The following report appears as a News Note in the October 1998 issue of Geotimes. It is reprinted here with permission.
As the 105th Congress draws to a close, many in the scientific community wish the session would last a little longer. This Congress has raised the visibility of science in a number of bills, but none have passed and only a handful of days remain. The most recent bill, S. 2217, the Federal Research Investment Act, passed the Senate Commerce Committee in July. Even if it does not make it into law in this Congress, it may serve as a template in the next Congress.
Efforts to boost funding for research and development (R&D) began back in January 1997 with the introduction of S. 124, the National Research Investment Act of 1997, by Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas). Stating that "the United States simply does not spend enough on basic research," Gramm introduced a bill to authorize a doubling of nondefense R&D over 10 years. The bill provides specific increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and broadly calls for a doubling in funding for several agencies, including the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Energy nondefense research, Department of Education, and Environmental Protection Agency. As with all authorizing legislation, Gramm's bill would not guarantee an increase in funding; the actual appropriations occur through a number of separate appropriations bills each year. But the bill would put Congress on record as supporting increases in R&D. The bill gained four sponsors and was referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources because of its provisions on NIH.
In October 1997, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) joined Gramm to unveil a new, but similar bill: S. 1305, the National Research Investment Act of 1998. The bill differs principally from S. 124 in its start date (fiscal year 1999 instead of FY1998) and bipartisan support rather than only Republican co-sponsors. The bill was also referred to the Labor Committee, where it too languished without a hearing.
Federal Research Investment Act
Building upon these earlier efforts, Senate Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee Chair Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and S. 1305 co-sponsors worked to craft legislation that would fall under the jurisdiction of Frist's subcommittee. Along with Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), the group unveiled S. 2217, the Federal Research Investment Act, on June 25, 1998. S. 2217 differs from earlier bills in several ways. It doubles R&D funding over 12 years, rather than 10. It also adds the Departments of the Interior and Transportation to the list of agencies whose research will be doubled. The omission of the Department of the Interior, home of the U.S. Geological Survey, in earlier bills had drawn concern from geoscientists, who advocated for its inclusion in the later bill.
Perhaps the most significant distinction between S. 2217 and previous bills is that it includes accountability provisions. The bill recommends that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy commission the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to develop methods to evaluate federally funded R&D. The bill also instructs the administration to provide -- in conjunction with the budget request -- a detailed summary of the amount of R&D in the budget and a strategy for achieving the doubling by 2010. These provisions are aimed at strengthening the evaluation of research and development. They follow the intent of the Government Performance and Results Act, which instructs agencies to develop goals, methods to achieve these goals, and conduct assessments of the success of programs. The NAS study is intended to improve the accountability of agencies conducting R&D because the outcomes of R&D are often difficult to predict and do not follow standard performance measures. The bill calls for the termination of programs that are determined to be below the acceptable level of success for two fiscal years in a row, with certain exceptions.
A slight change in the wording determined which committee S. 2217 would be referred to, increasing its chance of passage through the Senate. By not specifying figures for NIH, the bill was not sent to the Labor Committee but instead to the Commerce Committee, where Frist's subcommittee could act on it. The bill passed the subcommittee and later passed the full Commerce Committee by a unanimous vote. The bill may pass the full Senate in its final days, but faces stiff competition for attention as Congress wraps up the end of the session and heads home to blaze the campaign trails to start anew in January.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs Program
Posted October 1, 1998
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