From the Hill
Federal R&D funding stuck on hold
The outgoing Republican majority in Congress left town in December having passed only 2 (defense and homeland security) of the 11 appropriations bills needed to fund the fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget. Although Congress has endorsed the Bush administration’s proposed large increases for select physical sciences funding agencies as part of the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative, these and other increases for R&D programs are on hold and may not survive in the next congressional session. However, Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reiterated her support for President Bush’s proposal to increase basic research in the physical sciences and engineering.
In the meantime, agency programs will be operating at either the FY 2007 House figure or FY 2006 funding levels, whichever is lower. Thus, even R&D programs slated for large increases in 2007 must operate at flat funding levels through mid-February (when work on the budget is expected to be completed), whereas R&D programs slated for steep cuts find their operating funds reduced sharply.
Congress approved an FY 2007 Department of Defense (DOD) budget that includes $76.8 billion for R&D. Nearly the entire $3.5 billion or 4.8% increase would go to weapons development programs, but some research activities will see budget increases.
Congress rejected the administration’s request for a 20% cut in DOD’s science and technology (S&T) investments. Instead, it voted to maintain spending near the 2006 funding level of $13.6 billion. A profusion of congressional earmarks would boost DOD support of basic and applied research above 2006 levels. Basic research would climb 4.8% to $1.5 billion, and applied research would increase 0.8% to $5.2 billion. The research-oriented Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would see its budget increase 1.4% to $3 billion.
The Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) would be the big winners in weapons development funding. Air Force R&D would climb 10.7% to $24.4 billion, and MDA development would surge 22.1% to $9.4 billion after a steep cut in 2006.
Congress, meanwhile, cut the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) R&D funding for the first time in 2007. DHS R&D would fall 22% to $1 billion, even as the total DHS budget would keep increasing. Funding for most DHS R&D activities would decline. Only DHS R&D activities in cybersecurity, interoperable communications, and radiological and nuclear countermeasures would receive increases in 2007.
The radiological and nuclear countermeasures R&D portfolio would receive a significant increase as part of its move from the Science and Technology directorate to a separate Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO). Congress increased DNDO R&D from $209 million within S&T to $273 million, up 31%.
Congressional dissatisfaction over DHS management continues to grow. The final DHS budget withholds $65 million in 2007 R&D funds (and an additional $60 million in management funds) until DHS provides Congress with detailed reports on financial management and performance measures. The bill also rescinds $125 million in previously appropriated R&D funds that DHS has not yet spent.
Although a still-increasing defense budget would help defense R&D increase by 4.5% to $81.2 billion, a flat overall domestic budget would keep nondefense R&D flat in real terms with a 2% increase to $58.8 billion. Defense R&D would make up 58% of the federal R&D portfolio, a ratio not seen since the height of the Cold War.
Although Congress has so far supported the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative, proposed increases for its three key physical sciences agencies are on hold until next year. The National Science Foundation (proposed to go up 8.3% to $4.5 billion), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (up 15.3% to $3.8 billion), and Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories (up 20% to $377 million) could receive the full requested increases for their R&D programs, but the new 110th Congress could chisel away at these increases in order to shift funds to other programs.
Also, Congress has so far supported the administration’s proposal to boost the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) R&D funding by $858 million or 7.6% to $12.2 billion; all of the increase and more would go to development efforts for the next generation of human space vehicles, leaving NASA research funding in steep decline.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget would decline for the second year in a row to $28.5 billion; all but three of NIH’s institutes and centers would see their budgets shrink for the second year in a row.
Many agencies face uncertain prospects in final FY 2007 appropriations because of big differences between
New Bush climate plan falls short, critics say
After four years of work, the Bush administration on September 20, 2006, unveiled a strategic plan for using technology to reduce the risk of climate change. However, it was immediately criticized for falling short of what is needed to deal with the issue.
The Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) Strategic Plan outlines $3 billion in spending across agencies for technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It sets six complementary goals: reducing emissions from energy use and infrastructure; reducing emissions from energy supply; capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide; reducing emissions of other greenhouse gases; measuring and monitoring emissions; and bolstering the contributions of basic science to climate change. The plan outlines near-term, mid-term, and long-term approaches toward attaining these goals and examines what is needed to meet varying levels of emissions reductions. Overall, the plan essentially reiterates the administration’s position that basic scientific research and voluntary actions are adequate to solve the problem.
Department of Energy officials described the plan at a hearing held by the House Science Committee Subcommittee on Energy. The House Government Reform Committee held a hearing the following day. The overriding message from lawmakers and witnesses was that although the plan adequately describes necessary research, it fails to deliver on innovative solutions or the deployment of new technologies. It was emphasized that without regulations limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases, companies will not adopt new technologies. The same point was made in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
The hearing of the Government Reform Committee went beyond an examination of the strategic plan to investigate whether a new Climate Change Advanced Research Projects Agency to forge groundbreaking research is needed. Such a new agency would be modeled after the successful DARPA. CCTP Director Stephen Eule argued that such a new agency would take away funds from other agency activities. Eule also clarified that the role of the strategic plan is not to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions but rather to suggest technological opportunities. House- and Senate-proposed funding levels. As a result of all the budget work left unfinished, most R&D funding agencies are in the now-familiar situation of going two, three, or even more months into a new fiscal year without a final budget. For the U.S. science and engineering community, the longer the delays, the more likely it is that proposed funding increases for R&D programs will get carved away and transferred to other programs.
The hearing also featured testimony from GAO Director of Natural Resources and Environment John Stephenson, who stated that changes in the format and content of the administration’s reports make it difficult to determine whether stated increases in climate change funding are “a real or definitional increase.”
EPA revises clean air standard
Just days before a court-imposed September 27, 2006, deadline, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised one standard for human exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) but kept another the same, despite a recommendation for change from its science advisory board.
The revised standard, which will take effect in 2015, lowers the 24-hour exposure to PM from 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 35 micrograms. The EPA said it would leave unchanged the yearly allowable average exposure of 15 micrograms, even though 20 of the 22 members of the EPA’s science advisory board, as well as the American Medical Association, had recommended that it be reduced to 13 to 14 micrograms. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnston said there is “insufficient evidence” to justify a lower standard for annual average exposure.
Toxicological and epidemiological studies have shown fine PM to be associated with the aggravation of heart and respiratory disease, asthma attacks, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and premature death.“Of the many air pollutants regulated by EPA, fine particles likely pose the greatest threat to public health due to the number of people exposed,” said William Wehrum, acting assistant administrator, EPA Office of Air and Radiation.
At a July 13 hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety, a key Republican and Democrat clashed over the need for new standards. Subcommittee Chairman George Voinovich (R-OH) disputed the need for new regulation, especially given the difficulty that many counties have had in meeting existing standards. He said that penalties associated with nonattainment status can be a substantial economic burden on counties and that adopting the new standards could significantly increase the number of counties in violation of the rule. Voinovich noted that that the provisions of the Clean Air Act require the EPA merely to assess air quality standards every five years, not necessarily to revise them.
Noting the country’s burgeoning health care costs, Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE) said, “The cost of breathing dirty air is a far higher burden on the economy than paying for air pollution control.” Carper stated that because of rising health care costs, even industry groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers recommend addressing chronic diseases such as asthma.
“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.