The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News

Number 79: July 5, 2000

Last week, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget,
Jack Lew, appeared at the National Press Club to discuss recent
congressional budget actions. Several questions were asked about
FY 2001 science and technology spending.

In response to questions regarding the funding balance between
life sciences and other sciences, and the funding of other
administration S&T priorities, Lew stated:

“I think that we have proven over the last number of years that
investments in the life sciences, primarily through the National
Institutes of Health, is very, very much in the interest of the
American people. There are enormous opportunities for
breakthroughs that are being funded. And I think we have also
seen over the last number of years that that’s not the only area
of research that needs to be well-funded, that in order to keep
making breakthroughs in NIH research, we need to continue to
focus on basic research, on the kinds of things that the National
Science Foundation supports in terms of basic science and even

“We have put forward proposals that have not been well-funded so
far in the appropriations process. In the area of NSF, the House
is about a half a billion dollars below the funding levels that
we’ve requested. And let me just give you one example of what
would be lost at the lower funding level.

“Nanotechnology sounds like something that’s almost science
fiction. It’s a word that’s easy to think is not a real tangible
policy. Well, what nanotechnology means to the average citizen
is, Will it be able to identify a cancer when it’s one cell

“It’s the kind of breakthrough that will open doors to science
and health research that are closed if we don’t invest in
nanotechnology. With a surplus and a time of economic well-being
in the country we have the ability, and I would say we have the
obligation, to invest in that kind of forward-looking research.
That’s why the president put those proposals forward, it’s why
we’re fighting very hard as the Congress considers our budget
request for those priorities. We’re going to stick to our guns,
and we’re going to keep insisting on better funding in these
areas, because we believe it’s very important.”

Lew was later asked about earmarking of federal science funds for
specific colleges and universities, and the impact which it has
had on the administration’s science programs. He responded:

“I think that what I’ve said in the past is that you’ve seen
earmarking in accounts that never used to be earmarked at all,
and you’ve seen dramatic increases in the number of earmarks
where there traditionally have been fewer.

“You look at things, whether it’s in terms of university research
or NASA programs or in the clean water area, there’s just been a
dramatic increase in the amount of resources — I don’t have the
numbers off the top of my head, but I know that there has been a
dramatic increase in the number of projects that were designated
and the amount of dollars that weren’t available for peer review
kinds of decisions.

“You know, we believe that in general we should keep trying to
push things back towards peer review. I can’t say that every
single project that’s been funded is one that wouldn’t have
survived peer review, but if it was going to survive peer review,
it should have been willing to compete in the process and sort of
play by the rules of the system that is designed to select the
best projects for funding.

“I think it’s a problem because if you look at things like the
National Science Foundation, NASA, I think these are the kinds of
decisions that really are quite consequential in terms of where
we will be 10, 20 years from now, in terms of the basic research
that’s been done, in terms of the problems that we will have set
out to solve.

“And I don’t want to suggest that all of the money is earmarked.
Certainly it’s not. There’s still quite a lot of resources that
are subject to the competitive process. But it’s a trend we have
to be concerned about. It’s not the ideal way to make scientific
decisions, and that — we’ve been trying to draw some attention
to that.”

Key appropriators have stated that budget caps have limited their
ability to fund some S&T programs. Lew was asked about the
future of these strict spending limits:

“Well, I think the spending caps are going to be raised this
year. The question is by how much. Even the budget resolution
substantially raises the spending caps. Our concern is that they
raise them to a level that doesn’t permit adequate resources for
the important priorities to be funded.

“We’re in a different situation than we were in, in 1997 and
1993, and you have to make decisions that reflect the times. In
order to reduce the deficit, we appropriately set very tight
caps, and there was discipline on the system, and there was a
need for that. In a time of surplus, it’s a question of choices,
and the amount of additional resources has to be weighed against
what you would be able to do in the appropriations process versus
the alternatives. I think if you put the priorities that we have
proposed for funding out against any alternatives, they are
clearly going to prevail. The investments in education are
critical to the future of this country, in terms of bringing up
another generation with the skills for the new economy and where
equality of competition can be offered to kids who grow up in any
community in this country.

“If you look at the technology agenda, I really cannot imagine
that there would be a substantive argument that we shouldn’t be
investing in research and development at a time of economic
prosperity. Those are — you don’t have the luxury, perhaps, to
do that when you’re running an enormous deficit. But when you’re
running a surplus, the question of should we, as a nation, invest
in the future that way seems to me to be one that, were there
resources, would be bipartisan support for it. If you have
artificially tight constraints, we’re going to see an awful lot
of these things left behind, and I think that would be a mistake.
And that’s why we’re in the debate we’re in, in the
appropriations process.

“I think the notion that anyone is advocating sustaining the 1997
caps — we’re long beyond that point. The question is what’s the
right level for the caps. And the difference between us is
large, but it’s bridgeable. And if the choice is, you know, a tax
cut that’s $10 (billion) or $20 billion smaller or the
investments we’re talking about, that’s the kind of decision that
Congress and the president should make together. We’ve got our
position clearly laid out, and I hope that we prevail in the
course of the year. “

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095