From the Hill – Winter 2009

Research funding flat in 2009 as budget stalls

Fiscal year (FY) 2009 began on October 1 with final budget decisions for most federal agencies postponed until at least January 2009. To keep the government operating, lawmakers combined three final appropriations bills into a continuing resolution (CR) that extends funding for all programs in the remaining unsigned 2009 appropriations bills at 2008 funding levels through March 6. President Bush signed the measure into law on September 30.

The CR contains final FY 2009 appropriations for the Departments of Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), and Veterans Affairs (VA); all three will receive substantial increases in their R&D portfolios. Other federal agencies covered by the remaining appropriations bills will be operating temporarily at or below 2008 funding levels for several months. The CR excludes from its FY 2008 base most supplemental appropriations. Thus, agencies that received additional funds in the mid-year supplemental funding bill, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, will see a decrease under the CR. The CR, however, does allow the Food and Drug Administration to count the $150 million FY 2008 supplemental it received as part of its base.

The CR provides $2.5 billion for the Pell Grant program, which gives aid to college students, and $5.1 billion for low-income heating assistance. A $25 billion loan program for the auto industry is also part of the CR, as is $22.9 billion in disaster relief funding.

Overall, the federal government enters FY 2009 with an R&D portfolio of $147.3 billion, an increase of $2.9 billion or 2%, due entirely to an increase for DOD’s R&D, which will rise by $3 billion or 3.6% to $86.1 billion in 2009. The flat-funding formula of the CR results in a $61.2 billion total for non-defense R&D at the start of FY 2009, a cut of 0.1% as compared to 2008.

Excluding development funds, the federal investment in basic and applied research could decline for the fifth year in a row in 2009, after adjusting for inflation, if the CR’s funding levels hold for the entire year.

The flat funding levels of the CR put requested increases for the three agencies in the Bush administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative on hold. Although congressional appropriators had endorsed and even added to large requested increases for NSF, DOE’s Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories in early versions of the 2009 appropriations bills, the next Congress may have to start over again. In the meantime, the three key physical sciences agencies begin FY 2009 with funding levels at or slightly below those of 2008.

NASA funding boost authorized

Emphasizing the important role that a balanced and adequately funded science program at NASA plays in the nation’s innovation agenda, Congress in October approved a bill with broad bipartisan support that could significantly increase NASA’s funding. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008 authorizes $20.2 billion for FY 2009, far more than the $17.1 billion appropriated to the agency in the FY 2009 continuing resolution.

The bill authorizes an 11% increase above the president’s request in scientific research and strengthens NASA’s earth science, space science, and aeronautics programs. It contains provisions on scientific integrity, expressing “the sense of Congress that NASA should not dilute, distort, suppress, or impede scientific research or the dissemination thereof.” It also includes a plan for the continuation of the Landsat remote-sensing satellite program and reauthorizes the Glory mission to examine the effects of aerosols and solar energy on Earth’s climate.

Congressional Action on R&D in the FY 2009 Budget as of September 30, 2008 (budget authority in millions of dollars)

Action by Congress

FY 2008

FY 2009

FY 2009

Chg. from Request

Chg. from FY 2008








Defense (military) * 79,347 81,067 82,379 1,311 1.6% 3,032 3.8%

(“S&T” 6.1,6.2,6.3 + Medical) * 13,456 11,669 14,338 2,669 22.9% 882 6.6%

(All Other DOD R&D) * 65,891 69,398 68,040 -1,358 -2.0% 2,149 3.3%

National Aeronautics & Space Admin. 12,251 12,780 12,188 -592 -4.6% -63 -0.5%

Energy 9,724 10,519 9,661 -858 -8.2% -63 -0.6%

(Office of Science) 3,637 4,314 3,574 -740 -17.1% -63 -1.7%

(Energy R&D) 2,369 2,380 2,369 -11 -0.5% 0 0.0%

(Atomic Energy Defense R&D) 3,718 3,825 3,718 -107 -2.8% 0 0.0%

Health and Human Services 29,966 29,973 29,816 -157 -0.5% -150 -0.5%

(National Institutes of Health) 28,826 28,666 28,676 10 0.0% -150 -0.5%

(All Other HHS R&D) 1,140 1,307 1,140 -167 -12.8% 0 0.0%

National Science Foundation 4,501 5,175 4,479 -696 -13.5% -23 -0.5%

Agriculture 2,359 1,955 2,412 457 23.4% 53 2.2%

Homeland Security * 992 1,033 1,085 52 5.0% 93 9.4%

Interior 676 618 676 59 9.5% 0 0.0%

(U.S. Geological Survey) 586 546 586 41 7.5% 0 0.0%

Transportation 820 902 820 -81 -9.0% 0 0.0%

Environmental Protection Agency 548 541 548 7 1.3% 0 0.0%

Commerce 1,138 1,152 1,138 -14 -1.2% 0 0.0%

(NOAA) 581 576 581 5 0.9% 0 0.0%

(NIST) 521 546 521 -25 -4.5% 0 0.0%

Education 321 324 321 -3 -0.9% 0 0.0%

Agency for Int’l Development 223 223 223 0 0.0% 0 0.0%

Department of Veterans Affairs * 891 884 952 68 7.7% 61 6.8%

Nuclear Regulatory Commission 71 77 71 -6 -7.8% 0 0.0%

Smithsonian 203 222 203 -19 -8.6% 0 0.0%

All Other 322 299 322 23 7.7% 0 0.0%

TOTAL R&D * 144,354 147,743 147,295 -449 -0.3% 2,941 2.0%

Defense R&D * 83,065 84,892 86,097 1,204 1.4% 3,032 3.6%

Nondefense R&D * 61,288 62,851 61,198 -1,653 -2.6% -91 -0.1%

Basic Research * 28,846 29,656 28,952 -704 -2.4% 106 0.4%

Applied Research * 29,218 27,626 29,281 1,655 6.0% 63 0.2%

Total Research * 58,064 57,282 58,233 951 1.7% 169 0.3%

Development * 81,814 85,745 84,605 -1,140 -1.3% 2,791 3.4%

R&D Facilities and Capital Equipment * 4,476 4,716 4,457 -260 -5.5% -19 -0.4%

AAAS estimates of R&D in FY 2009 appropriations bills. Includes conduct of R&D and R&D facilities. All figures are rounded to the nearest million. Changes calculated from unrounded figures. FY 2008 figures have been adjusted to reflect supplementals enacted in Public Law 110-252 and contained in the FY 2009 CR. These figures have been revised since the publication of AAAS Report XXXIII: R&D FY 2009.

The bill calls for continuing NASA’s approach toward completing the International Space Station and making the transition from the Space Shuttle to the new Constellation launch system. The legislation authorizes the agency to fly two additional Shuttle missions to service the space station and a third flight to launch a DOE experiment to study charged particles in cosmic rays.

The Senate version of the bill added language that directs NASA to suspend until April 30, 2009, any activities that could preclude operation of the Space Shuttle after 2010, in order to provide an opportunity to the incoming administration to evaluate the shuttle’s planned retirement, thus providing another opportunity for reassessment and redirection of the agency.

Climate change proposals multiply

As the 110th Congress wrapped up, legislators were already looking ahead to the next session, releasing drafts of climate change proposals they hope to advance. The measures reflect growing interest in Congress in addressing the broad spectrum of concerns about climate change legislation so that a successful compromise can be reached.

On October 7, House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chair John Dingell (D-MI) and Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Chair Rick Boucher (D-VA) released a proposal for a cap-and-trade system to control U.S. greenhouse emissions. The bill would cap emissions at 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, which is more aggressive than the bill proposed by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) that garnered a great deal of attention earlier in 2008.

Many of the bill’s provisions are similar to those of the Lieberman-Warner bill in terms of the mechanisms by which emissions would be controlled. This includes the creation of a market-based system of emissions permits that can be traded from one firm to another in order to remain within a cap set by the government. The cap would decline each year until reaching its ultimate reduction goal in 2050. The bill would give control of the carbon-permit allocation process to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), although the bill does not settle on a means of determining permit price. Instead, it offers four possible scenarios, ranging from initially offering the permits for free to limit burdens on covered firms to a proposal to use the allowance values entirely as rebates for consumers. Regardless of the option chosen, the proposal would invest in energy efficiency and clean energy technology, return value from permits back to low-income consumers, and auction all permits after 2026.

The bill would permit the purchasing of EPA-approved domestic and international carbon offset credits, although firms would be limited to off-setting only 5% of their emissions in the first five years, eventually increasing to 35% in 2024. The Lieberman-Warner bill would have permitted 15% of emissions to be offset with domestic carbon offset credits and up to 5% with international credits, but not until after 2012.

In addition to the Dingell-Boucher bill, an outline of principles for climate change legislation, based on adhering to greenhouse gas reductions that will limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by a group of 152 representatives, led by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), and Edward Markey (D-MA). These recommendations include a cap on carbon emissions of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, more rapid policy responses to climate science, better international cooperation, investment in clean energy technology, and economic measures to protect consumers and domestic industries.

Markey, the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, released his own climate change bill earlier in 2008. In an October 7 press release in which he welcomed the Dingell-Boucher bill, he said that, “The draft legislation lays out a range of options for structuring a cap-and-trade system that are likely to trigger a vigorous and healthy debate about how best to reduce global warming pollution.”

In the Senate, a group of 16 Democrats known as the “Gang of 16” is attempting to craft a new bill that will address concerns that arose during the debate on the Lieberman-Warner bill, namely the distribution process for emissions allowances and the desire to use low-carbon energy development to stimulate job creation.

The proposal would focus on critical areas of concern, namely examining carbon offsets, containing the costs of abatement, and protecting consumers. Provisions addressing these issues include creating incentives for farmers to produce marketable offset credits, investing in low-carbon energy technology such as clean coal, providing flexibility for businesses if new technology is not available or is too expensive, and providing energy assistance to low-income families in order to offset any rise in energy costs that results from the legislation.

Big boost in energy R&D funding supported

Although most of the energy policy debate in Congress during the fall of 2008 centered on expanding offshore drilling and renewable tax incentives, both of which were approved in the waning days of the 110th Congress, legislators also examined the role of energy R&D in advancing the nation’s energy independence.

At a September 10 hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, witnesses testified about the importance of having a broad portfolio of energy R&D programs to meet the challenges of energy security, climate change, and U.S. competitiveness. Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) noted that during the past 25 years, energy R&D has fallen from 10% of total R&D spending to only 2%, an amount Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) called “pathetic.” The witnesses all agreed on the need for additional funds for energy R&D, with estimates ranging from 3 to 10 times as much as current funding.

Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified about the importance of energy investments in motivating students. “The students’ interest is absolutely deafening,” she said, “and one of my fears is that if we don’t fund the kind of research that will fuel innovation, these very brilliant students will see that a bright future actually lies elsewhere.”

University of Michigan Vice President of Research Stephen Forrest discussed the willingness of the university community to join industry and government to discover solutions to address energy security. He called on Congress to fully fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, a program targeting high-risk energy research authorized in the America Competes Act. Daniel Kammen of the University of California at Berkeley explained the role of federal R&D in sparking private-sector investment, stating that government funding is necessary to “prime the pump” before industry will increase R&D.

In addition to hearing testimony, legislators have received input from a variety of sources. The Council on Competitiveness released a “100 Day Action Plan” for the next administration. It calls for increased R&D investment and the creation of a $200 billion National Clean Energy Bank. More than 70 universities and scientific societies under the umbrella of the Energy Science Coalition released a petition to presidential candidates highlighting the importance of basic energy research in addressing energy issues. At a press conference hosted by the Science Coalition and the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, leaders from universities, industry, and national labs described the role energy R&D can play in achieving U.S. energy independence.

During the presidential campaign, president-elect Barack Obama released his New Energy for America plan that calls for a $150 billion federal investment during the next 10 years in clean energy research, development, and deployment. The plan includes basic research to develop alternative fuels and chemicals, new vehicle technology, and next-generation nuclear facilities.

Despite calls from both parties and chambers of Congress, increased levels of funding for energy research are not included in the continuing resolution approved in October. However, Congress did address several energy issues in provisions in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. It includes extensions of the investment tax credit for solar energy and production tax credits for wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower, and expands the residential energy-efficient property credit. It also includes tax credits for oil shale, tar sands, and coal-to-liquid fuels, areas that may advance energy security and economic competitiveness but are at odds with addressing climate change, illustrating some of the difficulties in meeting these intertwined challenges.

“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.

Cite this Article

“From the Hill – Winter 2009.” Issues in Science and Technology 25, no. 2 (Winter 2009).

Vol. XXV, No. 2, Winter 2009