From the Hill
FY 2001 will be a banner year for federal research programs
On December 15, more than two months into fiscal year (FY) 2001, President Clinton and the 106th Congress finally reached agreement on FY 2001 appropriations. The final agreement will result in a banner year for federal research programs.
R&D in FY 2001 Appropriations (Final)
(budget authority in millions of dollars)
|Final FY 2001 Appropriations|
|Chg. from Request||Chg. from FY 2000|
|(“S&T” 6.1,6.2,6.3 + Medical)||8,667||7,609||9,363||1,754||23.1%||696||8.0%|
|(All Other DOD R&D)||30,615||30,967||32,482||1,516||4.9%||1,868||6.1%|
|National Aeronautics & Space Admin.||9,777||10,040||10,298||258||2.6%||521||5.3%|
|Health and Human Services||18,082||19,168||20,829||1,661||8.7%||2,747||15.2%|
|(National Institutes of Health)||17,102||18,094||19,597||1,503||8.3%||2,495||14.6%|
|National Science Foundation||2,863||3,431||3,240||-190||-5.5%||377||13.2%|
|Environmental Protection Agency||647||673||686||13||2.0%||39||6.0%|
|Agency for Int’l Development||122||98||124||26||26.6%||2||1.7%|
|Department of Veterans Affairs||655||655||684||29||4.5%||29||4.5%|
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||53||53||53||0||-0.2%||0||-0.2%|
|Nondefense R&D minus NIH||23,650||25,353||25,751||398||1.6%||2,101||8.9%|
AAAS estimates of R&D in FY 2001 appropriations bills. Includes conduct of R&D and R&D facilities.
All figures are rounded to the nearest million. Changes calculated from unrounded figures.
December 19, 2000 – Final FY 2001 appropriations funding levels.
All figures are adjusted to reflect rescissions and across-the-board cuts.
The omnibus appropriations bill is a compilation of four of 13 appropriations bills that had not yet been signed as well other, unrelated legislation. In order to accommodate a negotiated decrease in final spending limits, the bill contains a 0.22 percent across-the-board cut for almost all appropriated programs in the FY 2001 budget.
Total federal R&D should reach about $90.9 billion in FY 2001, an increase of $7.6 billion (9.1 percent) over FY 2000 (see table). Basic and applied research will increase by 12.8 percent to $41.2 billion.
The $90.9 billion total far exceeds the Clinton administration’s $85.4 billion request, primarily because of increases in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DOD) budgets. Among the major R&D funding agencies, only the National Science Foundation (NSF) will receive less than the administration requested. But it will still receive $3.2 billion for R&D, 13.2 percent more than in FY 2000. In addition, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) R&D budget was boosted by 12.3 percent to $8 billion, including a 13.8 percent increase for programs in the Office of Science. Science, Aeronautics, and Technology R&D in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will increase by 10.7 percent. The increases reflect efforts by both Congress and the administration to achieve a better funding balance among various scientific disciplines. In recent years, funding increases for biomedical and life sciences have far outpaced those for physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
Nondefense R&D overall will increase by more than 11 percent to $45.3 billion, compared to a 7 percent increase to $45.5 billion for defense R&D. Although defense R&D funding has exceeded nondefense R&D every year since the defense buildup of the early 1980s, the gap has narrowed in recent years. DOD basic research will rise nearly 13 percent, while applied research will jump almost 8 percent. In addition, DOE’s defense R&D continued its gains of recent years with a 12 percent increase.
The administration’s multiagency initiatives in nanotechnology and information technology (IT) fared well in the final appropriations process, though in general funding levels fall short of the dramatic increases the administration requested. The new nanotechnology initiative would increase 55 percent above FY 2000 levels to $418 million, and IT R&D spending should total $2.1 billion in FY 2001, an increase of nearly 24 percent over FY 2000. Final estimates on these initiatives’ budgets are a bit imprecise because agencies have considerable freedom to allocate funding within budget accounts.
NIH issues guidelines for human stem cell research
On August 25, after nine months of sorting through approximately 50,000 comments, NIH issued final guidelines for federally funded research utilizing human pluripotent stem cells derived from human embryos and fetal tissue. The NIH Health Guidelines for Research Using Human Pluripotent Stem Cells lay out a set of procedures to ensure that any NIH-funded research is conducted in an ethical and legal manner. The rules drew praise from the scientific community, which has thus far relied strictly on the private sector for funds, and condemnation from some policymakers and antiabortion activists who view the ruling as a flagrant circumvention of a 1996 ban on human embryo research.
Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to grow into nearly any element of the human body, and scientists see research in this area as an opportunity to discover treatments for conditions and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries.
Shortly after the guidelines were issued, a coalition of more than 65 patient, health, and scientific advocacy groups and universities issued a statement strongly supporting NIH’s ruling. “Stem cell research offers one of the most promising avenues to finding a cure for my daughter and for all children with life-threatening disease,” said Lyn Langbein, mother of a five-year-old child with diabetes, in the statement, which was issued by the American Society for Cell Biology.
Lawmakers including Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), who oppose the NIH guidelines, view the research as unethical, unnecessary, and immoral and argue that the derivation of embryonic stem cells is the same as the dismembering of a human being.
Though NIH may fund research using stem cells, its guidelines do not allow the use of federal dollars to derive the stem cells, a process in which a human embryo is destroyed and which is illegal under the 1996 ban. Derivation of embryonic stem cells must remain strictly in the private sector. In addition, NIH restricted the source of embryos that the private sector may use to obtain stem cells to those created for use in fertility treatment. The embryos must be frozen and in excess of clinical need. No financial inducement may be offered for donating them to research. Couples seeking fertility treatment can be given informed consent agreements to donate their excess embryos only after they have decided to discontinue fertility treatments.
NIH set these conditions in order to separate the decisionmaking process of providing embryos for fertility treatment from the donation of embryos for research. In addition, they are designed to protect against the creation of a commercial market for harvesting embryos. As an added precaution, NIH will establish the NIH Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Review Group to review research proposals and compliance with the guidelines and to hold public meetings to review proposals. The new group also will be given the authority to recommend revisions to the NIH guidelines.
Other areas not eligible for NIH funding include research utilizing stem cells to create a human embryo, research in which stem cells were derived by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer (the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep), research that would combine a human stem cell with an animal embryo (creating a chimera), and combining stem cells with somatic cell nuclear transfer for the purpose of reproductive cloning of a human being.
Funding for troubled laser facility approved
Despite a host of technical and administrative problems and a critical General Accounting Office (GAO) report, Congress has approved $199 million for construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), $10 million less than DOE’s request.
The NIF is considered a key element of the U.S. nuclear stockpile stewardship program, which is charged with ensuring the reliability of nuclear weapons without actual tests, which were halted in 1992. According to the plan, data from NIF experiments will be combined with data from previous nuclear tests and experiments using conventional explosives to allow computer simulations that can substitute for real tests.
The NIF was originally scheduled for completion in 2002 at a total cost of $2.1 billion, but the cost has ballooned to $3.5 billion and completion has been moved to 2008. The August GAO report estimated the cost at $3.9 billion, a number that could grow because “technical uncertainties persist.” GAO attributed the problems to poor management at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, inadequate DOE oversight, and a lack of effective independent reviews.
Although the new funding will keep the project afloat, obstacles remain, and the money comes with strings attached. Congress ordered $69 million of the money withheld until March 31, 2001, when the project must meet several requirements: a new project plan and budget, certification of satisfactory construction progress, a review of scaled-back alternatives to the current plan, and a study of the importance of the NIF to the stockpile stewardship program.
If the NIF works as planned, it will help scientists study the extraordinary conditions present during the detonation of a nuclear weapon. Such explosions have two stages: a primary, in which conventional explosives trigger fission in a material such as plutonium; and a secondary, in which a fusion reaction between different forms of hydrogen boosts the primary reaction. The NIF will create a fusion reaction similar to, though much less powerful than, the secondary of a nuclear weapon.
Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee that the fusion reaction will take place as planned. Even the project’s supporters give only about a 50-50 chance of ignition, and some physicists are skeptical that there is any chance at all. Although the facility would still be useful if ignition is not achieved, it would be a major disappointment.
Senate approves bill to expand S&T spending, but House balks
For the third year in a row, the Senate has approved a bipartisan bill that would authorize increased funding for basic research for a five-year period. However, the House has refused to go along, citing diminution of its legislative authority.
The Federal Research Investment Act, backed most prominently by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), John D. Rockefeller, IV (D-W. Va.), and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), was originally designed to authorize a doubling of federal funding for nondefense science and technology (S&T) programs over five years. It was repackaged to include three other bills, including legislation approved by the House that would authorize five years of increased funding for information technology (IT) research. The House bill (H.R. 2086) was championed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wisc.) chairman of the House Science Committee. H.R. 2086 was added to the Senate proposal in an attempt to win Sensenbrenner’s support, but he wouldn’t go along.
“I support the increases for networking IT R&D contained in H.R. 2086,” Frist said in a letter to Sensenbrenner. “However, I believe that doubling the federal investment solely in networking R&D is only part of the equation. Advances in IT do not occur in isolation; they are strongly rooted in advances in engineering, physics, mathematics, and even biology and nanotechnology.”
Although Sensenbrenner has pressed for Senate passage of H.R. 2086, he has criticized Frist’s approach, arguing that passing agency authorization bills over multiple years would shirk the committee’s legislative authority. In a letter to Frist, Sensenbrenner stated, “I cannot support a long-term authorization bill that includes a single annual blanket authorization for all civilian R&D agencies. In my opinion, such an authorization would provide little support for scientific research funding while undermining the Science Committee’s ability to operate as an effective legislative entity.” He added, “Also of concern is the fact that a blanket authorization transfers the authority for science policy to the appropriations committees, since anything they choose to fund would be authorized.”
Frist countered by saying that “I do not support this legislation to avoid my authorizing responsibility, but rather because the 40-plus Senate cosponsors of this bill believe as I do that long-term funding of multidisciplinary R&D at our nation’s universities and laboratories will raise our standard of living and help us maintain our thriving economy.” He added, “You have articulated your objection to long-term authorization bills despite the fact that H.R. 2086 contains funding for five years. You simply are holding the Federal Research Investment Act up to a different standard than you do your own committee bills.”
Glenn commission calls for math and science education overhaul
A report from a commission chaired by former senator and astronaut John Glenn calls for a major national effort to improve math and science education. Declaring the current state “unacceptable,” the report sets out a detailed plan for reinvigorating math and science teaching that includes checklists for key members of the educational system and a list of estimated costs totaling $5 billion.
“From mathematics and the sciences will come the products, services, standard of living, and economic and military security that will sustain us at home and around the world,” Sen. Glenn writes in a foreword to the report entitled Before It’s Too Late. But, he added, “It is abundantly clear that we are not doing the job that we should do or can do in teaching our children to understand and use ideas from these fields. Our children are falling behind; they are simply not world-class learners when it comes to mathematics and science.”
The report was prepared by the 25-member National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, which included two senators, two House members, and two governors. It sets out three goals: a systematic improvement in the quality of math and science teaching, an increase in the number of teachers, and a better working environment to make the teaching profession more attractive. Each goal is backed up with a list of actions, including new summer institutes, teaching academies, and school-business partnerships.
The proposals are summarized in seven checklists aimed at important sectors of the education community: school boards, principals, teachers, parents, states, universities and colleges, and businesses. Cost estimates are given for each new program at the end of the report. Of the total $5 billion, $3.1 billion would come from the federal government, $1.4 billion from state and local governments, and $500 million from the private sector.
The report was hailed as an important step forward. “This document is a turning point,” said Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, “because it not only sets forth specific goals and recommendations but it also clearly articulates how the initiatives should be carried out and who should be involved in implementing them.”
Bid to improve math and science education programs fails
The National Science Education Act (H.R. 4271), a bipartisan package of reforms designed to improve science and math education, failed to pass the House in October after lobbying by the major teachers’ unions. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers opposed the bill because it would have allowed the hiring of “master teachers” at private as well as public schools.
The master teacher proposal, considered a key element of the legislation, would have authorized NSF to spend $50 million each year for the next three years to help elementary and middle schools hire experienced teachers who would offer support and mentoring to other teachers in the areas of curriculum development, use of lab equipment, and professional development.
In addition, H.R. 4271 would have set up programs within NSF to train teachers in the use of technology in the classroom, award scholarships to teachers who pursue scientific research, create a working group to identify and publicize strong curricula nationwide, and commission a National Academy of Sciences study on the use of technology in the classroom. The bill received strong support from the scientific and business communities.
H.R. 4271 was the centerpiece of a trio of bills (known collectively as the National Science Education Acts) introduced and enthusiastically promoted by Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.), the vice chairman of the Science Committee. The other two bills remain in committee. Prospects for passage of H.R. 4271, which had 110 cosponsors with about half from each party, looked very good, but last-minute union opposition convinced many Democrats, including several sponsors of the bill, to vote no.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), whose “Go Girl” program, designed to encourage girls to study math and science, was added to the bill as an amendment, argued that the master teacher program is “a poison pill that no member who cares about public education in America wants to vote for . . . [It] appears to violate our Constitution, and it absolutely takes precious dollars away from public schools.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), who wrote two sections of H.R. 4271 and appeared alongside Ehlers at an April news conference introducing the bill, made a similar argument and voted present. “I support the provisions of 4271,” she said, “but I have a concern about the constitutionality of this provision. . . .What we have today is simply an effort to get public dollars funneled into private schools. We simply must not do that in this body.”
Ehlers argued that the constitutional concern regarding federal aid to private schools was based on an outdated Supreme Court decision, and he defended his decision to include private schools in the grant program. “Private school does not mean rich preparatory school, as many people think, and does not necessarily mean religious school, ” he said. “In my city in Grand Rapids, we have a private school that serves students in the inner city. . . . It operates on a poverty shoestring.” Moreover, he argued, one broad purpose of hiring master teachers is to provide young science teachers with mentors in order to increase the chances of keeping them in the teaching profession. Young teachers trained in private schools may move on to teach in public schools, he said.
“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.