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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: House Science Committee Hearings on Out Year Budgets for R&D

July 23, 1996

With the Administration and the Congress each claiming that R&D budgets generated by the other branch fall victim to larger cuts over the next six years, the stage was set for a showdown in hearings in the House Science Committee on July 23 and 24. For the most part, however, the anticipated clash of dueling budgets failed to materialize. Although there were some minor skirmishes, general agreement by both sides about the importance of federally funded research, combined with the fog of future economic assumptions, resulted in both sides withdrawing without serious casualties.

On July 23, the Committee called as witnesses James Blum of the Congressional Budget Office, which is responsible for providing reality checks to both Congressional and Administration budgeteers, and Al Teich from AAAS, which has provided analyses of projected R&D budgets for the past two decades. CBO's recently completed mid-year review of the economy projected more rapidly declining deficits than had been the case when either the Administration or the Congressional budgets were originally prepared. When this adjustment was factored into the AAAS analysis, the Administration budget was estimated to reduce R&D funding by 19.1 percent over the next six years and the Congressional budget would reduce it by 23.0 percent. Much of the hearing was spent clarifying assumptions, noting differences in larger budgetary policies, acknowledging the difficulties inherent in economic forecasting, and discussing the appropriate level of investment in research as a percentage of GDP.

The following day the hearings resumed with testimony from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), followed by a panel of administration witnesses: NSF Director, Neal Lane, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, and the Department of Energy Director of the Office of Energy Research, Martha Krebs.

Senator Bond, Chairman of the Senate VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, detailed the difficulties his committee had encountered in getting specific information from the administration about how projected budget savings would be accomplished through the year 2002.

Dan Goldin led off the administration witnesses by asserting his strong support for the President's budget in the out years and stating his unqualified support for increased research funding in each of those years. NASA has already undertaken a number of steps to do more with less by changing the organizational culture and incorporating emerging technologies sooner. Dr. Krebs echoed the Department of Energy's support for the Administration's budget projections and noted the large-scale reductions in both contract and federal employees that had already occurred at DoE. Dr. Lane closed out the panel by noting the difficulty of predicting out-year budget environment, but stating his willingness to live within the caps set for domestic discretionary spending, while at the same time making the strongest possible case for maintaining the highest possible level of investment in science and engineering research and education.

Chairman Walker asked the witnesses why the research community responded so negatively to Congressional proposals for reducing research spending but no similar outcry when the President's budget, with similar -- and in some cases larger cuts -- was met without criticism. Goldin reminded the committee that his proposals to cut $5 billion from projected NASA budgets was met with criticism from all quarters. The key to effective control of budgets, he said, was near term stability and long-term identification of priorities and elimination of inefficient habits of doing business.

Early sparring over current and past administration budget efforts gave way to endorsements by several members of federally funded research activities in general and a the need to set future priorities within a framework of overall declining budgets. Chairman Walker concluded the hearing by remarking that adequate future funding for science will be possible only if Congress and the Administration agree on larger budget issues, including entitlement spending and tax policies.

See also: Testimony from Dr. Lane.