The following report appears as a News Note in the January 1998 issue of Geotimes. It is reprinted here with permission.
As recently as last summer, long-term predictions for science funding were bleak. Since then, the scientific community and allies in Congress have rallied to turn that scenario around and push long-term increases for science funding. Their cause ha s been aided by a strong economy which has reduced the deficit for fiscal year (FY) 1997 from a projected $126 billion to $22.6 billion. Congress is even beginning to speculate what to do with a budget surplus, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) listed science and technology as two priority areas.
A joint press conference was held on Oct. 22 to announce a science-community wide statement that calls for a doubling of research and development funding over the next decade as well as legislation to accomplish that goal for most civilian research. The statement was signed by the leaders of 106 societies, which represents more than 3 million scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.
The American Geological Institute (AGI) and six of its member societies -- American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Institute of Professional Geologists, Geological Society of America, Seismological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America , and The Society for Organic Petrology -- were signatories to the statement. AGU President Sean Soloman represented the geoscience societies at the standing-room-only press conference in the Capitol.
In his address to the audience, American Physical Society President D. Allan Bromley emphasized the importance of research to society and noted that research, when considered as a fraction of gross domestic product (GDP), is only half what it was 30 years ago. He then stated that "without sustained economic growth, driven by technological innovation and seeded by the fruits of long-term research, the balanced budget agreement recently adopted had little chance of becoming a sustainable reality." More information on the press conference and society statement can be found on the American Chemical Society website
The unified statement builds upon efforts by nearly 50 scientific societies last spring to increase science funding by 7 percent in the FY 1998 budget. Members of Congress -- who have long complained that they do not hear from scientists -- encouraged scientists to continue their efforts to seek increased funding. Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) remarked, "We had been asking them to do something like that for years."
National Research Investment Act
The society statement and science community leaders served as a backdrop for four senators to announce that they had collectively introduced S. 1305, The National Research Investment Act of 1998, that morning. Led by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Senators Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) explained that the purpose of the bill would be to double federal civilian research funding over 10 years beginning in FY 1999. The presence of Sen. Domenici, chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee and a well-known budget hawk, at the press conference bodes well for future action on the bill. Addressing the scientific societies, Sen. Lieberman stated, "Money spent to increase scientific and engineering knowledge represents an investment which pays rich dividends for America's future." Bingaman echoed those sentiments in his remarks: "It is clear that if we want to create the kind of high-paying, high-technology jobs that will ensure a decent standard of living for American workers we will need a much stronger commitment to investing in research and development ... and I hope that [this bill] will put us on the path to a better future." The bill is very similar to S. 124, which Sen. Gramm introduced early in the Congress, differing principally in its start date (FY1999 instead of FY1998) and bipartisan support rather than purely republican cosponsors.
The bill does not recommend funding increases for all science and technology agencies, as called for in the unified statement signed by the professional societies. The main differences are the exclusion of defense research and all applied research that is not pre-competitive, which would be proprietary research conducted by industry. Among civilian agencies it includes the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Energy nondefense research, Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Of particular concern to earth scientists is the exclusion of the Department of the Interior. This omission is due to Sen. Gramm's perceived view of the former National Biological Service, now the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. He believes that volunteers may engage in activities to locate endangered species and therefore, obstruct private property rights.
Bipartisan support does not guarantee passage of a bill, and S. 1305 still faces some obstacles. First, it must be passed by the House and Senate at a time when many members are focused on reducing expenditures to eliminate the national debt. Secondly, the bill only permits the increase in funds; the actual appropriations occur through a number of separate appropriations bills. Finally, the administration does not share Congress' enthusiasm for increased science funding and has made it known that no money is available for funding increases in FY 1999.
Making plans for a budget surplus
The day after the Oct. 22 press conference, Gingrich presented his proposals for addressing a possible budget surplus to the House Budget Committee. His first two suggestions were to reduce the national debt and increase tax relief. In addition, he stated , "I believe there should be modernization in science, defense, and transportation." He spoke about the importance of the United States being a world leader and noted that in order to lead, "we have to first invest in science and in research." In response to a question by Rep. Mark Neumann (R-Wisc.), Gingrich stated that he would be willing to renegotiate budget numbers for science within the framework of the balanced budget.
Joining Gingrich in support of science at the hearing was House Science Committee Ranking Democrat George Brown who unveiled his Investment Budget, which would use budget surpluses to increase funding for research and development, capital infrastructure, and education and training by $70 billion over five years. Half of those funds would go to research and development, which would be increased 5 percent each year for five years. When announcing the plan, he stated that these investments will address shortcomings and "perfect the budget agreement." Details of his budget plan are available on the House Science Committee minority party homepage.
Although these actions do not guarantee an increase in science funding next year, Congress has been put on the record in support of science and technology. In the coming spring, the scientific community will be able to determine if their actions are commensurate with their rhetoric.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs Program
Last updated May 29, 1998
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