This article is published in the May 2008 issue.

Science Community Seeks Supplemental Funding for FY08


Despite the elimination of most of the requested increases for key federal science agencies in the FY2008 appropriations process,1 some members of the science advocacy community are holding out hope that a last-ditch strategy might help mitigate some of the budget shortfalls.

A coalition of academic groups, companies and key members of Congress are attempting to secure additional funding in planned FY 08 supplemental appropriations for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. Congress will begin consideration of so-called “emergency” supplemental appropriations in late April to pay for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq that are not part of the normal appropriations process.

In recent years, the supplemental appropriations bill has become a vehicle for spending beyond the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill has been used to fund ongoing relief activities after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, provide drought aid to farmers, help beef up U.S. anti-terrorism measures, issue low-income home energy assistance, and help prepare for pandemic flu outbreaks. A broad coalition of science advocacy groups (including CRA), U.S. high-tech companies, and several key Senators are urging the Congressional leadership to include funding that would restore some of the requested increases for science called for in both the President’s budget and the 2007 America COMPETES Act—increases that would put NSF, DOE’s Office of Science, and NIST on the path to doubling their research funding in seven years.

Allowing the budget shortfall for FY08 for the agencies to stand would imperil U.S. scientific jobs, close lab facilities, and force the U.S. to renege on international science obligations, argues the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation—a collection of high-tech companies, trade and scientific associations (including CRA)—that has joined the effort to urge Congress to fund science in the supplemental.

“Our organizations cheered when Congress passed the ‘America COMPETES Act’ with overwhelming margins in both the House and the Senate,” the Task Force wrote in a letter to the House and Senate leadership in late February. “However, [we] are dismayed and deeply disappointed that Congress and the Administration failed to provide the funds needed to fulfill the promise of the COMPETES Act,” they wrote.

Though this community of advocacy groups and associations is broadly united in their desire to see the effects of the FY08 final appropriation mitigated with funding in the supplemental, the amounts they are requesting vary by group. In letters, the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation and the American Association of Universities urged appropriators to fund just over $1 billion in increases authorized in the America COMPETES Act, but not appropriated in FY08. Failing that, the Task Force urged that, at minimum, “devoting $300 million to the Department of Energy Office of Science and $200 million to the National Science Foundation would address the most acute short-term losses in jobs, facility closures and America’s international standing.”

On March 17, eight U.S. Senators sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership urging support for $350 million in additional funding. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bob Corker (R-TN), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cited the need “to support our critically important scientific workforce, avoid cost increases to our major scientific projects, and fulfill commitments to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project,” in requesting $250 million for DOE’s Office of Science and $100 million for NSF.

A number of science advocacy groups, including the Coalition for National Science Funding, the Energy Sciences Coalition, and the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, will mount a grassroots effort April 8-10 asking the members of their participating organizations to call their representatives in Congress to urge them to support the inclusion of science in the supplemental appropriations bill. CRA’s Computing Research Advocacy Network2 will be taking part in the effort, geared towards generating attention and putting pressure on lawmakers to act.

The likelihood of success in the effort is not clear as this goes to press in early April. Though there is broad support in Congress for science funding and, according to many in the community, a clear sense of embarrassment from some in the Congressional leadership about what happened to science funding in the FY08 omnibus appropriation, there is some opposition from both sides of the aisle to using the supplemental as the vehicle. Fiscal conservatives are likely to balk at any spending that does not clearly meet emergency status or does not directly impact the operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is also potential opposition from those who oppose the war in Iraq, and plan to vote against any supplemental that does not call for the immediate withdrawal of troops.

For the science advocacy community, the effort will be worth it even if the full extent of the shortfall is not restored. The effort they expend making the case for FY08 will help advance their goals for FY09 as well—and the process in FY09 is poised to be just as difficult as in FY08.

For all the latest, visit the Computing Research Policy Blog at https://turing.cra.org/blog.

Notes:
1. See Computing Research News (Vol. 20/No.2) “Science Increases Abandoned in Final 08 Spending Bill”
2. Join the Computing Research Advocacy Network (CRAN)

Science Community Seeks Supplemental Funding for FY08