Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriations Hearings (5-16-05)
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, Representative Gordon, and other members of Congress have been concerned that cuts to Earth observing missions are due to NASA's strategic reorientation around the President's "Vision for Space Exploration." In his opening remarks, Chairman Boehlert challenged the apparent shift in priorities. "The planet that has to matter most to us is the one we live on," he said. "You'd think that would go without saying." Gordon added that under the proposal, Earth science and aeronautic programs would absorb 75% of the overall cuts that NASA must sustain to meet tight budget constraints. In comparison, exploration programs would only account for 10% of the overall cuts.
Al Diaz, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, was first to testify at the hearing. He urged the public to interpret the changes within NASA as part of a federal agenda to expand Earth science into a national program. Earth sciences within a national program will benefit from the President's space exploration initiative and contribute to stronger U.S. leadership in Earth-systems research by involving more stakeholders. "We are in the midst of a transition in Earth science from a NASA-centric approach to a national strategy that maximizes all of our national capabilities," Diaz testified. "These changes have created some anxiety, and I recognize that it can cause some to question our commitment to Earth science."
Offering testimony on the NRC report was Berrien Moore, who co-chairs the 18-member panel "Earth observations and applications from space." The report released April 27th is an initial summary of a larger, comprehensive decadal survey projecting federal Earth observing capabilities and priorities through 2020. The NRC panel recommended either immediate continuation or "urgent" reconsideration of several threatened satellite missions, which are summarized with their current status in the table below. The delay or cancellation of these missions, according to Moore, would jeopardize NASA's ability to meet it's obligation to non-exploration Presidential initiatives, such as the climate change research initiative and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).
Table 3.1 from National Research Council interim report "Earth Science and Applications from Space"
Among NASA's strategies are plans to shift some of the agency's climate data systems to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a plan that Committee leaders argued was a poor rationale for cutting NASA programs. "Having NASA claim that NOAA will take over activities when there is no indication of that in NOAA's plans or budget strains credulity," said Chairman Boehlert. "It's the sound of one hand clapping, and it won't get any applause from us."
While the NRC panel would strongly support agency partnerships, Moore testified that in the near-term, the transfer of operations from NASA to NOAA involves "technological and scientific issues we don't understand." According to the American Geophysical Union's weekly publication EOS, Moore had not even been aware of NASA's plans to accelerate a "national program" as described by Diaz. All the scientists testifying before the committee agreed that federal budget strategies must realize the fundamentally different roles that NASA, NOAA, and USGS play in basic research, technological development, deployment, and assessment. NASA, Moore explained, is research and development-oriented, while NOAA is purely operational. Therefore the long-term viability of NOAA to sustain a robust Earth science program depends on NASA.
When Boehlert asked the panelists to offer further insight into NASA's unique value, the scientists were quick to respond. Ray Williamson, research professor of space policy at George Washington University, corroborated the NRC report's findings that U.S. leadership in Earth observing systems could simply not survive without NASA. According to Tim Kileen, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NASA has been known for the unique coupling of rapid technological advancement and scientific analysis that has single-handedly positioned the U.S. "on the brink of a new era in Earth science research". Marcia McNutt of the Monterey Bay Aquarium said that NASA is the only civilian agency that has the "capacity, tradition, and track record" to provide the necessary capital and leadership in Earth science. If transferred to NOAA, McNutt warned, the Earth science program would be "severed from the root of technology that feeds it," and "innovation within the program would wither and die."
According to representative Ken Calvert (R-CA), the bottom line in the debate was the need for better strategic interaction among agencies. Although Calvert wished to defend Diaz's statement that NASA does not intend to abandon Earth sciences, he said "strategy should always come before budget constraints in determining programs," implying that the current status of partnerships among NASA, NOAA and the Department of Defense is not condusvie to acheiving the national policy NASA is aiming for in the FY 2006 budget proposal.
The House Science Committee held its first Energy Subcommittee Hearing
to discuss the Department of Energy's research and development (R&D)
priorities as represented by the FY 2006 budget request. As laid out
in the subcommittee's hearing
charter, the Administration's total request for civilian R&D
is $60.8 billion, 8.9 % of which would go toward DOE programs. Reductions
on the order of 3-9% are slated for all of DOE's energy resource R&D
accounts except for Nuclear Energy, which would receive a 4% increase.
Fossil Energy R&D would receive the greatest cut, of over 14%.
In particular, Biggert was concerned about how the 4.9% overall R&D reduction within DOE might hurt U.S. competitiveness on the global market. Honda agreed that progress in technological solutions and scientific advancement depends on the certainty and stability of federal R&D investment. Of particular concern to Honda was the negative affect this lack of investment would have on the functioning of the nation's research laboratories and the enrollment of science and engineering students at U.S. universities.
The five witnesses expressed gratitude for the members' concern and support, and they went on to outline their top priorities in the restricted budget environment. DOE Science Director Ray Orbach assured the subcommittee that the DOE would use the available funds in "the best way possible" to maximize U.S. scientific leadership. Among the highlights listed by each witness in his testimony were increased focus on energy efficiency and renewables within the transportation sector, the Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative, the Clean Coal Power Initiative, and the Hydrogen Initiative.
According to the subcommittee's figures, renewable energy and energy efficiency R&D will have seen 13% and 15% declines, respectively, since 2001, excluding hydrogen and fuel cell research. In contrast, hydrogen research will have increased by 172%, fossil fuel research by 11% (mostly for clean coal), and nuclear research by 39%. Several members voiced concern about a lowered emphasis on renewable fuels and conservation technologies, particularly building technologies.
Chairwoman Biggert questioned whether the President's Hydrogen and FreedomCAR initiatives were sapping funds from other research programs. "Are we sacrificing short- and mid-term successes in many sectors for the sake of one long shot in one sector?" she asked in her opening statement. This question was not revisited in the question and answer portion of the hearing, but Doug Faulkner, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), got the chance later to report improvements in domestic energy use over recent decades and to further highlight the important progress being made through 200 hydrogen research grants. Furthermore, according to Faulkner, The EERE budget is weighted two-thirds towards conservation and one-third towards renewables.
For more issues important to the Science committee on the subject of science and energy solutions, read a comprehensive analysis in the hearing charter.
Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Related Agencies met with Mark Rey, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Bruce Knight, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to discuss the FY 2006 Budget Proposal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The NRCS is the primary federal agency that works with private landowners to help them conserve, maintain and improve their natural resources. The NRCS proposed budget for discretionary and mandatory spending is $2.7 billion, a 15% decrease from the $3.2 billion enacted in FY 2005. The proposal would reduce funding for watershed and grassland reserve projects while increasing resources for wetlands restoration and the Conservation Security Program (CEP). In their opening statements, Chairman Bonillo expressed concern over the cuts to watershed efforts, while Ranking Member DeLauro feared that the proposed changes would negatively impact water resource management and watershed planning in the northeast. She said the President's plan favors certain geographic regions over others, and fails to address a growing backlog of unfunded federal watershed projects.
Knight's testimony focused on the $626 million proposed for Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), an overarching program that offers landowners conservation planning and implementation tools. Key increases planned for the CTA account include a $37.2 million increase to support compliance in animal feeding regulations and $10 million to control invasive species. Watershed Surveys and Planning (WSP), cut from $7 million to $5 million, would "focus funding to help 40 communities complete their watershed planning efforts." The administration would terminate funding for watershed and flood prevention operations, because similar flood programs within the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were more effective, according to Knight.
DeLauro stated that the changes in the budget plan fail to strike an appropriate balance between conservation needs and support for industry. Rey responded to this claim by insisting that the budget priorities were determined by what programs would offer the greatest environmental benefit. But other members agreed that eliminating funding for some locally-sponsored cooperative watershed rehabilitation efforts (PL-566 programs) would be inappropriate. Bonilla quoted Rey from a hearing regarding funding of PL-566 programs last year, in which he said "it would be a waste of investment to stop funding in mid-stream". This time around, Rey ensured the members that a top priority in FY06 is to bring watershed projects to completion, and that no structural projects would be eliminated.
In a similar vein, the administration also proposes
to phase out federal support for local Resource Conservation and Development
(RC&D) councils, which help local governments support their own
conservation programs. According to Rey, councils that have received
federal seed money for over 20 years will be able to cover their own
overhead, and "graduate from the federal incubator." DeLauro
challenged this rationale, responding that without advanced word of
this plan, the councils would not be able to address their funding
needs. Rep. Farr agreed that cuts should be based on land use and
economics, rather than longevity. Indeed, Rey said that the agency
did not have a good idea of what RC&Ds would be forced to close
due to inadequate funding.
The Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony from Department of Energy (DOE) officials on the challenges facing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the progress of various nuclear waste clean-up projects, and fiscal year (FY) 2006 funding requests for DOE fossil fuel research and development programs.
At the outset, Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) exclaimed that finding a safe repository for nuclear fuel is "the single most important issue on this subcommittee's agenda." He declared the House would "lead the charge" on Yucca Mountain, and called on both the Administration and industry to step up their commitments to keep construction on schedule. Theodore Garrish, Deputy Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, assured the subcommittee that the repository "is as well situated as it has ever been." He said the site has been reaffirmed by the court system, and the lisencing process is well under way. The Administration requested $651 million for FY06, to support the license application and to advance the repository's design and construction plans.
When listing the challenges facing the site, Garrish mentioned a report, released the same day, revealing that government scientists may have falsified computer modeling data involving water infiltration rate and climate at the site. There was little response from Chairman Hobson on this issue, but following the hearing, the report received media attention nation-wide. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman issued a statement calling for DOE to conduct an extensive review of all relevant data for quality assurance, but it is unclear whether this will have a major effect on the licensing process.
Regarding other challenges facing the site, Garrish said he was optimistic that the EPA would issue its radiation protection standard for Yucca Mountain without further delaying the license application. He did call on subcommittee members, however, to reach an agreement over the project's long-term funding needs, which aren't included in the Administration's 5-year budget projection. According to Garrish, the project would need roughly $1.5 billion annually to cover construction costs, and he provided the subcommittee several potential funding profiles. "Until the issue is resolved," he said, "there is no start date."
Department of Energy budget request for Environmental Management Projects totals $6.5 billion. Paul Golan, the program's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, gave a progress report for the department's nuclear waste remediation activities. Concerns among members of the subcommittee surrounded how clean-up priorities are set. Other questions concerned the proposed decrease in funding for the Hanford vitrificiation plant, while seismic studies are conducted. Hobson proposed funding levels stay elevated to ensure swift progress after the study is complete.
The Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony from Department of Energy (DOE) officials regarding the role of energy science research, nuclear energy, and energy efficiency programs in the agency's Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 priorities.
The Administration requested $3.5 billion for DOE's Office of Science, a 3.8% decrease from the FY05 appropriation. The biggest cuts occur in Advanced Science Computing Research, core and Congressionally-directed Biological and Environmental Research, and Nuclear Physics. Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) called the overall decrease "troubling," raising concern that the Administration is willing to "sacrifice leadership in science in order to meet other goals." Raymond Orbach, Director of the Office of Science, insisted that the budget request is "based on the maintenance of U.S. scientific leadership." Basic research programs to receive additional support include an expansion of Nanoscale Science Research Centers, new neutron science activities at the Spallation Neutron Source, and continued research regarding climate change and carbon sequestration. The U.S. would also contribute $50 million for ITER, the international fusion collaboration, to be sited in either France or Japan. When Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) asked how the Administration reconciles these goals with proposed cuts for university grants, Orbach testified that in order to maintain leadership under a tight budget, there had to be an optimum trade-off between investment in new facilities and such education programs.
The President's budget also includes $1.2 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Director David Garman testified funding decisions were entirely determined by the goal of U.S. energy independence. The plan includes substantial increases for hydrogen and fuel cell research and partnered infrastructure projects, a slight decreases for solar and geothermal power, modest increase for wind power, and an 18% decrease for biomass and biorefinery research and development. When Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) suggested this cut represented a step back from energy diversity, Garman ensured that the $72 million program is "healthy" and sufficient to meet the agency's goals.
For Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology programs
at DOE, the administration requests a 5% increase, to $511 million,
which would be the highest budget for the Nuclear Energy Program since
the 1990s. Aims are to reassert U.S. leadership and work closely with
utilities through the Nuclear Power 2010 program and Generation IV
international research effort. In light of the Administration's support
for constructing new nuclear plants, Chairman Hobson pressed Magwood
on the option of reprocessing nuclear waste. "I'm not comfortable
with starting new plants without a way to handle spent fuel,"
Hobson said, asking why the U.S. does not engage in fuel recycling
when it is common in several other industrialized countries. Magwood
explained that the U.S. has historically been concerned with the proliferation
risks and technological challenges involved in separating uranium
from plutonium. Today, the country's reliance on competitive fossil
fuels makes reprocessing nuclear fuel less economical. "We are
still several years away from economic and safe technologies"
At the outset of this hearing, Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced his determination to bring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) together with the Department of Education in a coordinated effort to shift more resources into science and math education. "I would like to do something very dramatic in this subcommittee," he said, noting a new opportunity to emphasize science education through the appropriations process. "Regardless of what anybody says, we're falling behind," Wolf declared regarding U.S. leadership in the physical sciences.
As perhaps intended, Wolf's statement set a tone that kept Administration representatives on the defensive throughout the hearing. Dr. John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, clashed with members' assertions that the FY06 budget proposal undervalues education efforts at NSF and NOAA. "U.S. science and technology is currently the envy of the world I believe the President's budget maintains science and technology leadership," Marburger said. Specifically, he highlighted the Administration's continuing commitment to nanotechnology, information technology, and space programs.
The FY06 budget request would allocate a total of $5.6 billion to NSF. Although this represents a 2.4% increase, total NSF funding would be down from the 2004 enacted level for the second year in a row. Within the increase is a transfer of $48 million from the U.S. Coast Guard to NSF for the operation and maintenance of Arctic icebreaking vessels. Dr. Ray Bowen of the National Science Board suggested that "if additional funds were found," members should direct their attention to the fact that the true, long-term-costs for maintatining icebreaking activities would far exceed the one-time transfer of $48 million and further drain NSF resources. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) cited the February 4, 2005 issue of Science, which reported that NSF could expect to spend an additional $600 million on retrofitting costs.
Culberson provided additional evidence from Science against
the Administration's science education priorities. According to the
February 11, 2005 issue, NSF would see a 12.4% cut to its Education
and Human Resources directorate, causing the agency to reach 64,000
fewer elementary and secondary school students in 2006 than in 2004.
When asked to defend such cuts, Marburger explained that many of NSF's
educational programs would simply be transferred to the Department
of Education. "I strenuously disagree," Culberson replied,
"the Department of Education does not have a good record on this
that support ought to be coming from the science community."
Marburger insisted that the Department of Education would be in a
position to reach far more students. Arden Bement, Director of NSF,
affirmed that the percentage of K-12 students being introduced to
the science and engineering workforce was "very inadequate,"
and said NSF should start to involve the Department of Education to
broaden the reach of science and technology education.
This brief hearing lasted about 30 minutes because of other meetings and hearings scheduled for the same time. Only the subcommittee chairman, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking minority member, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Patti Murray (D-WA) and Senator Conrad Allard (R-CO) attended all or part of this hearing. Mr. Golan summarized the Environmental Management proposed budget, highlighting the operational efficiency that would be gained by transferring legacy waste management for 7 sites, newly generated waste at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge Y-12 plant and operation of the Nevada test site low-level waste disposal to National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Chairman Domenici indicated that he was not convinced that such a transfer was feasible because NNSA has too many other projects. Domenici also questioned whether the $651 million spending proposed for Yucca Mountain was adequate. Ted Garrish responded that the funds were satisfactory and the Yucca Mountain budget is strongly supported by the administration. Senator Reid emphasized that last year was a very bad year for Yucca Mountain and he listed 5 major problems. Senator Allard called the Rocky Flats clean-up a success story and Senator Murray criticized the reduction by $548 million for the Hanford clean-up and stated there was no reason to cut this essential program. She suggested that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the DOE were unfairly targeting the state of Washington, however, because she was trying to keep her comments brief she did not explain why the state was being targeted. Chairman Domenici concluded the hearing with a provocative comment that the low-level radiation standard may be wrong based on a National Academy of Sciences study. He did not say what if any action should be taken and neither witness responded to this half comment, half question.
The Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee invited NOAA Administrator Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher to describe the agency's priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. Under the President's budget request, NOAA would receive $3.08 billion, an 8% decrease from the FY05 enacted level. Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) challenged the decrease in his opening statements, stating that due to the creation of new programs, the net decrease for current programs would actually be greater. "The Administration proposes the elimination of $650 million worth of congressional priorities," Wolf remarked.
Among such congressional programs to be eliminated would be the "Jason Program," a long-standing undersea research program. Ranking Member Alan Mollohan (D-WV) countered the notion that eliminating earmarks is basic executive branch policy, and declared, "This process of cutting earmarks and backfilling with new programs cannot continue." In his testimony, agreed that some congressionally directed spending can be helpful, but tried to defend the budget request by listing outreach and scholarship programs NOAA would maintain. Lautenbacher reported that the budget includes $1 billion in research grants that are distributed to roughly 1500 grantees annually. He also suggested members of the subcommittee should try to work with authorizers to pass the NOAA Organic Act, which would codify NOAA's structure and operational objectives, including a strengthening of NOAA's research and education activities.
Other members were concerned about NOAA's plans to ensure the effectiveness
of tsunami preparedness initiatives. The FY06 budget request includes
$9.5 million within the National Weather Service to continue developing
equipment and outreach programs necessary to support the Tsunami warning
system and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).
Concerns included the preparedness or "TsunamiReady" certification
of east coast communities, and the true costs of internationally-traded
weather data, which the government currently offers to shipping companies,
news media, and Universities for free. Lautenbacher announced a ready
implementation plan for U.S. communities would be issued by May 15.
He was also proud to defend the importance of keeping weather data
a public good, but noted the challenges in coordinating data sharing
with other countries under GEOSS.
The Energy and Water Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations convened to hear testimony about the President's proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget for the Department of Energy (DOE). The hearing was abbreviated to a one-half hour session so that the Chairman David Hobson (R-OH) and the only witness, Samuel Bodman, the Secretary of Energy could leave at 10:30 to make a scheduled airplane departure. In his opening statement, Chairman Hobson (R-OH) welcomed the new secretary and said that he hoped Secretary Bodman would be able to make the DOE a more effective department by "kicking bureaucracy in the posterior". Hobson also emphasized the importance of funding scientific research and expressed his disappointment over the proposed cuts to the DOE's Office of Science. The ranking minority member, Peter Visclosky (D-IN) in his opening statement also supported more funding for science and singled out non-proliferation and energy independence as key missions of DOE.
In Secretary Bodman's testimony, he stated that national energy security was a key goal of DOE. He emphasized that DOE was working with the Department of Defense (DOD) to assess nuclear stockpiles based on cutting edge science and that a robust defense Research and Development program was critically important to this assessment. He also stated that the U.S. needs an affordable energy supply and nuclear power must remain a viable component of that supply. Future energy resources would be based on transformative technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a burning plasma experiment that might lead to fusion energy technology. DOE is committed to funding research on future hydrogen and fusion energy resources, as well as cutting edge science on carbon sequestration, which would allow the nation's 250-year coal reserves to be exploited with reduced environmental impact.
After the secretary's abbreviated testimony, Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Marion Berry (D-AR), James Clyburn (D-SC), Ed Pastor (D-AZ) and Tom Latham (R-IA) echoed Chairman Hobson's opening remarks that the future of the United States rests on science and that research should be well-funded within DOE. Representatives Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Dennis Rehberg (R-At-Large-MT) focused their brief question periods on the Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) and the President's proposal to raise the rates charged by the PMAs to competitive market levels. Both representatives indicated that such a price increase would decimate rural communities in their districts.
The DOE, like other agencies, is phasing in 5 year budget plans for each of its major programs or offices. The Office of Science, Environmental Management and the Nuclear Weapons Program have provided 5-year budget plans to Congress for the first time. Chairman Hobson and Rep. Wamp called the 5-year budget plan for the Office of Science unacceptable because funding would be reduced every year.
Several representatives supported Rep. Visclosky opening remarks that the U.S. needs to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and Rep. Frelinghuysen said that he was disappointed that there was almost no mention of conservation, in the proposed budget. He believes that conservation should be a bi-partisan concern in a time of war and citizens should be expected to make some sacrifices.
The Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Jerry Lewis (R-CA), joined the hearing about halfway through the questioning and he was given some time to question Secretary Bodman. Rep. Lewis focused his questions on the need for the U.S. to keep up with India and other countries in technological advances. He cited the Indian Institute of Technology as an example of competition and asked Bodman if there was a way to stimulate the private sector to work with universities to develop technological advances. Bodman pointed out the historical differences in funding for life sciences which has steadily increased and the funding for physical sciences which has remained flat for decades. The DOE is funding mostly physical science research and he noted the proposed budget would fund 4 new nanotechnology laboratories.
Chairman Hobson closed the hearing with several critical comments about the need for DOE to work with DOD to develop and implement a revised stockpile plan before DOE proceeds with advanced concept research projects. In 2001, President Bush signed the Moscow Treaty to significantly reduce the number of deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads by 2012. Hobson's subcommittee had succeeded in holding up funding for DOE's advanced concepts, such as the robust nuclear earth penetrator study and the modern pit facility, in 2004, until DOE submitted a plan. Much to the chairman's continued frustration, that plan has not been released to the public. Hobson then criticized the modern pit facility as "utter folly" because we don't understand the science of platinum aging and therefore don't know how many pits we would need.
At his first hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Research, Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) highlighted the importance of basic research to the nation and expressed concern about the President's proposed funding levels for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. In his opening statement Chairman Inglis said, "Basic research is the lifeblood of innovation. It used to be that our large companies did the basic research -- companies like Bell Labs, IBM, and Xerox. They were supplemented by the work of the DOE, DOD, and NSF. Now, market pressures and shifting government priorities have pushed the burden almost entirely to the federal government, and, increasingly, NSF. Without NSF supporting basic research, our edge in science will slip away and an innovation gap will grow.
"That's why I'm so concerned about the current NSF budget. Although there is a slight increase this year, it doesn't make up for last year's cuts, and is still below the FY 2004 level. It is also now far from the Congress' promise to double the NSF budget over five years. On my previous stint in Congress, I was on the Budget Committee and I was quite concerned about our budget deficit. I learned during those years that getting it balanced requires spending restraint and economic growth. We've got to stop spending and start investing. Investing in basic and applied science research makes sense. If we invest wisely, we can find economic growth through innovation."
Chairman Inglis added that he was concerned about proposed funding reductions in NSF's educational activities. "I wonder about the cuts in math and science education, and indications that some NSF activities may be 'migrating' to the Department of Education. The NSF has a passion for excellence, while the Department of Education is arguably focused on proficiency. Passion isn't easily transferred."
Following oral testimony from Bement, Wrighton and Boesz, members of the subcommittee questioned the panel about the proposed funding levels for FY 2006, including requested cuts to math and science education. Members also highlighted ongoing concerns regarding the proposed transfer to NSF of funding responsibility for icebreaking activities in the Antarctic Ocean. Also discussed during the hearing were management challenges facing NSF, including workforce planning and post-award management.
Dr. Bement testified that the proposed funding increase for NSF is reflective of the Administration's confidence in the agency and the importance to the U.S. economy of NSF's investments in research and development. "At a time when many agencies are looking at budget cuts, an increase in our budget underscores the Administration's support of NSF's science and engineering programs, and reflects the agency's excellent management and program results."
"For us to sustain our preeminence in important areas of science and technology, I believe that we are going to have to make an even greater investment in finding not only the best science and engineering to support, but also the highest impact science and engineering," said Dr. Wrighton. "Overall I think our competitiveness as a nation will hinge on ramping up our investment in science and engineering in ways that allow us to remain preeminent. These investments are a source of innovation for America and nothing will be more important than securing our economic well-being."
Dr. Boesz told the Committee that her office conducts an annual assessment of the greatest management and performance challenges facing NSF. In her testimony, she outlined her office's concerns about NSF's post-award monitoring of research grants, oversight of large facilities construction, and workforce planning. She testified, "I realize that resources are needed for NSF to fully address these challenges. However, I also believe that realignment of NSF's management priorities should ease the resource burden."
Under the President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget request, the Department of Energy (DOE) would receive $23.4 billion, $475 million (2%) below FY05 funding levels. In his testimony, Secretary Bodman stated that six DOE programs would face termination or cuts. These include the termination of Nuclear Energy Plant Optimization, Nuclear Energy Research Initiative, Hydropower research, and Oil and Gas research and development programs. Environmental Management programs would see funding cuts, and electricity rates for regional Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) would be reformed to reflect market prices. Bodman highlighted the department's priorities as determined by the budget proposal:
Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) along with other senators questioned whether various budget items were consistent with National Energy Policy, which is currently under debate in Congress. With research funding lowered or flat for renewable energy, energy conservation, and oil and gas research, Thomas noted significant challenges ahead. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) highlighted a small line-item in the budget for terminating funding for a collaborative program to work with China on clean coal technology. On a similar note, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) asserted that the clean-coal tax credits proposed for the energy bill must be supported in the budget.
Senator Bingaman also questioned Secretary Bodman on how the country can break out of its "shortsighted" long-term investments in science, "especially the physical sciences." Under the Office of Science's five-year estimated projection, DOE science funding would fall from $3.6 billion to $3.36 billion, a decrease of $0.81 billion in real dollars, or 22.5% cut. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed similar concerns over U.S. job growth in science and technology sectors. In response, Bodman pointed to tough budget decisions, conceding that significant reductions were made to important programs, but funding would remain sufficient for the U.S. to maintain leadership in science.
The Administration's proposal to raise electricity rates for Bonneville Power, a Power Marketing Administration (PMA) that serves the northwestern states, received the most attention in the hearing. Majority and minority committee members alike called the move "a waste of time" and "counterproductive." Bodman insisted the proposal was in the interest of phasing out federal tax-payer subsidies to the PMAs, but committee members said an effective plan to deal with subsidies was established over a decade ago, and additional attempts by the government would devastate the northwest economy, which already suffers from high electricity prices.
In his opening statement, Secretary Gutierrez discussed three priority areas for the Department of Commerce in Fiscal Year (FY) 2006: Provide tools to maximize U.S. business competitiveness, foster technology and innovation, and enhance environmental stewardship. Breaking it down into numbers, Commerce budget highlights include $3.7 billion to go towards a new "Strengthening American Communities" initiative, $9 billion for the Bureau of Economic Analysis, $532 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and $3.6 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will go towards a fourth fisheries survey vessel and the National Tsunami Mitigation Program. The Administration again proposes to eliminate the Advance Technology Program (ATP), which works with the private sector on basic and applied technological research. Gutierrez said that other research and development (R&D) programs within the department "address higher priorities."
Members of the Appropriations Subcommittee that heard Gutierrez's testimony were primarily concerned with plans to address the U.S. trade deficit with China, and the department's ambitious plan to consolidate 18 community improvement programs into a single block grant program, known as Strengthening American Communities (SAC). Subcommittee members were skeptical that Congress would authorize the reorganization, and saw the plan as a way to let funding drop out for the nation's poor.
Some members also questioned Gutierrez on funding for NOAA and the implementation plan for the tsunami early warning system. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) cited the Presidential Ocean Commission's recommendation for a doubling of the sea grant. He also called for the budget to better reflect such recommendations, including a re-instatement of a NOAA education initiative, which was passed as an earmark to last year's appropriations bill. Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) voiced concern about NOAA's TsunamiReady community preparedness program, suggesting NOAA should work with Congress to sign up more communities to become involved and certified. Gutierrez agreed, saying "yes, detection is only half of the challenge."
Although the subcommittee devoted little of the hearing to issues
of U.S. innovation, Chairman Wolf concluded thus: "I worry about
the competitiveness of the country. The U.S. used to have [the world's]
science and technology knowledge base; now the Chinese and Indians
have the knowledge base." Referring to trends in U.S. investment
in math and physical sciences, he added, "I'm frankly disappointed
with the Administration on this issue," and pointed to NOAA as
an opportunity for the subcommittee to take steps forward.
Members of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee discussed with Interior Secretary Gale Norton a wide variety of issues regarding the Department of Interior's (DOI) plans for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, including the proposed 56% cut to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Minerals Resources Program, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, restoration of Abandoned Mine Land, use of National Park Service funding, and several regional restoration issues.
Before addressing the budget, Secretary Norton began her opening statement describing the agency's predicament after a recent ruling in Cobell v. Norton, a major Indian Trust Fund law suit. A U.S. district court judge recently ordered DOI to build an accurate accounting record of all trust fund transactions since 1887, which would cost the department an estimated $10-12 billion, roughly five times the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Subcommittee Chairman Charles Taylor (R-NC) and ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) said they may consider adding a rider to this year's supplemental spending bill to delay the order for the second year in a row.
The Administration's budget proposes a $28 million cut for the USGS Earth Science and Biological Research in the Mineral Resources Program. Rep. James Moran (D-VA) sharply criticized the plan, suggesting it would cause substantial job losses within the department. Secretary Norton explained the aim of the cut would be to focus USGS operations on "government needs and core goals," adding that minerals research on privately-owned land represents duplicative activities with the private sector. Upon being pressed by Moran, Norton confirmed the cut would terminate roughly 220 jobs.
The budget assumes revenues from bonus bids on the first ANWR lease sale could reach $2.4 billion in 2007, if approved by Congress. Questioning whether the assumption of such revenues was justified, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) invoked a recent New York Times article (Feb. 21) that reported a lack of major interest among oil companies to seek drilling permits. Norton responded that the department expects interest to increase after the USGS completes seismic work that must be done before the bidding process. She also stated that moves to open ANWR are primarily in the interest of national security, not the oil business.
For onshore and offshore resources already open to oil and gas drilling, the Bureau of Land Management would receive a 7% increase in its energy and minerals program to $117.6 million to "accelerate the processing time for applications-for-permits-to-drill." Rep. Peterson (R-PA) questioned whether splitting Oil and Gas leasing into two separate processes would accelerate the production of natural gas and save funds, since the resource is easier and less costly to drill compared to oil.
Another Interior funding concern to surface this year is the expiration
of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Fund, which will stop
collecting fees for abandoned mine clean-up in June. Rep. Don Sherwood
(R-PA) declared a reauthorization of the AML program under the 1977
Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act is needed, and asked whether
the department has a plan to continue fee collection. The administration
supports reauthorization, Norton said, and would have some power to
collect fees, but "prefers congressional action before June."
As it stands, the budget would provide $147.5 million in AML grants
for high-priority sites, plus an additional $58 million to repay fees
collected from States and Tribes that have already completed mine
The Department of the Interior (DOI) requests a total of $10.8 billion for FY 2006, 1% down from Fiscal Year (FY) 2005. At the hearing, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton outlined DOI's budget priorities, including increases for energy programs, oil and gas permitting, cooperative conservation programs, seismic monitoring to support the tsunami mitigation program, and Nation Park recreation.
Before launching into the budget discussion, however, Norton read a statement explaining a recent ruling by the judge in the Cobell v. Norton Indian Trust Fund lawsuit, which could force the department to spend $10-12 billion to build an accurate accounting record of all trust fund transactions since 1887. Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) was sympathetic to the challenge facing the department, and suggested the department turn to emergency funding.
During the hearing, Committee Members, many of whom represented western states, discussed several specific regional issues with Secretary Norton, including cuts to the Rio Grand Project, drought crisis in the Klamath River Basin, border security in National Parks, and Indian Water Rights Settlements. Much of the criticism voiced in the hearing, however, focused on decisions to cut funding in two major programs that help states manage and benefit from public lands.
The FY 2006 budget proposes a 13% reduction in funds for payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), which local governments collect to replace federal land taxes and to supplement other receipts shared by federal and state governments. Senators Dominici, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Larry Craig (R-ID), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked Norton to justify the reduction, concerned that the payments would not keep up with the cost of doing business. Gale responded that counties should see new revenues from other programs, such as increases to support recreation opportunities.
There was also bipartisan dismay over the termination of state grants
under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a 50-50 cost-share
program to help states manage conservation efforts on public lands.
Norton stated that the budget includes a total of $380 million for
cost-sharing conservation programs. But Chairman Dominici noted that
out of the $172 million dollars saved by DOI's total budget reductions,
75% of these savings ($90 million) would come from terminating the
LWCF state grants. Senator Salazar said that the proposal betrayed
important partnerships between the federal government, states, businesses,
and environmentalists. Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett
tried to explain that the LWCF would not be as effective as other
programs, and that, during its analysis, the Office of Management
and Budget failed to identify "clear goals" and "demonstrable
benefits" of the LWCF. Several senators, including Richard Burr
(R-NC), disagreed and demanded to review OMB's report. Senator Mary
Landrieu (D-LA) declared, "I have come across fewer programs
that are more widely and deeply supported than the state side of the
Land and Water Conservation Fund."
The House Science Committee initiated the first congressional debate over President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration in the first of a series of hearings, which will consider NASA's FY06 budget proposal and lead to the introduction of a NASA authorization bill. Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) declared "I want to do an authorization bill because I think it's critical that Congress have a full and open debate on the President's Vision for Space Exploration and the future of NASA before NASA barrels ahead with the program," adding, "I don't think NASA should be our top budget priority in either this Committee or the Congress." Boehlert also announced the formation of a new Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, to be chaired by Congressmen Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Tom Udall (D-NM).
Chairman Boehlert questioned NASA Acting Administrator Frederick
Gregory on when NASA will be able to provide answers to several feasibility
issues facing the International Space Station, space shuttle flight
plans, and the development of a new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).
Members of the Committee also questioned Gregory heavily on changes
in NASA's workforce, funding cuts for aeronautics and earth sciences,
and the discontinuation of the Hubble Telescope.
Major spending for the development of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is expected to start in FY06, single-handedly increasing Exploration Systems funding by $500 million dollars from FY05 to $3.165 billion under the request. NASA is requesting a "placeholder" of $753 million (up from $140 million for FY05), which will go towards designing a prototype. To this end, Gregory reported that the agency is working actively with 11 teams of private entrepreneurs and plans to issue basic parameters for the design by March 1.
Several members of the committee expressed concern over cuts in Aeronautics and Earth Science programs, which show only a slight decrease in the budget request, but fall hundreds of millions below the figure previously projected for FY06. Funding for earth sciences would be further offset in the Science budget due to increases for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, which will gather data in preparation for the human mission.
Reps. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) expressed their disappointment at the decision to discontinue servicing the Hubble Telescope, discounting Gregory's claims that servicing missions would be too risky. "The Hubble in a week will probably be more productive than the entire lifetime of the Space Station," exclaimed Ehlers, "certainly 28 flights to the International Space Station will have a higher risk than one Hubble mission." But Gregory assured the committee that the "world-class" astronomy program would continue through new telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, for which NASA requested $371 million in FY06.
To learn more, read the Science Committee's hearing charter for an extensive overview of major issues and budget details.
Members of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee voiced their concerns to agency officials about various cuts in the Administration's FY 2006 budget proposal for the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Discussion focused on EPA's Superfund program, the 33% cut in federal seed money for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF), and a number of federally-funded, regional environmental and coastal projects.
Grumbles emphasized the administration's priority of the National Water Program, which would receive 38% ($2.8 billion) of the Agency's budget, and would institute and enforce "watershed-based" and collaborative programs, such as the fully-funded Great Lakes Grant Program, to enforce the Clean Water Act. The $24 million increase to state management programs are confined to probabilistic monitoring of water quality. According to the Subcommittee's overview of the budget, probabilistic monitoring would better track changes in water quality over time but would be of little use to daily program management.
The Clean Water SRF, which gives states federal seed money with which they can lend to local infrastructure improvement projects, would see a $361 million decrease, with a plan to flat fund the program at $730 million through 2011. According to Grumbles, this funding level, along with the "four pillars of sustainable infrastructure," (better management, full-cost pricing, water conservation, and watershed-based restoration) is sufficient to reach a long-term revolving average of $3.4 billion a year, raised from a previous goal of $2 billion. But members of the subcommittee insisted funding would be insufficient to meet the immediate local water infrastructure needs and will force state and local governments to absorb the extra burden. As Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) declared, "the fund is already oversubscribed," and "further cuts will only "deprive further communities."
Solid waste clean-up was another major issue for members of the subcommittee. The budget allocates $1.28 million to the Superfund program, a $30 million increase over FY05 enacted level, all to be derived from general tax payers into the Superfund Trust Fund. Several members questioned as to whether funds were sufficient without reinstating the "polluter pay" tax, which would cost the fund $1.3 billion this year, while subcommittee chairman John Duncan (R-TN) was wary that funds were "not for on-the-ground" activities. Thomas Dunne, testifying on behalf of EPA's Solid Waste and Emergency Response division, said he opposed the polluter pay tax.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) accused the Administration of under-funding the Brownfields Program while claiming funds are sufficient. When asked by Rep. Timothy Johnson (R-IL) how Brownfields funds are spent, Dunne testified that out of the $210.1 million allocated for FY05, $120 million will go to assessment and clean-up, $60 million to state and tribal programs to help local communities develop their own programs, and the remainder to fund contracts and employees.
Among NOAA programs considered under the subcommittee's jurisdiction, the National Ocean Service would recieve $414.73 for FY06, $254.57 million less than enacted in FY05. Included in this cut is the elimination of coastal nonpoint pollution programs which had been funded at just under $3 million, according to the subcommittee website. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson raised this issue in her opening statement, but throughout the hearing, few members posed questions to Richard Spinrad, assistand director of NOAA's National Ocean Service. In his own statements, Spinrad highlighted the agency's budget priorities, such as $17.6 million for response and restoration under Superfund and the Oil Pollution Act, and funding increases for activites related to controlling Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and invasive species.
On February 9, 2005 the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee invited Stephen Johnson, Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Acting Administrator, to testify on the $450 million (5.6%) cut proposed for the agency's Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget. The cut would bring EPA's total budget to $7.57 billion, down from the $8.02 billion enacted by Congress last year.
Both majority and minority members challenged the proposed $361 million cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF), which helps states improve waste water treatment infrastructure. In defense of the cut, Johnson said that the proposed funding levels are sufficient to meet a 2011 target of $6.8 billion.
Senators from both sides of the aisle applauded the $47 million increase for the Brownfields program, but several, particularly Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and James Jeffords (D-VT) expressed concern that Superfund funding remained insufficient, resulting in $750-1,000 million worth of unmet needs by the next fiscal year. Senators Clinton and Boxer also questioned Bush's decision not to reauthorize the "polluter pay" tax, a major contributor to Superfund that expired last year.
Democratic Senators also repeatedly invoked the EPA Inspector General report of February 3, 2005 and used it as a platform to demand greater credibility of Agency information and a strengthening of EPA emissions rules for coal-fired utilities, which are to be finalized mid-March pending the passage of Clear Skies legislation. Similarly, Republican supporters of the Clear Skies bill also used the forum to offer their support of the bill.
On February 9, 2005 the Senate Budget Committee invited Josh Bolten, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to testify on President Bush's Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget request, which terminates or reduces funding to 150 federal programs and holds all discretionary spending below the rate of inflation for a savings of $20 billion in an aim to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009.
Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Kent Conrad (D-ND) called the President's proposal "camouflage hiding the country's true fiscal condition," and listed figures that Democrats feel are left out of the budget, including spending for the second half of the ten-year budget window as well as the costs of the on-going war in Iraq, Alternative Minimum Tax Reform, and the transition to Social Security privatization.
Bolten testified that additional costs of Social Security Reform and Mid-east involvement would not reach more than 1.7% GDP in 2008-2009, and thus remain consistent with the goal to cut the deficit in half by 2009. He did not speak to projections past that goal. In response to questions regarding the management of entitlement accounts, Bolten defended slowing the growth rate of Medicaid and farm subsides, and a proposal to cut Power Marketing Administration electricity subsides, a proposal that was strongly attacked by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
The debate instead returned to the familiar dispute over the effects of Bush's income tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Democrats primarily blame the tax cuts for loss of revenue and mounting deficits resulting in the loss of important social funding, whereas Republics, along with Bolten, assert that the cuts continue to spur economic growth, bringing in increased tax revenues.
Regarding Science and Technology programs, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), suggested OMB to consider the need for a "point person" in Agencies that would oversee progress in science and technology to remain competitive in the world. Senator Pete Dominici (R-NM) commended the Administration for funding nuclear energy programs and for including expected revenues from Arctic Naitonal Wildlife Refuge leases. Finally, Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) questioned Bolten on the wisdom of redirecting funds within the Clean Coal Technology Program for "FutureGen" hydrogen power plant research and development, accusing the administration of not doing enough to promote fundamental clean coal technology "for the sake of the world." Bolten responded, "It is my understanding that we continue to fund a variety of clean coal technologies."
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern; Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program and Linda Rowan, AGI Director of Government Affairs
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on May 16, 2005