The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News

Number 27: February 24, 2000

Congressional Response to Administration’s FY 2001 Request for NSF and NASA

It has been about two weeks since the Clinton Administration sent
its FY 2001 request to Congress. By May, various appropriations
subcommittees will start releasing their versions of the FY 2001
appropriations bills. At present, hearings and the occasional
press release offer some of the best public indicators of how
research budgets are likely to fare. So far, the signs seem to be
encouraging for science in general, and NSF and NASA in

This is not to imply that the budget process will be easy. The
Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, C.W. Bill Young
(R-FL), has released two press statements since President Clinton
sent his entire budget to Capitol Hill. Young’s language in the
first was strong: “In my wildest dreams, I cannot see how his
proposals become reality – we simply will not have the funds.
The President didn’t just blow the caps – he blew all commitment
to fiscal restraint and sanity…. The Congress will be hard-
pressed to come up with funds to maintain existing programs, let
alone begin new initiatives or provide big increases. I predict
it will be a difficult budget year.” His second statement was
almost as strong: “The President’s budget has something for
everyone. …the taxpayers simply cannot afford all of them.”

The House Science Committee offers a first look at likely
congressional response. House Science Committee Chairman James
Sensenbrenner (R-WI) issued a press release in January, before
the budget was released, in which he said, “I look forward to
reviewing the overall budget and supporting our nation’s
scientific enterprise.” Two subcommittee hearings on February 16
on NSF and NASA provide insight.

The NSF hearing by the House Subcommittee on Basic Research,
chaired by Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) went well. Smith began by
praising the foundation: “NSF has had a great first fifty years.
Although often overlooked, the research funded by Foundation has
played a pivotal role in raising the basic standard of living in
the U.S. and around the world and has saved millions of lives
along the way. Largely as a result of basic research encouraged
through the NSF, the U.S. is now the leader in numerous high-
technology fields and global markets. If the next 50 years are
anything like the first 50, our children and grandchildren can
look forward to an incredibly productive future.” Joining Smith
in an opening statement was Ranking Minority Member Eddie Bernice
Johnson (D-TX). She expressed her pleasure in the requested 17.3
percent increase for the foundation. Of note, she said that the
increase would help reverse some of the sharp declines in funding
for some disciplines, specifically mentioning physics. She said
that the current situation “raise[d] serious questions about the
balance in research fields,” and went on to describe the links
between biomedical research and such fields as physics,
engineering, and chemistry.

NSF Director Rita Colwell and National Science Board Chairman
Eamon Kelly testified at this hearing. Colwell described the
request as “truly a 21st Century investment for 21st Century
science and engineering,” and acknowledged the work of the
science community in helping to lay the foundation for this
request. She testified about the linkages between physical
sciences and health care, and the importance of investments in
science and technology to the American economy. Kelly spoke of
the proposed NSF budget as “the first step in remedying” the
federal underinvestment in fundamental research.

In the Q&A portion of the hearing, Chairman Smith described
himself as a “hard-nosed reviewer,” and asked for a description
of applications stemming from NSF research over the last twenty
years, especially as it relates to economic productivity. He is
interested, he said, in “the effectiveness of the research
dollar.” Regarding basic research, Smith declared, “I’m sold on

Other committee members expressed their support for the
foundation. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) called the hearing a “love-
in,” and said “your problem is not with us,” citing the
appropriations committees that set the actual budget numbers. He
asked what was NSF’s “greatest unmet need,” and was told that the
foundation needs to be able to follow the NIH in its award size
and duration to become the most efficient. Other members asked
about peer review, educating the public about genetically-
modified foods, and laboratory and cyber security. One member
commented on the effectiveness of lobbying efforts for NIH by
“disease groups,” and then added “the NSF does not have an
organized constituency.” There was discussion about an Office of
Management and Budget document that projects a budgetary decline
in the outyears for NSF, which contradicts the foundation’s own
plans to grow (note that OMB’s outyear projections are usually
not followed.) The subcommittee will have another hearing on
NSF’s Education and Human Resources budget request on February

Earlier that day in the same hearing room, NASA Administrator
Daniel Goldin presented his agency’s FY 2001 budget request of
$14.035 billion – a 3.2 percent increase – to the House Science
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Both Goldin and
subcommittee members were pleased that the Administration had
requested an increase for the first time in seven years. Goldin
said, “At times I’ve felt like Sisyphus” (a figure in Greek
mythology condemned to roll a stone up a hill forever) in
presenting the budget request; “today I feel like Hercules.”
Space subcommittee chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) commented
that if NASA continues its quest to find an honest space station
partner in Russia, Goldin might “compare yourself to Diogenes,”
famed for his search for an honest man.

Most of the hearing continued in this vein, with Rohrabacher,
full committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, and other, mostly
Republican, members criticizing the Clinton Administration’s past
decision to bring Russia in as a space station partner, and the
resultant delays in space station construction. Goldin answered
with his now-familiar response that the U.S. has gained valuable
knowledge and experience from its partnership with Russia, and
that not all the delays could be blamed on the Russians. He
reported that NASA is continuing with preparations to launch the
Interim Control Module in December 2000 if the Russian Service
Module is still not ready at that time.

The continued space station delays appear to be the main concern
of the subcommittee. In other questioning, several Democratic
subcommittee members asked about education funding within the
NASA request, totaling $144.0 million spread out among NASA’s
programs. Goldin called the amount “a good sum, considering
we’re not the Department of Education.” Another issue of
interest to subcommittee members was funding for aircraft noise
reduction. Goldin reported that a funding increase of $100
million was requested for noise and emissions research over a
five-year period. Questioned by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) about
NASA’s plans for investment in space science, Goldin responded
that when he took over at the agency, space science funding was
31 percent of the total budget. It has now climbed to 41
percent, and his five-year plan shows it growing to 51 percent.
Regarding recent failures of several Mars missions, Goldin said a
panel was currently reviewing the program architecture, and he
did not want to bias their results by discussing it yet.

Richard M. Jones, Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095,3094