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Fiscal Year 2008 Appropriations Hearings (03-29-07)

  • March 22, 2007: House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for NOAA
  • March 21, 2007: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Department of Energy Office of Science
  • March 20, 2007: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Department of the Interior
  • March 15, 2007: Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation
  • March 14, 2007: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Department of Energy's Research and Development Program
  • March 9, 2007: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for USGS
  • March 8, 2007: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for NOAA and NSF
  • March 8, 2007: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Bureau of Reclamation and USGS
  • March 6, 2007: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for DOE
  • February 28, 2007: Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for NASA
  • February 28, 2007: House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Hearing on "10-Year Energy Research and Development Outlook"
  • February 26, 2007: House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Requests for the MMS, BLM, Energy and Minerals programs, OSM, Minerals Geology Program of the Forest Service, and USGS
  • February 14, 2007: House Science and Technology Committee, Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Research and Development Budget Proposal

House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for NOAA
March 22, 2007

Witnesses:
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Dr. Len Pietrafesa, Associate Dean, Office of External Affairs, Professor of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, North Carolina State University

House lawmakers had their first hard look at the Administration's 2008 budget request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a hearing on March 22. For fiscal 2008, the White House has proposed $3.812 billion, just below the fiscal 2006 enacted level of $3.851 billion. For NOAA, whose mission includes weather forecasting, climate prediction, ocean and fisheries management, and a wide spectrum of research, the budget heralds some significant cuts to vital research and education. The office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), which contains over half of the research programs at NOAA, is slated for a 3 percent reduction. The National Ocean Service, which protects National Marine Sanctuaries and advocates coastal and marine stewardship, is also slated for cuts on the order of 20 percent compared to 2006 enacted levels. And a nearly 50 percent reduction to NOAA education programs will mean lower funding levels for the Hollings Scholarship ($3.7 million); the Nancy Foster Scholarship ($400,000); JASON Education and Outreach ($1 million) and the Education Partnership Program ($14 million).

The budget does include some welcome increases, however. The fiscal 2008 request for the National Weather Service is $903.5 million, a 6.5 percent increase over 2006 funding levels. The increase includes funds for the expansion of the Tsunami Warning Network ($17.2 million). In his testimony, Vice Admiral Lautenbacher noted that the 39 DART bouy network is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2008. The budget also includes funding for the National Integrated Drought Information System and for the Ocean Action Plan.

Despite the tight budget climate, the Administration's budget "appears to be a balanced budget for NOAA," commented Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC). Inglis approved of the array of activities planned by NOAA for the 2008 fiscal year and was particularly pleased with the $123 million increase to initiate the Ocean Action Plan.

Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) was not as satisfied and criticized the budget proposal for providing "few opportunities to expand NOAA's capacity to fulfill its diverse missions." Chief among the concerns raised during the hearing was whether the budget is really sufficient to allow NOAA to fulfill its fiscal 2008 goals.

Members peppered Lautenbacher with local concerns ranging from steelhead salmon protection, red snapper stock assessments, and containment of toxic algal blooms to maintaining NOAA's research, outreach, and enforcement capabilities.

Worried that NOAA is stretched too thin, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) asked if the agency has sufficient funding to continue its coastal and marine law enforcement responsibilities. Lautenbacher acknowledged that NOAA's fleet, both for research and law enforcement "is aging." Partnerships with local and state governments help NOAA leverage outside resources for law enforcement and cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service helps with the protection of marine sanctuaries. As for the research fleet, "we try to replace a few each year and move on," Lautenbacher commented.

Dr. Pietrafesa, representing the Friends of NOAA Coalition, urged the committee to secure more funding for NOAA. "Another $20 to $25 million in the area of data collection would go a long way," he argued, saying that under the proposed budget NOAA "won't fare very well" in securing the weather data needed to issue timely and accurate warnings. The Friends of NOAA Coalition is asking for a total 2008 budget of $4.5 billion -- $15 per person annually - to ensure that NOAA will be able "to continue serving the extensive and varied interests and needs of our nation."

Chairman Lampson pressed Lautenbacher about NPOESS, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. Many previous hearings in the House and the Senate have focused on NPOESS, which has encountered massive budget overruns and schedule delays. Reassured that the restructuring of the NPOESS program will resolve its past problems, Lampson asked what instrument and capabilities could be restored to the project given a more generous budget.

"I am a shameless advocate of these programs and I will fight to get what they need," said Lautenbacher. However, he cautioned "we need to do the work we're doing now." Without better cost estimates and greater schedule certainty, NOAA is hesitant to ask for more funding for NPOESS.

As the voting bells brought the hearing to a close, Lampson asked how NOAA would prioritize its in-house and extramural research activities within its budget constraints. Lautenbacher admitted that with a "really stretched" budget, extramural research suffers the greatest cuts. Outside agencies and research groups tend to be able to absorb such cuts thanks to their ability to secure other sources of funding. However, "one issue that [NOAA] is seriously concerned about is that when extramural funds are cut, students are the first to go," Lautenbacher said. Investing in students is the most effective way to maintain expertise in scientific research. With budget cuts to science agencies throughout the federal government, researchers won't be the only ones to feel the impact.

The full testimony is available here.

-EG

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Department of Energy Office of Science
March 21
, 2007

Witness:
Dr. Raymond Orbach, Under Secretary for Science, Department of Energy (DOE)

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development met for a brief hearing on March 21 to discuss the President's 2008 budget request for the DOE's Office of Science. Unlike the budgets of many other federal science agencies, the Office of Science budget would provide increases for research and development and overall the office would receive a $600 million increase. "Perhaps you will reveal your secret relationship with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that you can come here with a $600 million increase," quipped Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) was also pleased with the budget, but worried that the Office of Science is "a small office becoming a large and powerful one." "Perhaps it can stay small and powerful," he suggested. Domenici also emphasized the importance of ensuring that America's national labs continue to produce the "best science in the world," and suggested that the labs be thought of as "national user facilities" available for research by DOE and other scientists.

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) echoed Domenici's words in his opening statement. Calling for a "new relationship" between the federal government and the private sector, he too encouraged DOE to consider national labs as "multi-user" facilities. Craig lauded the fact that the national labs have evolved from producing primarily war-related research to turning "swords into plowshares" by contributing to a wide array of peaceful research endeavors.

In fact, a significant proportion of the DOE Office of Science budget will be directed toward finding ways to lessen the nation's dependency on foreign oil. $531.9 million is allocated for the Biological and Environmental Research program, which includes the three new Bioenergy Research Centers, the interagency Climate Change Science Program, and U.S. contributions to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, which is an international magnetic confinement fusion research project that will be built in France.

Similarly, the budget request for the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program is nearly $1.5 billion. Basic research supported by the BES program "touches virtually every aspect of energy resources," from production and efficiency to infrastructure and waste mitigation, Dr. Orbach said in his testimony.

Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) approved of the $77.5 increase to BES and commented that basic research is one of the federal government's most important scientific functions. Investment in basic research is often too risky and expensive for private industry: "that's where the feds step in," Allard explained. Once the initial investment has been made and the research validated, the private sector can develop the product and bring it to market, often with far greater speed and success than the government.

Unfortunately this risky and expensive research often yields results that don't translate into commercial development right away because of costs, commercial feasibility or unknown development avenues. This trail-breaking role with initial dead-ends or blocked pathways is known cynically as "DOE's Valley of Death." Chairman Dorgan questioned Orbach about this moniker, concerned that "too little research translates into a marketable science." Dr. Orbach agreed that a lot of money is spent on projects that eventually prove unfeasible, but argued that such is the nature of the beast. While the end goal may not be reached, new science is often discovered en route.

Orbach also noted that DOE is "coming up with innovative ways to cross the Valley of Death." Partnerships with the private sector play a key role in offsetting the cost of basic research by eventually bringing the project to market. For example, the Bioenergy Research Centers will work closely with private interests to ensure that the basic research developed in the laboratories will be applied and marketed efficiently and effectively.

"It must be nirvana," Chairman Dorgan commented as the hearing came to a close. "It must be nirvana to have the money to hire scientists and be able to investigate the universe's secrets."

-EG

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Department of the Interior
March 20, 2007

Witness:
Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, Department of the Interior

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne met with Senate appropriators on March 20, 2007 to discuss the President's 2008 budget request for the Department of the Interior (DOI). As the agency responsible for managing one in every five acres in the US, the DOI's mandate is extensive, covering everything from conservation and restoration to law enforcement, fire fighting, and energy production. The President's budget request for 2008 is $10.7 billion, $35.4 million below the 2007 Joint Resolution. Like many other agencies, this decrease would mean reductions in funding for many programs within DOI. Four major initiatives -- the National Parks Centennial Initiative, the Healthy Lands Initiative, the Safe Indian Communities Initiative, and the Improving Indian Education Initiative - are the focus of the 2008 budget request.

Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) congratulated Kempthorne for his work in "one of the most difficult and diverse jobs in Washington." She commended DOI for ensuring that all $214 million in fixed costs are provided for, but expressed concern about decreases elsewhere in the budget, such as the 35 percent reduction to the construction budget and the 58 percent reduction in funds for land acquisition.

Ranking Member Larry Craig (R-ID) also congratulated Kempthorne for working successfully within a tight budget but expressed some reservations about cuts, especially to the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries. "The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) knows that's a program Congress likes a lot," he said, noting with irony that OMB deliberately cuts such programs knowing that Congress will put the money back into the budget. "I've seen that happen a lot."

In his testimony, Kempthore discussed the four major initiatives. One of the biggest challenges DOI faces is controlling the methamphetamine crisis in Indian country and stemming the flow of drugs across the border. Methamphetamine, said Kempthorne, is the "second small pox epidemic." Indian communities have become hubs for meth trading and "poison peddlers," which has resulted in an increase in violent crime that is nearly twice the national average. The DOI budget includes $16 million for the Safe Indian Communities initiative.

The DOI will also focus on resolving drug running issues on the US border, 40 percent of which it has jurisdiction over. Drug running has become a particularly serious issue in recent years as drug cartels have found public lands to be a particularly convenient place for trading, a development that has already resulted in the death of at least one park ranger.

The National Parks Centennial Challenge, budgeted at $2.4 billion, will enhance the nation's national parks as they approach their 100th anniversary in 2016. The budget is the largest ever for park operations and an increase of $219 million over the level funded in the 2007 Joint Resolution.

The Healthy Lands Initiative (HLI) will help provide increased access for energy and other uses "while simultaneously preserving important habitat corridors and sites for the benefit of species." Funded at $22 million, HLI will consider land management at a regional level, rather than the traditional parcel by parcel method. "We need to ensure that energy development and world-class habitat are not mutually exclusive," said Kempthorne.

"I think the Administration is quietly building up a conservation and environmental records that is underappreciated," Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) commented.

-EG

Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation
March 15, 2007

Witnesses:
John Paul Woodley Jr., Assistant Secretary, Army for Civil Works
Lieutenant General Carl Strock, Chief of Engineers, Army Corps of Engineers
Robert Johnson, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
Mark Limbaugh, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Department of the Interior
Reed Murray, Program Director, Central Utah Project Completion Act Office, Department of the Interior.

President Bush's proposed fiscal 2008 budget for the Army Corps of Engineers was fiercely criticized in a late afternoon hearing held by Senate appropriators on the Energy and Water Development subcommittee on March 15. "I don't understand the budget request" Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said in disbelief, citing a "substantial backlog" of projects yet to be constructed. "There's a very big difference between spending and investing."

The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) budget request for 2008 is $4.87 billion, the highest amount ever for a civil works budget. Nevertheless, the budget fails to keep up with a project backlog exacerbated by aging infrastructure. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages one in every five acres in the United States, has a budget request of a mere $958.4 million. The Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA), also part of the Department of the Interior, has requested $43 million for the 2008 fiscal year.

The USACE 2008 budget funds 69 top priority construction projects, 46 of which are for flood and coastal storm damage reduction. According to Mr. Woodley's testimony, 8 of those projects deal with dam safety and seepage control and 34 "address a significant risk to human safety or have high benefit-cost ratios." Project highlights include the Louisiana Coastal Area study, the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program, and maintenance for hydropower and water supply infrastructure.

A fine example of bipartisan outrage, the committee's reception of the President's 2008 budget request was anything but warm. Some of the strongest criticism of the President's budget requests for USACE and BR came from ranking member Pete Domenici (R-NM).

"Frankly, I have been at this so long that I am truly sick and tired of the kind of budgets we have been getting from the executive branch of the government for the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation," Domenici said. "These little tiny budgets that they are sending to accomplish what we know is a problem is an absolute joke."

The President's 2008 budget request is simply the latest in a long line of laughable budget requests. "I think I've contributed to making it worse," Domenici complained with irony. "[OMB officials] don't testify, they sit in back rooms and they know most of the time that they have a sucker like me to get them an extra few billion dollars every year."

Senators Dorgan and Wayne Allard (R-CO) grilled Army Assistant Secretary John Paul Woodley and Army Corps commander Lt. Gen. Carl Strock about funding priorities. Noting that the USACE has some 230 projects underway, Dorgan demanded to know how the top 69 were selected and how the Corps can just stop work on the other ongoing projects. Lt. Gen. Strock explained that USACE had elected to focus on a few of the highest-priority projects in 2008 and bring them to completion, rather than spreading funding thinly amongst several hundred projects.

Senator Allard demanded to know why funding for the Fountain Creek study in Colorado was pulled halfway through the project. "Isn't that a waste of taxpayer dollars if you put out some funding and then you don't commit any more money to the study?" Allard asked the witnesses. "I don't understand the thinking ... why would you stop in the middle of a study?"

USACE also came under attack for the continuing debacle in New Orleans. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in particular was up in arms. Referring to the budget as "wholly inadequate," she brought out charts showing the funding trend for the USACE versus the gross domestic product over the 20th century. "We are funding less than one tenth of the gross domestic product of civil works projects [that were funded] in 1929," she said.

That under-funding, she pointed out with considerable ire, has led to disastrous results, namely the flooding of New Orleans. "I don't know how many people have to die, how many homes have to be lost, how many businesses have to be destroyed…" before the Administration commits the necessary funding to these projects, she said. "It's a dangerous budget."

-EG

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Department of Energy's Research and Development Program
March 14, 2007

Witness:
Dr. Raymond Orbach, Under Secretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy

The Department of Energy's (DOE) perennial budget woes dogged the agency at yet another hearing held on Wednesday by the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) congratulated Dr. Orbach for his management of the Office of Science, saying that "without the expectation of good management…it would be difficult to consider the large increase requested for your office." Thanks to DOE's "bad habit" of making million-dollar commitments that invariably exceed cost estimates and run behind schedule, the agency treads a thin line between congressional support and budget cuts. The Office of Science has requested a $600 million increase for 2008, an amount the committee is willing to grant provided that DOE can stay within its budget, complete projects on time and ensure that the money is being used fairly and efficiently.

The 2008 budget request reflects the President's commitment to doubling federal investment in the physical sciences by 2016 as outlined in the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). Stressing the importance of meeting the ACI goal, Dr. Orbach commented that "those who dominate in science will dominate the 21st century global economy." With the $600 million increase, the Office of Science will support three Bioenergy Research Centers, the interagency Climate Change Science Program, and U.S. contributions to ITER (originally an acronym standing for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, an international magnetic confinement fusion research project), as well as nanoscale and computing research.

DOE's 2008 goals were lauded by the committee, albeit with some reservation. Comparing funding for physical science research with that for health science research, Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN) asked Dr. Orbach how the DOE will "market" the increase to the public "since you are not the sexiest part of the science world." Dr. Orbach countered by saying that global warming and natural disaster mitigation concerns have propelled the physical sciences into the center of the public eye in recent years. "There is a feeling in the country that we need to step things up," he said.

Despite the potential for scientific and economic gains proposed in the 2008 budget request, the committee is wary of granting the full request to DOE. As Chairman Visclosky pointed out, projects such as the U.S. Mixed-Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) and the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program have cost overruns that add up to billions of dollars. "The DOE's cost estimates are so incredibly inaccurate," he said. "I worry that we're going down the wrong road."

Cost overruns on big-ticket projects are particularly troublesome for Congress because once a project is initiated, a constituency is established that depends on the projects for jobs and other benefits. The MOX program has proven to be a particularly large headache for Congress. Originally intended as a joint effort between the U.S. and Russian to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel, the actual utility of the project is in question and the Russians have proven reluctant to hold up their end of the bargain. Furthermore, over a billion dollars have already been spent on environmental assessment and other preparatory activities and, if project milestones aren't met, the state of South Carolina can collect fines.

However, the problem is not with the science or with DOE's goals, argued Dr. Orbach. "More often than not, cost overruns are due to management and shortfalls in management," he said.

Management was in fact one of the committee's primary concerns. Tight budgets have prompted Congress to ensure that monies are used as wisely and as transparently as possible. "Only 35 percent of research supported by your office is outside the various DOE labs," Chairman Visclosky pointed out. Although 70 percent of users of DOE facilities come from outside DOE labs, Visclosky wanted to ensure that access to national laboratory facilities and grant monies is both open and impartial.

Despite concerns about budget overruns and deadline slippages, the committee was largely in support of the 2008 budget request. "Science is the best hope for the future of this country," said Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH).

-EG

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for USGS
March 9, 2007

Witness:
Mark Myers, Director, U.S. Geological Survey

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies held an early morning hearing on March 9 to discuss the President's 2008 budget request for the US Geological Survey (USGS). As Chairman Norman Dicks (D-WA) pointed out, the Survey's research and monitoring of biologic, geographic, geologic, and water resources processes are "especially important" to our understanding of Earth. As such, he continued, he would "like to know why the Administration again wants to cut funding" to programs like the Minerals Resources Program when "Congress has repeatedly expressed interest in this program."

Not surprising, the majority of the hearing focused on the Survey's involvement in climate change research and Earth observation. "Climate change," Myers commented, "is like a huge ship" in that it will take decades for us to notice the impact of any emissions reduction measures. However, having integrated in-situ and remote sensing networks such as Landsat in place ensures a continuous, repeated stream of data that helps the USGS and other agencies identify changes and develop models with refined prediction capabilities. The USGS budget contains $24 million for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission's Landsat 8, the next-generation Landsat mission that is scheduled to be launched in 2011.

Asking a seemingly offbeat question, Rep. James Moran (D-VA) asked how often the insurance industry consults with the USGS. In response, Dr. Meyers noted that the USGS is consulted regularly by insurance companies for natural hazards information, particularly about flooding. "Well, it seems to me that private industry would be well served by discussing cuts with Administration," commented Mr. Moran, suggesting that pressure from outside interests, such as the insurance industry, would prompt more support for the USGS by the Administration.

Cuts to the recently authorized Water Resources Institute were also met with disbelief. Myers explained that, although the WRI is "a very good program" the decision to cut the program is "a matter of balancing a tight budget." "That's nonsense," Mr. Moran responded with disgust. "We don't have a tight budget, we just have misguided priorities." In a similar vein, he pointed out that the money it takes to put a single plane in flight in Iraq costs as much as the USGS's endocrine disruptor research. Water that produces intersex fish and alligators is one thing, he said, "but what if kids drink that water?"

Calling Myer's budget of compromise "an inadequate excuse," Moran apologized for the USGS not having "the resources it should be getting."

Mr. Moran's outspoken disgust for the budget was shared by majority of the committee. Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) voiced concern about the Survey's Water Resources Division being able to meet the demand for water data under the President's budget. The Cooperative Water Program, for example is slated for a $2 million cut, a move Udall called "short-sighted." However, support for the National Streamflow Information Program remains strong. The budget includes an increase of $1.4 million for the program, which provides real-time streamflow and water quality data for rivers and streams across the nation.

Employee "attrition," as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) put it, is also a concern for the USGS. In an effort to reduce costs, the government has been offering federal employees early retirement packages. Over the past several years, federal agencies including USGS have lost thousands of employees to "early out" options. Dr. Myers admitted to being "worried about losing high-quality people," but said that he is "hopeful" about the situation. The committee was less hopeful. "I'm very much opposed to the way the Administration is reducing support for domestic programs all across the board," commented Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY).

-EG

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for NOAA and NSF
March 8, 2007

Witnesses:
Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, NOAA Administrator
Dr. Arden Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation

Climate change was once again in the spotlight as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science reviewed the Administration's fiscal 2008 budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). "We're holding this hearing in the midst of an awakening in this country - an acknowledgement that global climate change is a crisis," said Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). "This hearing is about the future of our country and our planet."

Like NASA, NOAA is not included in the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, an omission Mikulski called "absolutely stunning." The fiscal year (FY) 2008 request for NOAA is $3.8 billion, a 3.4 percent increase over the FY 2007 level but a $96 million decrease from the FY 2006 enacted level. The 2008 request is even, as Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) lamented, lower than the President's FY 2005 request. Priority projects for 2008 include the Ocean Action Plan, the U.S. Tsunami Warning Program, and climate monitoring and research, particularly the development of an integrated drought early warning and forecast system.

Concerns about whether NOAA can complete troubled climate satellite programs without drawing money from other key areas dominated the hearing. Massive budget overruns and schedule delays for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) have dogged NOAA and NASA administrators for months and have jeopardized Congress' faith in the agencies' Earth-observing capabilities. An increasingly tight budget, driven by the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and disaster relief for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hasn't helped matters. Under the Administration's 2008 budget request, the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, which includes the NPOESS project, would receive $978 million, a small increase of $26 million over the fiscal 2006 level.

Since problems with NPOESS have come to light, NOAA has worked hard to ensure its future success and that of similar missions. "We have overhauled [the NPOESS] management team inside NOAA from top to bottom," said Lautenbacher. NOAA has also instituted an internal Inspector General and is rewriting the contract to reflect "more realistic, less risky" goals.

On a lighter note, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) inquired about NOAA's involvement in weather modification research. Weather modification research is a rather embryonic field that explores humans' ability to modify weather patterns, such as inducing rain or lessening the severity of a hurricane. Noting that in previous inquiries "NOAA blew me off," she asked "Am I missing something?" In a cautious response, Lautenbacher replied that weather warning research "takes precedence" and that NOAA does not fund basic research, but perhaps NSF would be able to work with her to explore the issue.

The President's request for NSF is $6.43 billion for FY 2008, an 8.7 percent increase over the continuing resolution for FY 2007. "Funding on this level will keep NSF on the course set by the President's American Competitiveness Initiative to drive innovation and sharpen America's competitive edge," said NSF Director Arden Bement. Key NSF programs for 2008 include the International Polar Year and the Ocean Research Priorities Plan.

Although NSF would receive a healthy increase in funding in very tight fiscal times, the committee was concerned about cost overruns for major facilities and how these cost overruns might affect funding for research.. The replacement of the arctic research vessel Alpha Helix is $25 million over budget and could "run aground with budget overruns," commented Chairwoman Mikulski. However, cost overruns for the ship and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), currently $16 million over budget, are largely unavoidable according to Dr. Bement. Changes in regulations, escalating metals prices, and the difficulty of commissioning a shipyard's time amidst demands by oil companies for ships have all contributed to higher than expected costs for infrastructure for both projects.

Nevertheless, warned Chairwoman Mikulski, "the committee is going to have to be very stern on accountability in these budget times." She warned that the committee would move to initiate a "moratorium on projects" in order to stem the "rising fiscal morass" and budget overruns on big-ticket projects.

-EG

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for the Bureau of Reclamation and USGS
March 8, 2007

Witnesses:
Robert Johnson, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Robert Hirsch, Associate Director for Water, Water Resources Division of the United States Geological Survey, Reston, VA
Steven J. Wright, Administrator, Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, OR
Timothy J. Meeks, Administrator, Western Area Power Administration, Lakewood, CO
Jon Worthington, Administrator, Southeastern Power Administration, Elberton, GA
Michael A. Deihl, Administrator, Southwestern Power Administration, Tulsa, OK

Congress cast a critical eye over the President's proposed 2008 budget once again on Thursday, March 8. This time, the future of America's water resources was examined by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. Characteristically brisk, Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) greeted the witnesses and promptly asked Commissioner Johnson why funding for the Title 16 water recycling program had received such a significant cut. "You haven't even asked for enough money to keep the program on life support - it is a death sentence," she said.

Like many non-defense agencies, the Bureau of Reclamation (BR) is slated for a budget reduction in 2008. The FY08 request for Water and Related Resources is $816.2 million, a $17.2 million decrease from the FY07 requested level. Programs such as the California Bay-Delta Program (CALFED), Water 2025, and activities on the Lower Colorado River, Middle Rio Grande, Animas-La Plata, and the Columbia and Snake Rivers will suffer cuts under the proposed budget but remain among the BR's top priorities, Commissioner Johnson assured the committee. The Title 16 water recycling program, however, is set to receive less than 1% of the budget. When asked why the BR opposes the program, Johnson could only say that water recycling poses plenty of opportunity for local communities and that it "provides a drought-proof water supply."

Proposed funding for Water 2025, however, is $11 million. A "high priority" for the Secretary of the Interior, the goal of Water 2025 is to prevent crises and conflict over water in the West by "increasing certainty and flexibility in water supplies." Funding for Water 2025 has not yet been formally authorized by Congress, however, raising questions about whether the BR can justify the program "when there is a huge backlog of authorized projects." In response, Johnson noted that Congress has funded the program in the past and that it has produced good results. "It's a matter of finding the right balance," he said.

The USGS is also searching for the right balance amidst budget cuts. The Presidential request for the Survey proposes $212 million to continue its water resources work "in areas of national importance." The budget includes a decrease of $6.4 million to eliminate funding for the Water Resources Research Act Program, a decrease in the Cooperative Water Program, and an increase of $4.2 million in the National Streamflow Information Program.

While cuts to programs that monitor water quantity, the committee was also concerned about water quality. Napolitano asked about groundwater recharge and whether the USGS is working to ensure that pharmaceuticals and other harmful substances are sufficiently filtered out. In response, Dr. Hirsch noted that the USGS's research focuses on understanding the physical, chemical, and biological issues surrounding groundwater storage, including the neutralization of harmful bacteria and pharmaceuticals. He commented that the future water demands will be met by a combination of above- and below-ground water storage and that hundreds of organizations across the nation are working together to address water availability concerns.

As the hearing came to a close, the committee asked about the impact of early leave programs on workforce expertise. In an effort to cut expenses, many federal agencies have been offering employees early retirement packages. Concerned that the loss of so many experienced employees will negatively impact the quality of science, Chairwoman Napolitano asked Commissioner Johnson how the Bureau is working to "ensure that there is depth in the organization." Referring to the Bureau's Managing for Excellence program, Johnson replied "I can assure you that, on my watch, we are not going to lose Reclamation's expertise."

-EG

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for DOE
March 6, 2007

Witness:
Samuel Bodman, Secretary of Energy

Never a good way to garner congressional support, budget overruns are quickly becoming the worst nightmare of federal agencies across the board. In a hearing held by the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Tuesday, March 6, it was clear that the Department of Energy (DOE) is no exception. Threatening to trim funding for the DOE's major construction projects, whose costs have spiraled out of control, Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) asked why the committee should be "reassured that anything has changed at DOE."

Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH) agreed and, while congratulating Energy Secretary Bodman on his accomplishments since assuming his position, commented that he is "very frustrated that Bodman's talents haven't led to more results." Citing programs such as the Savannah River site mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant (MOX) and the Hanford radioactive waste vitrification plant, the committee members decried DOE's track record of program estimate failures. In 1996, the Hanford plant was projected to cost $3.2 billion, an estimate that has nearly quadrupled over the past ten years. The MOX plant was estimated to cost $1 billion in 2002 but now carries a price tag of $5 billion.

"Maybe if we had fewer major construction projects DOE could be focused on proving it can solve systematic problems," Visclosky suggested.

The MOX facility headache is the result of more than just ballooning costs, however. The utility of the plant has been in question for some time and the House has acted several times to halt the project. Hobson commented that the original rationale for the project no longer appears valid. Intended as a joint effort with the Russians to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel, the Russians have expressed considerable reluctance to continue with the project. However, millions of dollars have already been spent on accessing the site and the program now has an "embedded constituency" in South Carolina, making it extremely costly and difficult to back out of now.

The Yucca Mountain Repository was also closely scrutinized by the committee. Proposed as the nation's first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, the actual disposal capacity of Yucca Mountain remains in question. Rep. Michael Simpson (R-ID) expressed concern that DOE does not actually know if Yucca Mountain will provide sufficient storage space. "We do have the capacity," replied Bodman. "We will rely on the science of geology to tell us what to do next." The Yucca Mountain Repository is expected to open in 2020. In the meantime, the Department of Justice assumes the liability costs and responsibilities for nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Rep. Simpson asked if DOE has any plans to repay the Judgement Fund, given that liability is "a DOE problem." Bodman indicated that no such plans exist.

Irritated, Chairman Visclosky commented that DOE would probably exhibit more interest in completing construction of the facility if it is responsible for liability costs. "The agency that causes the liability ought to pick up the tab," he said.

Assuring the committee that DOE will "do everything in its power" to complete the Yucca Mountain project, Bodman noted that once the application for its construction has won approval, the project "will take on a life of its own," particularly because it will then become the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's responsibility.

DOE's handling of major construction programs, Visclosky said, creates "an intractable problem if you don't grab it around the throat and just say 'Stop!' Rep. Hobson agreed, exhorting DOE to "stop the fast track, start the smart track!"

With the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership looming large on the horizon, the committee is particularly interested in ensuring that DOE gets on the "smart track" quickly. A multibillion dollar proposal to store, reprocess and recycle nuclear waste for use in advanced reactors, GNEP is currently a research program and as such does not require authorization from Congress. However, environmental studies are already underway for 11 sites in eight states.

Repeating sentiments that had been voiced throughout the hearing, Visclosky warned the Department of Energy to get it right, saying that "once that shovel is in the ground, there is a constituency for it and we cannot take it away."

-EG

Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for NASA
February 28, 2007

Witness:
Dr. Michael D. Griffin, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences convened Wednesday, February 28 to discuss the President's 2008 budget request for NASA. Hounded by a string of budget woes stemming from the tragic failure of the Columbia mission in 2003 and recent under-funding, a number of key NASA programs have been jeopardized by a lack of funding. One of Congress's primary concerns is the impending "gap," a period of four of more years starting in late 2010 during which no manned space missions will be launched. Concerned that budget shortfalls will leave the United States with a backseat role in space exploration and technological development, the committee questioned Dr. Griffin about how NASA would prioritize its programs and whether money could be pulled from other sources in order to fund essential programs.

Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL), acknowledging NASA's budget constraints, thanked Dr. Griffin for "putting ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack." Although NASA is slated to receive a "very strong" 3.1 percent budget increase in 2008, it fails to compensate for a very lean 2007 budget, as Representative Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) pointed out. Furthermore, the President's 2008 budget falls $3 billion short of the amount planned for under the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, which was enacted to ensure that NASA has the funding to remain a world leader in exploration, science and aeronautics. "If we continue on the President's path," Chairman Nelson warned, "we face an extended period when the United States will have no human access to space. This is unacceptable."

The majority of the hearing focused on those "gap years." The aging space shuttles are slated for retirement by 2010 following the completion of the International Space Station (ISS). The Orion and Ares I crew exploration vehicles will replace the space shuttle and are scheduled to fly their first missions in 2014 or later. Thanks to budget setbacks, Dr. Griffin told the committee that these missions are now four to six months behind schedule, making late December 2014 the earliest they could possibly be launched. That, unfortunately, leaves the United States essentially sitting on its hands while the rest of the world continues to forge new territory in space.

The committee was concerned that not only would the hiatus send NASA's most experienced and skilled employees elsewhere, it would also pose a national security risk. In mid-January, China launched an anti-satellite device and intentionally destroyed their Fengyun-1C weather satellite, creating a debris cloud that encompassed all of low Earth orbit. The test frightened politicians and scientists, both because of the potential hostility of the maneuver and because of the danger posed by the hundreds upon hundreds of debris fragments to other space craft, notably the ISS. The test, Chairman Nelson said, "reminds us that we cannot afford to remain Earth-bound while others pursue space capabilities with questionable intent."

Senator Ted Stevens (R-AL) made a novel suggestion for keeping NASA "in business:" space bonds. Like the war bonds popular during World War II, space bonds would represent a public investment in America's vision as a space-faring civilization. Although his suggestion was met with tentative chuckles, Stevens noted that it was an alternative to the near-impossibility of squeezing more money out of the budget.

In contrast to the aeronautics industry, which has made phenomenal technological strides over the past century, the space industry has progressed relatively slowly. Noting that space exploration is almost entirely a public venture, Dr. Griffin suggested that the lack of private development is the cause of such slow progress. He recommended that the federal government provide the seed capital to help jumpstart the private sector, noting that private contractors could provide less expensive space services and allow NASA to focus on key missions.

Although NASA's primary concern for the 2008 budget is ensuring the safe retirement and successful replacement of the Space Shuttle, other budget highlights include priorities outlined by the National Academy of Science in the Decadal Survey for Earth Science. The requested budget includes funding for the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission and the Glory mission. "It is imperative to have the full 2008 budget if we are not to do great and lasting damage to the space program," said Dr. Griffin. Representative Byron Dorgan (D-ND) echoed this sentiment, commenting that "when a society stops exploring, it stops progressing."

-EG

House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, hearing on "10-Year Energy Research and Development Outlook"
February 28, 2007

Witnesses:
Panel I
Guy Caruso, Administrator, Energy Information Agency
Jim Wells, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Panel II
Dr. Daniel Kammen, Berkeley Institute of Environment, University of California, Berkeley
David Hawkins, Director, Climate Center, Natural Resources Defense Council
Dr. Ernest Moniz, Director of MIT Energy Initiative, MIT
David Nemtzow, energy consultant
Dr. John DeCicco, Senior Fellow for Automotive Strategies at Environmental Defense
W. Wayt Gibbs, Contributing Editor, Scientific American and Executive Editor, Intellectual Ventures

The Energy subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations held a hearing on the ten year energy research and development outlook on February 28, 2007. Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-IN) and Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH) expressed grave concerns about the effectiveness of energy R&D and about the trend of decreasing funding for such activities over the past 30 years.

Guy Caruso summarized the Energy Information Administration's latest report, the Annual Energy Outlook for 2007, which was just released. The report projects U.S. energy supply and demand for a 30 year period and he noted a 30% increase in demand, mostly for transportation. Oil will remain the dominant fuel for transportation through 2030 and oil imports will remain at about 60% until 2017 and then the demand for foreign oil will increase until 2030. Natural gas imports will increase and many new coal plants will be fired up. In terms of emissions, the report projects carbon dioxide will increase from 6,000 million tons now to about 8, 000 million tons in 2030. Caruso said that although these numbers are very pessimistic, he wanted to end his testimony on an optimistic note. This comment drew faint laughter from the committee and the audience. Caruso's optimistic comment was that the EIA had inaccurately predicted energy demand for the early 21st century in the 1970s by more than 50%. In fact, due to conservation, efficiency and technology, the U.S. demanded much less energy than predicted in the 1970s.

Jim Wells followed Caruso and noted that his testimony would be pessimistic. The GAO has just completed a report, entitled "Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs", which indicates that energy R&D at the Department of Energy has been a failure. First, funding for non-defense energy R&D has declined by 85% since 1978 and second, the R&D that was completed has not reduced the dependence of the U.S. on fossil fuels. Alternative fuels made up about 4% of the total energy portfolio in 1978 and makes up only 4% of the portfolio today. Wells noted that technological advances as well as capital investment costs generally raise the price of the alternative energy resource that is developed while consumers demand the cheapest energy and are not willing to support the added costs of alternatives. Wells also noted that many states are now acting on their own to increase their use of alternative energy sources and many other countries, including Brazil, Denmark, Germany, France and Japan, have been successful in using alternative energy resources. Wells concluded that cheap energy in the U.S. is probably now gone and the future will be an "unsettling" time for consumers.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) noted the U.S. is headed for "a serious train wreck" if we don't change our supply-demand equation. He asked Caruso if the world is running out of oil and if the U.S. has made any effort to obtain oil production and reserve data from foreign countries. Caruso replied that EIA does not request such data from countries, but relies on analyses of the geology by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service. Wells indicated that the GAO has just completed a report on peak oil for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and the report will be publicly released very soon. Edwards also asked about the accuracy of the EIA reports and Caruso replied that the supply and demand data probably has a 2 to 3% uncertainty, but that price projections have been inaccurate, especially over the past 5 to 10 years.

Rep. Michael Simpson (R- ID) asked Caruso if he agreed with the GAO report. Caruso said he agreed with its general findings, but EIA does not have the technical expertise to address the technology concerns mentioned in the report. DOE has only spent $50 billion on energy R&D since 1978 and with continued reductions in future spending, the department will be unable to meet expectations.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) noted that the military spends $10.6 billion annually on energy needs and the Department of Defense (DOD) consumes about 97% of the energy used by the federal government. Even with these huge costs, significant dependence on fossil fuels and national security issues, DOD only spends $500 million on defense-related energy R&D. Israel asked hypothetically if the Pentagon could be a test bed for energy R&D leading to enhanced efficiency and a more diverse energy portfolio. Answering his own question, he suggested that the government could not develop the technology but must rely upon industry to do so. He suggested the military demand more fuel efficient vehicles from industry because "Detroit will respond to purchase orders rather than federal mandates."

Hobson interjected that he has been trying to get the military to improve its energy efficiency and diversity for years. He noted aircraft could use Fischer-Tropsch technology developed by Germany decades ago to improve their efficiency. He suggested that turf wars were the biggest barrier to getting DOD to work with DOE on efficient applications of energy R&D. Hobson then asked about nuclear power, noting that China is building nuclear power plants and the U.S. needs to build at least 30 nuclear power plants, but has a problem with waste storage.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) asked if the incentives in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 would ensure that at least 9 new nuclear power plants would be built by 2019. Caruso said yes, but Hobson interjected that because of the waste storage problem, none of these new plants would be able to get a license.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) thought a hybrid approach to interim waste storage was needed to resolve the nuclear waste problem. He also suggested the licensing problem would not be an issue because the 9 new plants will be built at existing nuclear power plant sites and thus no new licenses would be required. Hobson once again interjected that the plant operators would still get sued because of the waste storage problem. Wamp then turned his attention to biofuels and supported additional incentives for cellulosic plants in legislation. Wamp asked how many ethanol plants are now in the planning stage and Caruso responded that 75 to 80 new plants are being planned. Wamp concluded by noting the importance of switch grass, which grows naturally in the south, as a future biofuel.

Chairman Visclosky shifted the questioning from fundamental research to deployment research and asked Wells what progress had been made in deployment research. Wells answered by noting that there have been 23 tax credits for deployment, with $82 billion for fossil fuels and $11 billion for ethanol.

The second panel talked about the U.S. energy R&D outlook for the next 10 years. All of the witnesses agreed that the federal government and industry need to spend more on energy R&D, but the government needs a strategic plan for spending and needs to reduce turf wars among federal agencies over jurisdiction for funds. Kammen noted some success stories in energy efficiency and diversity in the states; for example California, New York and Rhode Island save about 40% more energy than other states without any specific state mandates for efficiency and diversity. Energy R&D can have huge pay-offs if governments and consumers make efforts to apply what has been advanced and are willing to pay a bit more for the alternatives.

Getting back to the costs of energy R&D for the federal government, which was the focus of the first panel, Kammen provided a comparison of additional spending (using constant 2002 dollars) for major R&D programs over the duration of the program. The Manhattan project cost $25 billion over 3 years, the Apollo program cost $127.4 billion over 10 years, the Reagan defense program cost $100.3 billion over 8 years and the doubling of the budget for the National Institutes of Health cost $32.6 billion over 5 years. If Congress scaled up energy R&D funding by 5 times current levels, the government would need to spend an additional $47.9 billion over 10 years. When compared to other major programs this looks like a very reasonable increase and Kammen then specified which programs would be most worthwhile to scale up. Such increases applied strategically, Kammen suggested, could greatly enhance energy alternatives and alleviate the future energy problems outlined by Caruso and Wells in their earlier testimony.

Moniz noted the need for a rational energy portfolio and synergistic policies. While the U.S. will continue to rely on a fossil fuel base, efficiency and conservation, alternative transportation fuels and carbon-free electricity should be enhanced now. With regards to nuclear power, the U.S. should develop interim waste storage facilities, continue to develop the Yucca Mountain geologic waste repository and continue R&D on closed and open nuclear fuel cycles.

Representatives peppered the second panel with many questions about the best alternatives and how to fix the energy R&D programs at DOE. In the end the witnesses and the committee members concluded that a well-funded, diversified and well-planned R&D portfolio was essential.

-LR

House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources,
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Requests for the MMS, BLM, Energy and Minerals programs,
OSM, Minerals Geology Program of the Forest Service, and USGS
February 26, 2007

Witnesses:
Johnnie Burton, Director, MMS
Jim Hughes, Acting Director, BLM
Mark Myers, Director, USGS
Brent Wahlquist, Acting Director, OSM
Fredrick Norbury, Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest System, U.S. Forest Service

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources convened Tuesday afternoon to discuss the FY 2008 budget requests for the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Energy and non-energy mineral commodities constitute the nation's second highest source of revenue, generating approximately $10 billion annually. According to Mr. Hughes' testimony, "in 2008, public lands will generate an estimated $4.5 billion in revenues, mostly from energy development." The MMS manages oil and natural gas production activities that generate over $7 billion in revenue per year for the Nation, States, and American Indians, and minerals production on Forest Service land typically exceeds $2 billion per year, about $125 million of which fills federal coffers.

In his opening statement, Chairman Jim Costa (D-CA) stressed the subcommittee's oversight responsibilities, promising to "ensure accountability and transparency." He noted that "hardrock mining law has not changed since 1872" and that it is sorely in need of revision. However, the three representatives who attended the hearing were primarily concerned with whether the President's FY 2008 budget requests would be sufficient to meet the needs of the testifying agencies and how the funds would be used. They also asked about cuts in funding to certain programs, such as geothermal energy initiatives.

As one of the most lucrative federal agencies, a tight 2008 budget poses less of a concern for MMS than for the other testifying agencies. The 2008 request for direct appropriations is $161.5 million, $3.2 million above the FY 2007 continuing resolution level. The request includes funding to implement the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) 5-Year Oil and Gas Leasing Program, facilitate the exploration and development of ultra-deepwater oil and gas reserves, enhance the management of mineral revenues, and fulfill the President's plan to double the Nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

However, concerns about MMS were less about budget woes than about the agency's audit system and ensuring a resolution to the 1998/1999 outer continental shelf (OCS) leasing debacle. Leases made during these years omit essential price threshold language that triggers royalty payments to the federal government, a mistake that has already resulted in a revenue loss of about $1 billion for the federal government. When asked, Ms. Burton recommended "enticing [the oil companies] with sugar to come to the table and re-negotiate the leases."

Also in question was the MMS's auditing system, which has decreased the number of audits by 22 percent and the number of auditors by 15 percent since 2000. In place of audits, MMS conducts so-called compliance reviews, which "ensure that people pay what they need to pay," said Ms. Burton. MMS has attempted to make the rules and regulations for compliance reviews clearer, making it easier for industry "to get it right." Compliance reviews also have a higher payoff: for every dollar MMS spends on a compliance review, it gets $3.27 in return. An audit, in contrast, only produces slightly over $2 in return.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), which deals "with coal and only coal" and associated reclamation efforts, is also slated to enjoy a budget increase in the President's budget request. OSM's FY 2008 budget request totals $168.3 million in discretionary spending. Because State and Tribal grant funding is no longer subject to appropriation, the net increase over FY 2007 levels is $9.2 million. A full fifty percent of OSM's budget is passed on to the States and Tribes in the form of regulatory and reclamation grants, as well as watershed cooperative agreements and high priority project funding. The remaining portion of the budget provides funding for OSM's internal operations, which will include the implementation of a new financial system in 2008.

The FY 2008 President's budget request for BLM is $1.812 billion for major appropriations, which includes a $3.1 million increase to support oil and gas inspections and monitoring on BLM land. Among the projects planned for 2008 are the implementation of the Remote Data Acquisition for Well Production (RDAWP) Project and the Automated Fluid Minerals Support System, both of which will help streamline the collection and inspection of wellhead production data. Programs such as geothermal, however, are slated for budget cuts. When asked why, Hughes could only cite revenue concerns. Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) repeatedly asked Hughes if he had "a problem with the host counties getting 25 percent [of geothermal revenues] back." Hughes refrained from answering directly, but implied that the federal government would rather see a direct return for its investment. Chairman Costa asked whether the renewable energy technologies being developed on BLM lands are ever likely to do anything more than supplement the energy grid. Hughes replied with a firm "no," but noted that BLM operations currently power over a million homes and will soon have the capacity to power a million more with wind and solar technologies.

The fiscal year 2008 President's Budget requests $71 million for the Minerals and Geology Management program, a decrease from prior year levels that "reflects greater efficiencies." The Minerals and Geology Management program is responsible for the management of energy and non-energy mineral commodities, which generate over $2 billion a year. The program also oversees the restoration of hazardous waste sites located on Forest Service lands. According to Mr. Norbury's testimony, there are an estimated "2,000 abandoned and inactive mines on National Forest System lands requiring some type of cleanup."

The US Geological Survey also faces a number of budget challenges in the coming year, among them a $24 million decrease for the Minerals Resources Program. The President's FY 2007 budget request cut the Minerals Resources Program by $22 million. In preparing the FY 2008 request before the FY 2007 budget was completed in Congress, the administration used the FY 2007 request. Congress did not agree with the President's FY 2007 request however and in the final continuing resolution for FY 2007, Congress put back the $22 million in the Minerals Resources Program. This means that the President's FY2008 request is actually an even larger decrease for minerals. Although the program conducts a wide range of basic and applied research in national and international mineral assessments, the budget will "focus efforts in minerals resource assessments and research on projects that support the needs of Federal land management programs." In total, the USGS will absorb about $35 million in reductions to "lower priority programs." However, the budget provides funding for high-profile programs such as the Ocean Action Plan, the Natural Hazards Initiative, and the National Streamflow Information Program. Much to the relief of the committee, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) will also receive increased funding. "Geospatial is one of our highest priorities," said Chairman Costa.

-EG

House Committee on Science and Technology
Hearing on The Administration's FY2008 Research and Development Budget Proposal
February 14, 2007

Witness:
Dr. John H. Marburger, III, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

The House Committee on Science and Technology convened Wednesday morning for a hearing on the President's fiscal year (FY08) proposed research and development (R&D) budget. The R&D portion of the federal budget funds programs within the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DoE), the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Agriculture. Not surprisingly, much of the R&D budget has been directed to weapons development at DoD and space-based development for human exploration at NASA over the past several years, leaving other agencies with tight budget constraints and fewer resources for basic research.

In his opening statement, Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) remarked that "while the budget includes some important funding increases, it lacks the priorities and consistency to ensure our competitiveness now and in the long run." Noting that under the proposed budget, R&D as a share of the gross domestic product declines to less than 1 percent, Gordon questioned the Administration's commitment to economic and scientific competitiveness when vital areas such as teacher training and the Advanced Technology Program are receiving significant cuts.

Ranking member Ralph Hall (R-TX) also expressed his concern about the decline in funding for NSF, NIST, and the DoE's Office of Science, saying that "the returns that we receive from our investments in these agencies far exceed the costs."

Dr. Marburger highlighted the President's $142.7 billion 2008 federal R&D budget, but warned that many of the increases in the 2008 budget will be overshadowed by possible decreases in the still undecided 2007 budget. "A year of enhanced and expanded high impact innovation research will be lost and a $1.2 billion increase would be required in 2008 to "catch-up" to the President's commitment [to the American Competitiveness Initiative]," he noted. NASA in particular is in danger of losing $545 million from the President's request under the House-approved 2007 full-year continuing resolution (H.J. Res 20).

Among the highlights of the President's budget proposal is an increase to the budget for NSF to $6.43 billion, a $975 million budget for the U.S. Geological Survey, and a budget of $79 billion for the Department of Defense. In conclusion, Dr. Marburger asked Congress to fully fund the President's budget requests, saying that "this budget will sustain this [economic and scientific] leadership and maintain science and technology capabilities that are the envy of the world."

Chairman Gordon's primary concern with the Administration's FY08 R&D budget was the lack of emphasis on teacher training. "Over 50 percent of the teachers in this country that teach math have neither a major nor a certificate in that area," he noted. Worse yet, "92 percent" of physical science teachers are in the same boat. Gordon further remarked that "the American Competitiveness Initiative does not even include a specific science education component." Introduced in the President's 2006 State of the Union Address, the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) is designed to increase investments in research and development, strengthen education, and encourage entrepreneurship. This commitment of funds is intended to ensure that the United States maintains its role as a world leader in innovation.

Other representatives raised concerns about certain allocations as well. Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) questioned the rather significant increase in funding for fusion energy research and the cut in funding for geothermal energy research. According to Dr. Marburger, the increase in fusion funding is a result in the United State's participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, an international, collaborative research venture into the feasibility of fusion power. Funding for geothermal research has decreased because geothermal energy is regarded as an "ancillary" energy option, said Dr. Marburger.

Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) echoed Chairman Gordon's concern about the cuts in education funding. "My sense is that secondary education is falling very, very short in math and science," he said, noting that because academic testing has changed constantly over the years, "we don't really have any benchmark of how well we're doing." Dr. Marburger responded by pointing out that the ACI has "specific components addressing the improvement of teaching of science, particularly at the secondary level."

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) expressed his frustration with what he regards as an educational stalemate. "If we could just break through this hold that unions have on the idea that everybody has to be paid exactly the same whether they teach basket-weaving or physics, we would have better teachers going into these fields!"

-EG

Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by Erin Gleeson, 2007 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Linda Rowan, AGI Director of Government Affairs

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

Last updated on March 29, 2007

 
 

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