House Juggles Science Spending

February 17th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Yesterday, on a party line vote, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a plan put forward by Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) that makes major changes to the House budget process. Under the new plan, the House has rearranged the jurisdictions of its subcommittees, consolidating 13 subcommittees to 10. Among the changes, a large portion of federal science funding now falls under one subcommittee: Science, State, Justice, and Commerce.

This subcommittee will oversee science appropriations for NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and NIST. Defense, NIH, and Department of Energy science funding remain separate.

Using AAAS estimates of the President’s FY 2006 budget, the new subcommittee will oversee approximately 30% of $57.1 billion in non-defense R&D funding. NIH and DoE make up most of the remainder with 49% and 15% respectively.

The new subcommittee will oversee a total budget of over $55 billion. A look at last year’s funding shows appropriations of $20.4 billion for Justice, $8.5 billion for State, and $6.9 billion for Commerce. NASA and NSF contribute another $22 billion.

This reorganization frees NASA and the NSF from their former home in the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies subcommittee. Instead of the VA and HUD, these agencies will now compete for funding with groups such as the FBI, DEA, and State Department. The Department of Commerce labs, which AAAS estimates will fund about $1 billion in R&D in FY 2006, will now compete directly with the much larger budgets of NASA and NSF.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Senate members “want changes kept to a minimum” bringing up the possibility that the Senate will keep the previous 13 subcommittees. Asymmetrical appropriations bills could cause havoc come October as the House and Senate try to reconcile their spending bills. The Post also reports that the Senate is not likely to make a final decision until after the President’s Day recess.

The ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee Dave Obey (D-WI) has responded to the changes saying, the proposal “is not aimed at improving efficiency. It is simply payback” for Majority Leader Tom Delay to boost spending on NASA.

A reorganization of this magnitude will have effects on a number of areas, not just science. But from the narrow perspective of science funding, the changes appear to generally reduce downward pressure on R&D budgets. Whether or not the changes lead to better R&D outcomes is an entirely different question.

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