FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Cutting the Deficit: Views of Top House Science Committee Republican and Democrat

Richard M. Jones
Number 128 - October 20, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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With its deadline only about a month away to craft a plan to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion dollars over ten years, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction has been receiving much advice about what it should do.  Among those writing to the committee, in separate letters, were the top Republican and Democrat on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a two and one-half page letter to the joint committee’s co-chairs on October 13.  “I strongly support continued federal investment in science and technology as an important component of any serious effort to achieve long-term deficit reduction,” she told the committee, highlighting returns from investments in DARPA, NASA, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Later in her letter, she wrote:

“neither the agencies nor the scientific and engineering communities can plan or prioritize well given the often month-to-month funding uncertainties of recent years.  Worse yet, the current uncertainties coupled with pessimism about their ability to secure funding into the future are turning some of our most brilliant young minds away from R&D careers.  I urge you, as you undertake your very difficult task of trying to set us on a more sustainable fiscal path, to do whatever it takes to prioritize steady growth of our investments in science, technology, and STEM education.”

In concluding her letter, Johnson raised one of the most difficult questions confronting the committee, that of raising additional revenue.  She stated:

“I recognize that continued investments in these areas have a cost, and that is why I also believe that it is critically important for the Joint Select Committee to include serious revenue enhancements in its set of recommendations.  Failure to do so would likely lead to ill-advised pressures for cuts to the vital areas I have described in this letter.  It is when our economy is hurting the most that we should be redoubling our efforts to innovate our way into a brighter future of new jobs, new technologies, and untold societal benefits.”

The approach taken by Science Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and ten of his Republican colleagues on the committee differed considerably.  In their October 14 14-page letter, they recommended more than $1.5 billion in savings in FY 2012 spending.   “We believe that the attached recommendations prioritize research and development programs that protect our national security and leadership, allow private investors and the marketplace to thrive without undue Federal influence, and have the most potential for sustained long-term growth” they wrote to the joint committee’s co-chairs.

The twelve-page attachment is organized by department or agency.  Among their recommendations for programs reviewed by FYI are:

Department of Energy:

Office of Science: “We believe the Office of Science should be the top funding priority among DOE R&D programs and be protected from cuts by the Joint Committee,” they wrote.  This support is not universal, with Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, and science education and workforce development identified as programs “which warrant consideration for cuts.” 

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy:  Hall and his colleagues described their continuing concerns regarding ARPA-E, recommending that programmatic improvements be made before funding is provided for new awards.

Nuclear Energy: “We strongly support advancement of nuclear energy and the associated research,” the letter stated.


Human Space Flight Program: “While we are supportive of innovative, commercial options, we have concerns that this [Administration] proposal may not be viable or less-expensive than a traditional development program.  NASA still has many issues to work through before proceeding forward, and we would urge caution with expenditures until more questions are answered and technologies demonstrated.”

Science Mission Directorate:  The letter proposed $177 million in cuts in the FY 2012 request, including “Cancellation of OCO-2 mission,” “Reduce by 20% ‘Other Missions and Data Analysis,” “Reduce by 20% ‘Venture Class Missions’ account within the Earth System Science Pathfinder Missions.”  The letter also described general support for the new “Space Technology” program, although at a lower level than requested.  No mention was made of the James Webb Space Telescope.

National Science Foundation:

“For FY 12, the House Appropriations Committee provided a slight increase of $43 million over the FY11 amount for basic research.  We would discourage funding for the Foundation to fall below the $6.86 billion provided by the House Appropriations Committee,” the letter stated.

The letter does not support all Research and Related Activities programs: “We remain concerned that the increased emphasis in these areas moves the Foundation from its core mission of supporting basic R&D to significantly more support for applied areas of R&D, which are best left to market forces or agencies with specific applied R&D goals to advance their mission.”   These areas include the nanotechnology manufacturing initiative, next-generation robotics technologies, an interdisciplinary program to replace computer chip technologies, advanced manufacturing activities, and cyber-infrastructure.

The letter also took issue with the amount of requested funding for interdisciplinary activities within the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program, the Climate Change Technology Program, the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, and the Climate Change Education Program. 

The letter also included funding recommendations for the Education and Human Resources Directorate.  The authors “remain committed to a strong NSF presence in STEM education, including K-12 STEM education.”  Regarding the roles of NSF and the Department of Education in the support of STEM education, the letter explained “the STEM-related research and expertise that NSF can and does provide is world-class and needs to be included in any appropriate larger, overarching STEM education activities carried out by the Federal government.”  In addition, the letter described the Noyce Scholarship Program and the Math and Science Partnership program as “proven and worthy programs and are not appropriate areas to be cut in order to fund new and unproven programs.”

National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Regarding Scientific and Technical Research and Services, Hall and his colleagues wrote: “We feel that maintaining strong support for STRS at NIST is vital to our economic security.  Therefore, we agree it is prudent to support a moderate increase as recommended by House appropriators, or in the very least sustained STRS funding at FY11 levels, and encourage Members of the Select Committee to preserve funding for NIST’s core standards development and basic research functions.”

The letter supported the Administration and the Appropriations Committee in providing no funding for the extramural construction grant program in FY 2012.

“We view the proposed expansion of the Industrial Technology Services (ITS) programs as requested by the Administration for FY12 to be inappropriate in the current budget environment,” the letter stated.  Hall and his colleagues noted that they would give priority to continued funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics