American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE


USGS and NSF Appropriations, Tax Cut Legislation Advance

(6-27-97)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

IN A NUTSHELL: Interior appropriations bill passes House Appropriations Committee -- its accompanying report calls for full funding of geologic mapping, denies funding for Global Seismographic Network and Kalamazoo Initiative, and expresses support for USGS library. The VA, HUD, & Independent Agencies Appropriations subcommittee provides NSF with 6.6 percent increase, flat funding for NASA's Mission to Planet Earth, and a smaller-than-expected increase for EPA. Tax bills pass House and Senate with little change to education provisions in House version.

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Before heading home for a two-week Independence Day recess, House appropriators have moved ahead on fiscal year (FY) 1998 funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation, NASA, and EPA. Both the House and Senate passed their own versions of tax cut legislation, setting up a House-Senate conference next month. The House bill contains several education-related provisions that have caused concern within the geoscience community. Last Friday's special update contains additional information on the Interior bill and tax legislation. It and other information on the budget process is available on this site.

The upcoming recess is an excellent opportunity for geoscientists to meet with their representative back in the home district and discuss the value of the geosciences. Additional information on how to contact your senator or representative is available on the AGI web site.

Interior Appropriations

Last week's update reported that the House Interior and Related Agencies subcommittee had passed its spending bill for agencies such as the USGS and the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy program. That bill passed the full House Appropriations Committee yesterday with only minor changes. The accompanying report was released following the full committee vote. Although technically not binding, report language generally carries the full force of law, and agencies disregard it at their risk.

The report directs the USGS to fully fund the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program at the same level as FY97 and indicates that the Global Seismic (sic) Network should continue to be funded by the Department of Defense rather than by USGS as requested. The report denies funding for the President's Kalamazoo Initiative out of the Water Resources Division's NAWQA program, arguing that such a significant departure from the original program should only be done if the need is substantiated by a National Academy of Sciences review. The report also includes the following statement on the USGS library:

"The Committee is concerned with the viability of the USGS library, which serves many users and purposes, and expects the USGS to maintain in fiscal years 1997 and 1998 funding for the library (including acquisitions) at no less than the library's fiscal year 1996 level." (p. 47)

The Interior bill has already drawn a Presidential veto threat, because it reduces funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from $83 million in FY97 to $10 million in FY98.

NSF, NASA, EPA Appropriations

On Wednesday, the House VA, HUD, & Independent Agencies Appropriations subcommittee voted on its spending bill for agencies including NSF, NASA, and EPA. The scientific community has been engaged in a lobbying effort to obtain a 7 percent increase for NSF. In April, the House passed an authorization bill (H.R. 1273) with such an increase, but authorizations mean little without appropriations. Thus it was very good news this week when the subcommittee provided NSF with a 6.6 percent increase to $3.487 billion for FY98. The Research and Related Activities account increases 4.3 percent to $2.538 billion. The Education and Human Resources account is funded at $632.5 million, a 2.2 percent increase over FY97. As with the authorization bill, much of the overall increase comes from upfront funding for modernization of the South Pole station.

In the subcommittee's bill, NASA would receive $13.65 billion, an increase of $148 million over the President's request but still $61.2 million less than in FY97. Additional funds are directed toward the space station and various earmarks. The Mission to Planet Earth program is level funded at $1.4 billion.

Overall funding for EPA increased to $7.23 billion, which is $433 million more than FY97, but the increase is still only half of the Administrations request. The level was unexpected, given that Congress and the White House listed EPA under "protected discretionary programs" in the balanced budget agreement reached in May, meaning that the President would get his requested amount. The subcommittee did not provide the Administration's $650 million increase for Superfund, but did provide additional support for brownfield development and water programs. They authorized $1.25 billion for clean water state revolving funds, and $750 million for safe drinking water state revolving funds. They also provided $85 million to clean-up brownfields.

The equivalent Senate subcommittee received $10 million less in its allocation from the Senate Appropriations Committee, making it unlikely that the Senate bill will be as generous to science as the House bill. The Senate is expected to take up its version in July.

Tax Cut Legislation

Last week's special update reported on a number of provisions in the House version of tax cut legislation (H.R. 2014) that could affect geoscientists. Provisions included the treatment of tuition waivers as taxable income for graduate students, elimination of an exemption for employer-provided educational assistance, ending TIAA-CREF's tax exemption, and suspension of the net income limit on percentage depletion for marginal oil and gas wells. When the matter was taken up on the House floor, virtually no amendments were allowed to the committee-passed bill, and the bill passed 253-179. A Democratic alternative was defeated by a similar margin. The Senate passed its version, which does not contain any of the controversial education provisions but does contain the percentage depletion provision for marginal wells.


Contributed by David Applegate and Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated June 27, 1997

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