopt the international emissions restrictions in the future as their economies “evolve.”

In a statement to the United Nations in July, President Clinton said he intended to examine the implications of climate change and emissions restrictions. Since then, he has begun meeting with interested constituencies, including scientists, industry leaders, and environmentalists, as well as members of Congress. This dialogue will form the basis for the administration’s position in Kyoto.

Congress deeply split over encryption technology regulation

Issues involving regulation of data encryption technology are continuing to trouble Congress, which has been trying to weave a path between the administration’s need to protect national security, the software industry’s desire to export the most sophisticated encryption software, and the concerns of free-speech advocates who believe restrictions on encryption software would violate civil rights.

Although a bill introduced in early 1997 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virg.) to liberalize current export controls on encryption products has garnered more than 250 supporters, similar legislation introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) has failed to attract support in the Senate. In June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chair of the Commerce Committee, and Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) introduced a bill at odds with both the Goodlatte and Burns bills.

The McCain-Kerrey bill differs from the Burns and Goodlatte bills on several key points. The Burns and Goodlatte bills would eliminate existing export controls, whereas the McCain-Kerrey bill allows producers to export encryption products involving the Data Encryption Standard, a 56-bit encryption algorithm. To export a more sophisticated product, sellers would have to include a “key-recovery” capability that would enable court-authorized law enforcement officials to decode the encrypted data if necessary.

The McCain-Kerrey bill also goes far beyond the scope of the Burns and Goodlatte bills by outlining the legal parameters of a voluntary key-recovery infrastructure. With such an infrastructure, encryption users would have the option of depositing electronic keys to their encrypted data with the proper authorities.

The McCain-Kerrey bill comes much closer to the administration’s position than have previous legislative proposals and has thus received administration support. The administration has long been pushing for some form of a national key-recovery system in order to give law enforcement and national security agencies the power to tap into encrypted communications.

Report on human cloning criticized

Some members of Congress have criticized the National Bioethics Advisory Commission’s (NBAC’s) recent report on human cloning, saying that the commission’s recommendations do not go far enough in providing guidance on the emotionally charged issues of cloning and genetic manipulation.

The commission released its report on the ethical, legal, and social implications of human cloning on June 7. Adopting the NBAC’s recommendations, on June 9 the Clinton administration proposed legislation to extend the current ban on federal funding for research involving the cloning of a human being. Three bills, two in the House and one in the Senate, to prohibit research involving cloning a human have already been introduced in Congress.

Citing concerns about risks to the human fetus and the need for further debate on the ethical and legal issues involved in cloning humans, the commission said that at this time it would be wrong to try to create a child through somatic cell nuclear transfer, the technique that was used to create the now-famous Dolly, a lamb cloned from an adult sheep’s cells. The commission said, however, that use of the cloning technique may produce scientific and medical benefits, and urged that its use for research purposes which do not involve human reproduction not be impeded

By focusing on somatic cell nuclear transfer, the commission steered clear of the controversial issue of human embryo research. Under current law, it is illegal to use federal funds to conduct research that involves the creation of a human embryo. The NBAC’s report argues that human embryo research has already received considerable time and attention from Congress and the administration.

Some members of Congress, however, were critical of the panel’s silence on the embryo research issue. Because the report is very specific in opposing the creation of a child through cloning, some members of Congress have interpreted this to mean that the NBAC has tacitly endorsed embryo research as long as the embryo does not develop into a child.

Shortly after the NBAC report was released, Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) issued a statement saying that, “I had hoped that the federal ethics commission would not be afraid to make a strong moral statement that human cloning is wrong, period, and should be banned. But when it came to the tough questions, they punted, and now it will be up to Congress and state legislatures to resolve those issues.”

Asked whether the commission had endorsed embryo research involving cloning, Harold Shapiro, the NBAC’s chair, and other commissioners have answered with resounding no‘s. They said that the NBAC had resolved early on that embryo research was beyond the scope of its assignment from the president.

Bond also expressed concern over the NBAC’s recommendation that federal cloning legislation be subject to review and revision in five years through a “sunset clause.” He said that because he and many others believe that human cloning will never be morally permissible; there is no need to allow the possibility of revising or rescinding a cloning ban. “They are leaving the door wide open to future cloning,” he stated.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) echoed Bond’s concern about the sunset clause, stating that he would rather enact a law without such a clause, with the cloning ban legislation reviewed and amended on an as-needed basis.



Mathew Brady photograph, from the Archives of the Academy, courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Edison National Historic Site

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Edison (who would be 150 this year if he had also invited a longevity device) was invited to exhibit his phonograph and his modification of the telephone at the April 1878 meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, but he was not considered for membership until the 1920s.

Even then, he faced opposition. Edison was nominated by the engineering section, and at the 1926 annual meeting physicist Robert A. Millikan rose to endorse the nomination. But when Millikan said (he thought rhetorically), ” I am sure that no physicist would wish to opppose Mr. Edison’s nomination,” A. A. Michelson, then thought to be the greatest physicist in the world, rose and said, “I am that physicist.”

Edison, with his more than 1,000 patents, was rejected that year but was elected to membership in 1927, four years before his death.



The privacy of medical records

A year ago, the issue of federal preemptive legislation to protect personal health data was mired in a heated debate within the health care community (Issues, Summer 1996). This debate effectively squelched congressional activity related to the three major bills that had been introduced to address health data protection. Not surprisingly, the 104th Congress adjourned without passing legislation to establish the much-needed national framework for protecting personal health data. Today, the debate surrounding health information privacy is far from resolved, but the issue is attracting increasing attention within and outside Congress, and several factors are increasing the likelihood that the 105th Congress will attempt to fill the current void in protection of health data.

The major factor keeping the issue of health data protection on track is the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Its administrative simplification provisions mandate the National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) to study health care information standardization, security, and privacy issues. The law stipulates that if Congress does not enact health privacy legislation by August 1999, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must consult NCVHS and promulgate standards on rights, procedures, and appropriate uses of health data. Thus, even if Congress fails to act, there will be some form of federal health data protection by 1999. However, in a June 1997 report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, NCVHS stated that existence of regulatory authority is not an adequate alternative to legislation and recommended that the 105th Congress enact a health privacy law before it adjourns. Secretary Shalala responded to the NCVHS report by announcing that the Department of Health and Human Services would soon send recommendations to Congress for federal legislation.

The forthcoming legislation will join two other bills already introduced that address health information privacy and practices. In addition, several bills have been introduced that specifically limit the disclosure and use of genetic information. And as part of the recent budget reconciliation bill, an amendment to the Social Security Act requires health care providers who participate in a specific Medicare program to establish procedures that safeguard the privacy of individually identifiable information, maintain records in a manner that is timely and accurate, and assure timely access by enrollees to their records.

According to Secretary Shalala, five principles will guide the recommended legislation. First, with very few exceptions, a health care consumer’s personal information should be disclosed only for health care. Second, individuals who legally receive health information must safeguard it. Third, citizens must have the ability to learn who is looking in their records, what is in the records, how to access their records, and what they can do to amend incorrect information. Fourth, anyone who uses information improperly should be severely punished. Fifth, as a society, we must balance the protection of privacy with our public responsibility to support national priorities. If legislation is passed that meets these objectives, a solid foundation for health data protection in this country will result.

Don E. Detmer and Elaine B. Steen

New life for brownfields

Since “Restoring Contaminated Industrial Sites” appeared in the Spring 1994 Issues, several federal and state policies have been introduced to encourage the reuse of the abandoned, underused, and often contaminated industrial properties known as brownfields. As a result, a growing number of successful projects are providing environmental cleanup, reducing neighborhood blight, generating tax revenues, and creating jobs. Much, however, remains to be done to overcome financial and regulatory barriers.

In April 1997, the Clinton administration announced its Brownfields National Partnership, which included more than 100 specific initiatives to link the resources and activities of more than a dozen federal agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, expects to set aside $100 million next year to fund additional site-assessment and cleanup activities at brownfield locations. The Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to encourage local governments to use Community Development Block Grant funds and Section 108 loan guarantees for brownfield projects.

Congress in the past two years has passed two significant brownfield provisions. The first, approved in September 1996, spells out the conditions under which lenders could be held liable for loans made to polluters, making clear that normal banking functions such as loan workouts, loan processing, or foreclosures by themselves would not trigger liability for contamination.

The recently approved Balanced Budget Act of 1997 includes tax-code provisions to make it more attractive for current and prospective site owners to clean and redevelop brownfield sites. The Treasury Department estimates that the $1.5 billion in tax relief will leverage more than $6 billion in private sector brownfield activity and encourage redevelopment of at least 14,000 sites.

New directions

Some 18 brownfield bills have been introduced in the 105th Congress, and more are expected. How action unfolds will depend on the approach taken to Superfund reauthorization and on the willingness of key committee chairmen to advance independent brownfield bills. Current proposals include tax incentives to attract investment and provide a cash-flow cushion for companies undertaking brownfield reuse projects, direct capital funding for small companies that have little tax liability or that lack the cash needed to launch brownfield project, and regulatory reforms to clarify liability concerns.

Some three dozen states have established voluntary cleanup programs, which bring considerable certainty to the remediation and reuse process. Among the innovative proposals now before state legislatures are loan guarantees to private lenders making loans on brownfield properties (in Massachusetts), a contaminated-property remediation insurance fund (in Connecticut), and joint state-local property tax credits to encourage reuse by offsetting increased property values stemming from cleanup (in Maryland).

It will require action on these proposals plus much more government effort to level the economic playing field for greenfield locations and brownfield sites. In particular, Congress and the states must provide the framework that makes more brownfields viable for economic activity and encourages the private sector to invest in redevelopment projects.

Charles Bartsch