Category Archives: Meeting New Challenges for U.S. Industry

Winter 1999

From the Hill

From the Hill

R&D is big winner in 1999 federal budget

A last-minute congressional spending frenzy helped boost federal R&D funding significantly in the FY 1999 year to $80.2 billion-$4.1 billion or 5.3 percent more than FY 1998. Every major R&D funding agency except the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Commerce received increases well above the inflation rate. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) received nearly $2 billion or 14.1 percent more, and the Department of Energy (DOE) received $714 million or 11.4 percent more.

Congress approved $17.5 billion for basic research, an increase of $1.8 billion or 11.3 percent. Every major R&D funding agency received significant increases in basic research support. NIH was again the biggest winner, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also had big increases.

Defense R&D for FY 1999, which includes programs in DOE and the Department of Defense (DOD), will increase by 3.5 percent to $41.8 billion, and nondefense R&D will increase by 7.4 percent to $38.3 billion.

Here is a summary of how various agencies fared:

DOD will receive $38.5 billion to spend on R&D in FY 1999, a 2.9 percent increase. Congress increased DOD’s basic research budget by 6.1 percent to $1.1 billion, the first real increase in six years. Applied research will increase by 5.8 percent to $3.2 billion. Ballistic missile defense received a $1 billion increase, to $4 billion. The DOD budget also includes $135 million for breast cancer research and $58 million for prostate cancer research.

NIH was once again the beneficiary of strong congressional and administration support for biomedical research. Its total R&D budget increased to $14.9 billion, and its basic research budget increased by 14.6 percent to $8.4 billion. NIH basic research now accounts for 48 percent of all federal support for basic research. Every institute received an increase of 10 percent or greater, and three received increases of more than 20 percent.

NASA will receive 1.6 percent less, or $9.7 billion, for total R&D in FY 1999, within an overall budget of $13.7 billion. NASA’s budget includes substantial cuts in development funding for the international space station (down 7 percent to $2.3 billion) and in the Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology account (down 10.2 percent to $1.3 billion). However, basic research is up 6.4 percent to $2.2 billion, with significant increases for programs such as Space Science (up 4.9 percent to $2.1 billion) and Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications (up 20.3 percent to $264 million).

DOE R&D spending totals $7 billion, with large increases for numerous energy, science, and defense programs. The Solar and Renewables R&D program received a 24.4 percent increase to $332 million, and the Energy Conservation program received an 8.4 percent boost to $386 million. In the Science account, the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) received $107 million for first-year construction costs. As a result, the Basic Energy Sciences budget, which funds the SNS, will increase by 19.8 percent to $794 million. The Biological and Environmental Research account, which funds DOE’s contribution to the Human Genome Project, received a 7.9 percent boost to $433 million. In defense R&D, the Stockpile Stewardship program was funded at $2.1 billion, up 15.6 percent.

NSF will receive $2.8 billion for R&D in FY 1999, 8.4 percent more than last year. The core Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which primarily funds extramural research grants and is a major supporter of basic research in the nation’s colleges and universities, totals $2.8 billion, up 8.8 percent. This increase should allow all the R&RA directorates to receive increases of at least 7 percent. Congress expressed strong support for the plant genome initiative in the Biological Sciences directorate, providing up to $50 million for this program in FY 1999.

Overall R&D spending at the Department of Commerce will decline slightly in FY 1999. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) budget will decline by $26 million to $467 million, mostly because of a fall in construction funding. However, NIST’s intramural and extramural programs received increases. NIST labs received $229 million for R&D, slightly more than last year, whereas the Advanced Technology Program received $181 million for R&D, 6.3 percent more than last year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) programs for natural resources and environmental R&D are up 3.3 percent to $599 million.

USDA‘s R&D budget is up 6.6 percent to $1.7 billion. Congress blocked funding for a new, competitively awarded agricultural research grants program that was created in June 1998. However, funding for the existing National Research Initiative will increase by $22 million to $119 million. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received $23 million in emergency funding to develop ways to destroy crops of illegal drugs, bringing total ARS R&D to $880 million, 4.9 percent more than last year.

The Department of the Interior‘s research budget grew by 3 percent to $627 million. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) received $567 million for its R&D, 3.8 percent more than FY 1998 because of large increases for its biological research activities. Natural resources research in the Biological Resources Division received the largest increase among USGS divisions for a FY 1999 budget of $161 million. The National Park Service R&D budget totals $26 million, including $12 million for research on the Florida Everglades.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received 3 percent more than last year, including $47 million in the Science and Technology account to study the effects of particulate matter on human health. Climate change research was given a $10 million increase to $37 million. Congress said that although it opposes any administration actions to implement the Kyoto Protocol on climate change until the Senate ratifies it, it supports research by EPA to better understand climate change.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) received a 3 percent boost in R&D to $696 million. This increase is dwarfed by a $4.6 billion jump in DOT’s total budget because of the six-year reauthorization of transportation programs in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which was passed earlier in 1998.

Total R&D by Agency
Congressional Action on R&D in the FY 1999 Budget
(Budget authority in millions of dollars)

  FY 98 FY 99 FY 99 Change from Request Change from FY 98
Agency Estimate Request Congress Request Percent FY 98 Percent
DOD (military) 37,430 37,010 38,532 1,522 4.1% 1,102 2.9%
S&T 6.1-6.3 + Medical 7,800 7,181 7,803 622 8.7% 3 0.0%
All other DOD R&D 29,630 29,828 30,729 900 3.0% 1,099 3.7%
NASA. 9,884 9,504 9,727 223 2.3% -157 -1.6%
DOE 6,288 7,142 7,002 -140 -2.0% 714 11.4%
Health and Human Services 13,809 14,888 15,748 860 5.8% 1,939 14.0%
National Institutes of Health 13,097 14,163 14,943 780 5.5% 1,846 14.1%
NSF 2,568 2,857 2,784 -73 -2.6% 216 8.4%
USDA 1,553 1,549 1,656 107 6.9% 103 6.6%
Interior 609 629 627 -2 -0.4% 19 3.0%
DOT 676 775 696 -79 -10.1% 20 3.0%
EPA 672 657 692 36 5.4% 20 3.0%
Commerce 1,081 1,083 1,076 -8 -0.7% -5 -0.5%
NOAA 580 540 599 58 10.8% 19 3.3%
NIST 492 532 467 -65 -12.3% -26 -5.2%
Education 209 265 231 -34 -12.7% 22 10.7%
Agency for Int’l Development 150 154 150 -4 -2.6% 0 0.0%
Department of Veterans Affairs 608 670 686 16 2.4% 78 12.9%
Nuclear Regulatory Commission 61 53 51 -2 -3.9% -10 -16.5%
Smithsonian 146 155 151 -4 -2.7% 5 3.3%
All Other 362 343 361 18 5.2% -1 -0.3%
Total R&D 76,106 77,134 80,170 2,435 3.1% 4,064 5.3%
Defense R&D 40,409 40,288 41,823 1,535 3.8% 1,414 3.5%
Nondefense R&D 35,697 37,446 38,347 907 2.4% 2,650 7.4%
Basic Research 15,724 16,917 17,494 577 3.4% 1,770 11.3%
FS&T 45,625 47,057 48,587 1,530 3.3% 2,962 6.5%

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

House science policy study receives mixed reviews

The House Science Committee unveiled the results of its 11-month National Science Policy study on September 24, billing its report, in the words of Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), as “an attempt to build a foundation upon which we can base future policy work over the next half century.”

The 74-page report, called “Unlocking our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy,” is designed to provide a broad perspective on key issues facing the R&D enterprise. It highlights the importance of basic research; the roles of the federal government, the private sector, and universities in the scientific enterprise; the use of sound science in making good decisions; and the importance of science education.

The report received a positive but muted response from the scientific community. Many science and technology (S&T) policy experts said that although the report does not provide any new or startling insights, it can serve as a catalyst for raising the S&T profile in Congress. Letters to the committee from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and NSF pointed out the many similarities between the congressional perspective and the administration’s policies.

Congressional reaction to the report was mixed. All but one of the Republicans on the 46-member Science Committee voted for a House resolution that adopted the study “as a framework for future deliberations on congressional science policy and funding.” But 10 of the 21 Democrats on the committee dissented. The committee’s ranking minority member, Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. (D-Calif.), commended Ehlers for his role in heading the study but was critical of its results, saying “[I] have cast my role here in Congress as trying to look beyond the status quo at what needs to be done to solve the problems of the future. To me, this report does not go far enough in terms of that particular goal. . . .We need to look for new ways of answering the question, for what purpose are we supporting this very large scientific establishment that we have created.”

Some dissenting members said the report lacked sufficient support for mathematics, engineering, and social sciences. Others said the report should have said more about environmental quality and the role that S&T plays in the distribution of educational opportunities, access to health care, income, and wealth.

Russia’s woes continue to plague space station project

Although the first piece of the international space station, a Russian-built module called Zarya, was launched on November 20, Russia’s problems in meeting its commitments to the project continue to hamper the station’s development. Russia’s difficulties are prompting some members of Congress to try to force it out of the project.

Last fall, NASA asked Congress for a four-year, $660-million appropriation, including an emergency request of $60 million, to help Russia meet its space station responsibilities, particularly construction of the key service module, the launch of which has now been delayed until July 1999. Congress approved the $60 million but delayed a decision on the rest. It also ordered NASA to produce an analysis of alternative financing mechanisms to directly transferring funds.

NASA’s request infuriated Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R.-Wisc.), chair of the House Science Committee and a critic of Russia’s space station performance. Sensenbrenner introduced a bill that would cap space station costs and create a contingency plan to remove Russia from the “critical path” of the project.

At a Science Committee hearing in October, committee members and witnesses alike accused the Russian Space Agency (RSA) of being corrupt, unreliable, and poorly managed. Members were frustrated that RSA had been placed on the critical path of building the station, even though NASA and the Clinton administration have promised, in writing, that the Russians’ role would be minimal. Serious doubts were also expressed about RSA’s capabilities even with the $660 million bailout.

NASA administrator Daniel Goldin vigorously defended Russia’s role in building the station, maintaining that concerns about corruption and Russia’s recent economic woes have not affected RSA’s capabilities. The problem, he said, is not with RSA but with the flow of funds to RSA to complete the service module. Goldin said about 98 percent of the module has already been completed and the extra funding is required for final tests and software. The module, he explained, is not newly developed technology that overtaxes RSA; rather, its construction is a relatively simple task.

Although Goldin pledged that NASA would take additional precautions to ensure that Russia’s problems wouldn’t further hinder space station construction, he pointed out that a replacement for the service module would take years to develop, test, and build. The RSA service module, he argued, is a critical element that only RSA has the capability and experience to build.

Goldin also maintained that the $660 million would not be a gift but would buy specific goods and services from Russia. The $60-million first installment will be exchanged for cosmonaut time on the space station over the next four years and valuable storage space for research equipment. The deal would effectively double NASA’s research time on the station, he said.

United States signs Kyoto Protocol on climate change

Although Congress continues to oppose the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the Clinton administration signed the document on November 12, saying that it hoped to spur overall progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The protocol was signed during a Buenos Aires conference aimed at working out the Protocol’s details.

President Clinton said, however, that he would not submit the protocol to the Senate for ratification until key developing countries agree to take significant steps to address climate change, a key Senate condition.

“By signing the agreement,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who attended the conference, “the administration ensures that the United States will have the credibility to continue to take a leadership role in shaping . . . these programs and in persuading the developing nations to become part of the solution.”

The United States received some good news at the conference when Argentina and Kazakhstan said they would voluntarily comply with the protocol. But the United States faces a major challenge in convincing large fossil-fuel users such as China to jump on the climate change bandwagon.

Congressional opponents of the protocol were unfazed by the U.S. decision. “As this treaty stands now, it will not be ratified by the Senate. It’s dead on arrival,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Science Committee. Republican representatives at the conference demanded that the president send the signed treaty to Congress immediately rather than allowing more time for additional negotiations. The congressional contingent said in a written statement, “Putting the signature of the United States on a treaty does mean something . . . it represents the solemn word of our nation. And sending it to the U.S. Senate for an up or down vote should not be contingent on the results of further negotiation that may or may not achieve the desired results.”

The Kyoto Protocol calls for developed nations to reduce their current emissions of six key greenhouse gases by an average of five percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States must reduce its emissions levels by seven percent below the 1990 level by 2012.

The United States is the 60th nation to sign the protocol, but only two countries, Fiji and Antigua and Barbuda, have ratified it. To come into effect, 55 countries must ratify the treaty and at least 55 percent of those countries must be developed nations. The protocol’s backers hope that it can be ratified by 2001. Without U.S. support, however, the protocol, even if it becomes legally binding, will be seen as largely ineffective.

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



U.S. Geological Survey

Our photo shows the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, conducted by Ferdinand V. Hayden, on the trail between the Yellowstone and East Fork Rivers in 1871. The Hayden Expedition was one of five surveys conducted of public lands west of the Mississippi River in the 1870s. In 1878, in accordance with an act of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences was asked to evaluate these surveys and devise an overall plan for surveying the western territories. NAS established a Committee on a Plan for Surveying and Mapping the Territories of the United States, which recommended that a new government agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, be established within the Department of the Interior. When a subsequent act of Congress created the USGS, it marked the first time an Academy committee had helped establish a major scientific government agency.



Crisis in U.S. organ transplant system intensifies

More than 10 Americans die each day while awaiting organ transplantation. The U.S. organ transplant system has been in “crisis” for decades, but recently its systemic failures have become more glaring. Indeed, the crisis has worsened since I wrote “Organ Donations: The Failure of Altruism” (Issues, Fall 1994), in which I argued that voluntary organ donation should be replaced with a system of compensated presumed consent. Although continuing advances in transplant technology have made it possible for many people to benefit from transplants, the number of organs available for donation has remained stubbornly insufficient. In 1997, only 9,235 donor organs were recovered. Yet since 1994, the number of individuals waiting for an organ has risen from 36,000 to 59,000. In addition, the limited number of organs that are available are not always allocated equitably. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that “blacks, women, and poor individuals are less likely to receive transplants than whites, men, and wealthy individuals due to access barriers in the transplantation process.” These twin problems of organ scarcity and inefficient, inequitable organ allocation are, in part, a result of the largely private and unregulated system of organ transplantation that the United States has chosen. Until the American people and the U.S. government develop the moral and political will to deal decisively with the structural flaws in the U.S. organ transplant system, many individuals who could benefit from organ donation will die needlessly.

In December 1997, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a new National Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative, with the goal of increasing organ donation by 20 percent within two years. This national partnership of public, private, and volunteer organizations will provide educational materials and hold workshops to promote public awareness about donation and to encourage people to donate their own or loved ones’ organs. In addition, on April 2, 1998, HHS issued a final rule under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (NOTA) to improve the effectiveness and equity of the nation’s transplantation system. NOTA established a national system of organ transplantation centers with the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of organs to be distributed on an equitable basis to patients throughout the United States. NOTA created the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to “manage the organ allocation system [and] to increase the supply of donated organs.” OPTN is operated by the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), a private, nonprofit entity under contract with HHS to develop and enforce transplant policy nationwide. All hospitals performing organ transplants must be OPTN members in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Under the new rule, which was four years in the making, an improved organ transplantation system with more equitable allocation standards will be developed to make organs “available on a broader regional or national basis for patients with the greatest medical need consistent with sound medical judgment.” Under the rule, three new sets of criteria for organ allocation would be developed by OPTN: 1) criteria to allocate organs first to those with the greatest medical urgency, with reduced reliance on geographical factors; 2) criteria to decide when to place patients on the waiting list for an organ; and 3) criteria to determine the medical status of patients who are listed. These criteria will provide uniform national standards for organ allocation, which do not currently exist.

The rule was scheduled to take effect on October 1, 1998. However, responding to intense lobbying by the rule’s opponents, including then-House Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Livingston (R-La.), Congress imposed a year-long moratorium on the rule as part of the FY 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act. UNOS and certain organ transplant centers argued that adoption of the rule would result in a single national list that would steer organs away from small and medium-sized centers and lead to organs being “wasted” on very sick patients who were too ill to benefit from organ transplantation. HHS responded that the new rule does not require a single list and that doctors would not transplant organs to patients who would not benefit. The congressional moratorium charges the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to examine the issues surrounding organ allocation and issue a report by May 1999. It also encourages HHS to engage in discussions with UNOS and OPTN in an effort to resolve disagreements raised by the final rule, and it suggests mediation as a means of resolving the dispute. Congress has also demanded that OPTN release timely and accurate information about the performance of transplant programs nationwide so that the IOM and HHS can obtain complete data for their decisionmaking.

While the federal government is reconsidering its organ transplantation policy, many states are becoming more involved with organ donation and transplantation. In 1994, Pennsylvania became the first state to pass a routine-referral organ donor law. Routine-referral laws require hospitals to notify their federally designated Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) whenever the death of a patient is imminent or has just occurred. It is then the OPO’s job to determine the patient’s suitability for organ donation and to approach potential donor families, with the goal of increasing the number of positive responses. New York, Montana, and Texas have adopted similar legislation. Some states have enacted legislation that appears to directly conflict with HHS’s goal of allocating organs on the basis of medical urgency rather than geography. Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin have passed laws mandating that organs harvested locally be offered first to their own citizens, regardless of their medical need. Such laws raise classic problems of federalism and preemption. Under the new HHS rule, the federal government seeks to ensure that patients with the greatest need will receive scarce organs on the basis of medical necessity alone, without regard to where they live or at what transplant center they are awaiting treatment. Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin want to reward local transplant centers and doctors if they are successful in increasing organ donation by ensuring that organs donated locally will remain there. HHS recognized this

conflict and resolved it in favor of federal preemption. However, this provision in the final rule will remain in abeyance until the end of the year-long moratorium.

The crisis in U.S. organ transplantation is moral and political, not technological. It will not be resolved until Congress and the states move beyond localism to develop a uniform nationwide approach to increase organ donation; identify medically appropriate criteria for transplant recipients; and remove racial, gender, and class barriers to equitable organ allocation. While the IOM studies these problems and individual states try to promote organ donation, more than 4,000 people on a transplant waiting list will die.


New radon reports have no effect on policy

Indoor radon poses a difficult policy problem, because even average exposures in U.S. homes entail estimated risks that substantially exceed the pollutant risks that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) usually deals with and because there are many homes with radon concentrations that are very much greater than average. In 1998, the National Research Council (NRC) released two studies that redid earlier analyses of the risks of radon in homes. As expected, both found that there had been no basic change in the scientific understanding that has existed since the 1980s. More important, neither study addressed much-needed policy changes to deal with these risks. As I argued in “A National Strategy for Indoor Radon” (Issues, Fall 1992), a much more effective strategy is needed. It should focus first and foremost on finding and fixing the 100,000 U.S. homes with radon concentrations 10 or more times the national average.

One NRC committee study [Health Effects of Exposure to Radon (BEIR VI, February 1998] revisited the data on lung cancer associated with exposure to radon and its decay products. It is based primarily on a linear extrapolation of data from mines, because lower indoor concentrations make studies in homes inconclusive. The panel estimated that radon exposures are involved in 3,000 to 33,000 lung cancer deaths per year, with a central value around 18,000, which is consistent with earlier estimates. Of these deaths, perhaps 2,000 would occur among people who have not smoked cigarettes, because the synergy between radon and smoking accounts for most of the total radon-related estimate.

The estimated mortality rate even among nonsmokers greatly exceeds that from most pollutants in outdoor air and water supplies; however, it is in the same range as some risks occurring indoors, such as deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning, and is smaller than other outdoor risks, such as those from falls or fires. On the other hand, the radon risks for smokers are significantly greater, though they are still far smaller than the baseline risks from smoking itself, which causes about 400,000 deaths per year in the United States.

No one expects to lower the total risk from radon by a large factor, except perhaps Congress, which has required that indoor concentrations be reduced to outdoor levels. But the NRC committee implicitly supported the current EPA strategy of monitoring all homes and remedying those with levels a factor of three or more times the average, by emphasizing that this would lower the total risk by 30 percent. This contrasts with the desire of many scientists to rapidly find homes where occupants suffer individual risks that are 10 or even a 100 times the average, then lowering their exposures by a substantial factor.

A second report, Risk Assessment of Radon in Drinking Water, released in September 1998, creates a real policy conundrum. Here too, the picture changes very little from earlier evaluations, except that the estimated 20 stomach cancer deaths due to direct ingestion of radon (of the total of 13,000 such deaths annually in the United States) is smaller than earlier EPA estimates. The main risk from radon in water is from release into indoor air, but the associated 160 deaths are only 1 percent of the total (18,000) from airborne radon and are less than the 700 resulting solely from outdoor exposures to radon.

The difficulty is that the legal structure for regulating water appears to compel EPA to set the standard for a carcinogen to zero, or in this case at the limit of monitoring capability. This would result in spending large sums of money for a change in risk that is essentially irrelevant to the total radon risk. At EPA’s request, the NRC committee examined how an alternative standard might be permitted for water districts that reduced radon risks in other ways. But Congress would have to act to permit EPA to avoid this messy and ineffective approach and to simply set an exposure limit at what people receive from outdoor air.

All of this avoids the principal need, which is to rapidly reduce the number of homes where occupants are exposed to extraordinary radon concentrations. Related needs are to emphasize the reliability of long-term monitoring (as opposed to the tests lasting several days that currently prevail) and to develop information and programs that focus on, and aid in solving, the problem of high-radon homes. These were compelling needs in 1992 and they remain compelling today.