The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy


Number 124: October 10, 2000

When Congress adjourns this month all bills that are still
pending before it will die. Included in the obituary is likely
to be legislation that would authorize the doubling of federal
civilian R&D over the next ten years. Despite repeated passage
in the Senate of bills that would accomplish this goal, the bill
has never cleared the House Science Committee.

In January 1997, Senator Phil Gramm (R-Texas) introduced the
first bill that would authorize the doubling of federal R&D
funding. Several Senate bills have evolved and been passed
since then, culminating in S. 2046 passed late last month. This
bill, the Federal Research Investment Act, authorizes civilian
R&D to increase over set amounts in the next five years, with
the goal being to invest 10% of the discretionary budget in
civilian R&D by 2011. This legislation does not include
defense-related research, or provide the actual money. Senate
action on S. 2046 occurred after Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) amended another bill, the Next Generation
Act, to include the provisions described above.

This is as far as the bill will go unless House Science
Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has a change of
heart. In a letter to Frist before Senate passage of S. 2046,
Sensenbrenner wrote: “I cannot support a long-term authorization
bill that includes a single blanket authorization for all
civilian R&D agencies.” “In my opinion, such an authorization
would provide little support for scientific research funding
while undermining the Science Committee’s ability to operate as
an effective legislative entity.” To this, Frist replied, “I
acknowledge your concerns regarding the potential for long-term
authorization bills to transfer oversight duties to
appropriations committees. However, I reject the argument that
the Federal Research Investment Act abrogates the responsibility
of individual authorization committees from passing annual bills
to fund specific programs and activities. Nothing in the
Federal Research Investment Act detracts from your committee’s
ability and obligation to exercise full oversight over the
agencies and programs in your jurisdiction.”

Last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in on this
legislation with a letter to Sensenbrenner that was copied to
the House Republican leadership and Frist. In this letter,
Gingrich stated: “I strongly favor Senator Frist’s broad and
comprehensive bill to double R&D research, the Federal Research
Investment Act. I see this bill as a first step in
accomplishing an opportunity-based budget. With the passage of
this bill, Congress is making a critical statement about
America’s commitment to lead the world in science and technology
research and development.” Gingrich continued, “As the Chairman
of the Science Committee, authorizing appropriations for
specific programs and agencies and providing oversight and
policy direction to those agencies is within your jurisdiction.
This bill does not infringe on that. I urge you not to let the
specifics of the bill cloud the importance of sending a clear
message that a general overall doubling of R&D is one of the
highest priorities of the Republican Congress. The consequences
of not passing a doubling bill at this point will send a
confused message and could be detrimental in rallying support
for R&D funding. I strongly encourage you to work out a bill
before Congress adjourns that sends a clear message to
communities of scientists and to the world that America will
continue to lead the world in research and development.”

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