American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Senate Hearing on Federal Research and Development Funding and Trends

Hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space
April 16, 1997

Witness List:
Dr. John Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Dr. Albert Teich, Director of Science and Policy Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Mr. Lewis Branscomb, Director and Professor, Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Mr. Claude Barfield, Director of Science and Technology Policy, American Enterprise Institute

Congressional Members Present
Chairman Bill Frist (R-TN)
Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT)

Opening Statement by Chairman Frist
Frist began the hearing by explaining that the quest to balance the budget has resulted in an increased competition for funds. The science community needs to explain the benefits of research and development, which are different than the immediate effects of actions such as improving highways or employing more police. He stated that research and development, science, and education bring advancements and innovation that has been the basis of the United State's competitive edge. Funding research and creating an environment that encourages private research and innovation are the bedrock upon which much of our economy is built. Partnerships are essential to maintain this edge, as is stable funding that allows planning. Chairman Frist hopes these hearing will spark interest not only in science funding for the next year, but also in the federal role in science policy.

Dr. Gibbons, OSTP
Currently the government funds 34% of the national investment in research and development, and 60% of the basic research. Most of this funding is aimed at research with the long-term potential to lead to fundamental scientific breakthroughs and research that is too risky or expensive for the private sector to conduct. Half of our economic productivity in the last century is attributable to technological innovation and the science that supported this innovation. This investment also works to create knowledge and a well-educated citizenry. Peer review and university research have the duel benefit of training students and contributing to knowledge.

The President's FY98 budget increases total research and development funding by more than $1.6 billion to a total of $75 billion. Dr. Gibbons commended the scientific community on its united call for more funding, but recognizes budget constraints. We must improve accountability, strengthen innovation outside of the Washington DC area through work with private and university partnerships, and strive for more international cooperation.

Dr. Albert Teich, AAAS
The President's FY98 budget, which provides $75 billion for the federal investment in R&D, is an increase of 1.8% over FY97. With 2.6% inflation projected, the R&D portfolio would actually lose purchasing power. Additionally, the budget includes upfront funding for construction of major facilities, money that will not actually be spent until FY99 or later. After subtracting this $883 million, the President's request results in an increase of only 0.6% over FY97, or a loss of 1.9% after inflation. In analyzing R&D since FY94, NSF and NIH are the only agencies with more funding now than three years ago.

Dr. Branscomb, Harvard
Dr. Branscomb testified that a federal science policy that encourages private sector development is best for the economy and the environment. The government needs to fund research to replace the research that major companies previously conducted but now is being outsourced. Without action, companies will begin looking to other countries for information. An effort must be made to ensure the benefits of the research are transferred to the user. Dr. Branscomb advocates a "research policy supporting an innovation policy" rather than a policy based on a division between basic and applied research.

Branscomb offers four suggestions on how to implement his ideas. First, make sure that funding is adequate for both basic technology research and basic science research. Keep the Technology Administration in the Department of Commerce strong, and consider moving the ATP program to this administration. Finally, focus more attention on the needs of middle and smaller sized firms.

Mr. Barfield, American Enterprise Institute
Mr. Barfield began his testimony by expressing his belief that R&D is losing more money than AAAS reported, and priorities for limited funds must be set. He cited two reports, the "Press report" which favors funding academic institution over private commercial technology. A contrasting report, by Erich Bloch by the Council on Competitiveness, advocates "research required to keep the United States economically competitive, particularly in a group of selected critical technologies agreed upon by government, business, and academia." This report singles out ATP as a federal R&D priority.

Question and Answer Session
Chairman Frist asked the panel about the state of the aging facilities and the effects of upfront construction funding. Dr. Gibbons replied that he wants to improve the existing facilities to better utilize them. Upfront funding is important, as it recognizes the full costs of a project. Dr. Teich replied that upfront funding is important, especially when working with other countries. The disadvantage is that other programs must be cut in that year to allow the extra money to be allocated. Ranking member Rockefeller examined the merits of state and federal intervention into research and development. Chairman Frist asked the panel if ATP is a form of corporate welfare. Dr. Teich believes it is not, and it serves as a bridge between science and technology. It is a critical experiment in information transfer, and it represents only 1% of the federal research and development budget. Mr. Branscomb noted that corporate welfare has a bad connotation, but the success of industry is the foundation for the success of the country.

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Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated April 25, 1997

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