American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Update on Science R&D Authorization Bills (8-3-98)

Latest Action:
The FY98 appropriations process had ended, and Congress is working on several authorization bills that are aimed at influencing the FY99 budget process, which is already in full swing. This update contains information on recent Agriculture, NASA, and NSF authorization bills as well as information on two-year authorization bills that passed the House last spring. In addition, the AGI website contains an update on legislation that would double civilian R&D funding in response to activism by the scientific community.

Previous Actions
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed several two-year science and technology authorization bills in April. These bills are HR 1272- the US Fire Authorization Act, HR 1273- the National Science Foundation Authorization Act, HR 1274- the National Institute of Standards and Technology Authorization Act, HR 1275- the Civilian Space Authorization Act and H.R. 1271, FAA Research, Engineering, and Development Authorization Act of 1997. Following the votes, House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner ( R-WI) stated: "Passage of this legislation is the first step to paving the technology path to the new millennium." These bills were marked up with five other authorization bills by the House Science Committee in a marathon session on April 16th following which Sensenbrenner congratulated the committee on its "spirit of bipartisan cooperation ... and the expediency in which we were able to complete this legislation."

On June 19, the House passed H.R. 437, the Marine Resources Revitalization Act of 1997, which extends the National Sea Grant College Program for five years, by an overwhelming margin of 422-3. The matching grant program, which is located in NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, supports marine research at universities and other institutions. Funding is capped at $55.3 million in FY98, $56.4 million in FY99 and $57.5 million in FY2000. The authorization includes restoration of $2.8 million for research on zebra mussels, which have spread beyond their introduction to the Great Lakes to clog intake pipes at water treatment and power plants in various parts of the country. The program was cut in the administration budget proposal.

Background/Additional Information
The congressional budget process requires that all moneys appropriated for a given purpose must first be authorized. The appropriately named House and Senate Committees on Appropriations handle the disbursement process, but the other standing committees o f the House and Senate are responsible for authorizing the disbursement. The House and Senate Budget Committees oversee this process and set the overall spending limits.

The House Science Committee authorizes spending for scientific R&D in the agencies within the committee's jurisdiction, and for many years has made a priority of passing science authorization bills. There has been just one problem -- the Senate ignores them. Two principal factors are at play here. Foremost perhaps is the blurring of lines between appropriations and authorization in the Senate, where many senators sit on both the Appropriations Committee and the authorizing committee for a given agency. Senators tend to view yearly authorizations as redundant, relying instead on the original enabling legislation for each agency. In the House, Appropriations is an exclusive committee, meaning that members on that committee serve on no other, and hence the authorization process is the only means of input for many representatives. The other principal obstacle in the last Congress was the insistence of then Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) on passing omnibus authorization bills. With no equivalent committee in the Senate, these bills were too unwieldy and were never taken up there. For additional background on last year's omnibus science authorization bill, click here

In 1997, new chairman James Sensenbrenner hoped that splitting up the bills would increase the likelihood of their ultimate passage. In preparation for the authorization bills, committee held a number of hearings. To read the full testimony submitted t o the committee from these hearings, visit the House Science Committee website. On April 11th, Sensenbrenner and his subcommittee chairmen introduced eight separate authorization bills, which were marked up by the Science Committee on April 16th. The following geoscience-related bills were among them:

H.R. 1271, FAA Research, Engineering, and Development Authorization Act of 1997
H.R. 1272, Fire Administration Authorization Act of 1997
H.R. 1273, National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 1997
H.R. 1274, National Institute of Standards and Technology Authorization Act of 1997
H.R. 1275, Civilian Space Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999
H.R. 1276, Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1997
H.R. 1277, Department of Energy Civilian Research and Development Act of 1997
H.R. 1278, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Authorization Act of 1997

The first five were passed by the House in early April, and the others became entangled in a web of controversy over jurisdiction. Additional information on the bills follows.

H.R. 1273, National Science Foundation
On April 24, the House passed H.R. 1273, a bill introduced by Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Schiff (R-NM) to authorize NSF appropriations for fiscal years 1998 and 1999. The bill authorizes a 7.2% increase for FY 1998, with $175 million of that increase marked for the rehabilitation of the Antarctic facilities and other research equipment. A 3% increase is scheduled for FY1999. The bill increases the research account by 5.4% in FY199 8 and 7% in FY 1999. It does not include funding for the Next Generation Internet program, a major new initiative of the Clinton Administration.

H.R. 1275, NASA:
Under the Civilian Space Authorization Act of 1997, H.R. 1275, which passed the House in April, the House Science Committee authorized FY '98 spending of $13.8 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The action keeps the budget level with this year's spending despite President Clinton's request for a $300 million cut.

The administration did, however, seek, and the panel acceded to, a 4 percent increase for the Mission to Planet Earth program, which seeks to monitor the environment with a system of satellites. Members had considered language requiring the agency to u se $200 million of a reserve fund to make program ends meet, now authorized at $1.42 billion in FY '98. The committee also adopted an amendment proposed by Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Brown to continue funding for the troubled international Space Station.

H.R. 1276, Environmental Protection Agency:
The committee passed H.R. 1276, the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1997, to cap Environmental Protection Agency R&D spending at $599.8 mil lion in FY '98 and $617.1 million in FY '99. Congress appropriated $556.2 million this year. The bill nearly doubles the administration request for particulate matter research funding from some $27 million to $50 million in FY '98 and $51.5 million in FY '99. It also restores drinking water research to the FY '97 appropriated level of $39.8 million, nearly 10 percent above Clinton's proposal.

The bill has yet to be taken up by the House. On June 24, the Commerce Committee substituted and passed its version of H.R. 1276, claiming jurisdiction over several of the activities in the bill. The Science Committee had passed a version of H.R. 1276 in April, and the Rules Committee must decide which version to bring to the floor.

H.R. 1277, Department of Energy:
The Science Committee approved the two-year Department of Energy Civilian Research and Development Act of 1997, H.R. 1277, capping the agency's R&D budget at $4.63 billion in FY '98 and $4.65 billion in FY '99. Congress appropriated $4.5 billion in FY '97.

Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) lauded the bill for increasing solar and other renewable energy research funds. However, representatives of renewable interests said before the markup was even over that grouping solar and renewable line-items in more general accounts with competing research programs, as the bill proposes, was a sell-out of national energy independence. It increases energy efficiency R&D and funds for environmental cleanup.

The bill authorizes geoscience-related funding in both the Office of Energy Research and the Office of Fossil Energy. The Engineering and Geosciences program would be funded at $41.4 million in FY98 and $42.6 million in FY99. The Fossil Energy R&D program would be funded at $348.9 million in FY98 and $348.2 million in FY99.

The committee turned away an amendment by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to end funding for the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN physics laboratory in Switzerland. He and supporters argued there is no way to tell if European nations will keep their end of the bargain in the international project. Barton had been a leading supporter of the Superconducting Super Collider to be built in nearby Waxahachie, Texas.

On June 3rd, the House Commerce Committee ignored the Science Committee's markup of H.R. 1277, the Department of Energy Civilian Research and Development Act. Instead, they substituted a version presented by Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Dan Schaefer (R-CO), claiming that the Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over some of the energy programs in the bill. The Commerce Committee recommended spending caps greater than those authorized by the Science Committee. The Rules Committee is also deciding which energy bill will go to the floor.

H.R. 1278, NOAA:
Through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Authorization Act of 1997, H.R. 1278, the agency is authorized to spend up to $1.45 billion in FY '98 and $1.57 billion in FY ' 99 for R&D programs under Science Committee jurisdiction. Such programs were appropriated $1.37 billion for FY '97. Amid controversy over NOAA-run National Weather Service budget shortfalls, the panel authorized $26.8 million over this year's level, b ringing the total to $664.7 million in FY '98. However, the ceiling plummets almost 10 percent, to $607.6 million, in FY '99.

The bill greatly hikes the budget for environmental data systems and satellites from the FY '97 appropriated level of $327.1 million. The bill authorizes $390.2 million in FY '98 and $556.1 million in FY '99. It also disbands the NOAA Commissioned Corp s and allows officers to sign on with the Coast Guard or military services.

Sources: Environment and Energy Weekly, Science Committee publications, American Institute of Physics, FYI #53, AESOP, National Science Foundation, NASULGC


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

Contributed by Kasey Shewey and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs.

Last updated July 16, 1998


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