American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Update on Omnibus Science Authorization Act, H.R. 2405: 7-5-96


This legislation, introduced by Rep. Robert Walker (R-PA), chairman of the Committee on Science, is a package of bills authorizing the various research and development programs within his committee's jurisdiction. These bills were handled individually at the subcommittee level then packaged as H.R. 2405 for the final vote out of the Science Committee as well as floor action. The authorization includes civilian R&D activities in NASA, NSF, DOE, Dept. of Commerce (NOAA and NIST), EPA, and other agencies. Defense-related R&D is not included.

This legislation has passed the House of Representatives but faces a highly uncertain future in the Senate and is currently under a veto threat from the President. In recent years, the Senate has been far less eager to pass authorization bills in this area than the House. Although technically money cannot be appropriated for a program that is not authorized first, the Senate holds that the original authorizing legislation for a given agency (commonly referred to as an Organic Act) is sufficient. The reasons behind this difference of interpretation is quite simple: in the House, the Committee on Appropriations is an exclusive committee, meaning that if a representative serves on it, he or she cannot serve on any other committee and vice versa. Thus, authorizing legislation is a way for representatives who do not sit on Appropriations to have some say in the process. In the Senate, however, its smaller membership does not allow for such exclusive assignments, and Senators often sit both on Appropriations and on one or more authorizing committees. For them, it is easier to simply appropriate the funds rather than go through the same process twice. As an example, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water. He also serves as chairman of a subcommittee on the authorizing Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senator Domenici is also in the unique position of also being chairman of the Budget Committee, thus controlling the overall budget process as well! His chairmanships put the senator in a good position to assure continued funding for two Department of Energy national laboratories that are major employers in New Mexico: Sandia and Los Alamos. As a result, he is known in the labs as "St. Pete".

A similar bill has been developed for fiscal years 1997 and 1998 (H.R. 3322), although the Department of Energy component is missing due to disagreements between Walker and one of his subcommittee chairs, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The Senate has again indicated that it will not act on the legislation, but Walker recently succeeded in amending the FY 1997 VA/HUD/Independent Agencies appropriations bill to adjust the appropriated levels for NSF to the levels authorized in H.R. 3322. It is unlikely that the Senate will go along with his changes, which shifted money from the overhead account into the research account. An update on FY 1997 appropriations bills is available on this server.


Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program govt@agiweb.org

Last updated July 5, 1996 by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

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