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From the Hill

Proposed big increases for R&D in FY 2003 may be in jeopardy

Hefty increases in research and development (R&D) spending proposed by the House and Senate for fiscal year (FY) 2003 may be in jeopardy because of President Bush's determination to hold overall discretionary spending in line. The president's position was undoubtedly strengthened by the November election, which gave Republicans control of both the Senate and the House.

When Congress adjourned in November, it had approved only two of the 13 appropriations bills for FY 2003, which began on October 1. Both covered defense spending and have been signed into law. Until final decisions are made on the other bills, all other programs will have to operate at FY 2002 funding levels.

Department of Defense (DOD) R&D spending in FY 2003 will increase by $9.1 billion or 18.4 percent. DOD weapons systems will receive much of the increase, but basic research will increase by $1.5 billion or 6.8 percent, and applied research by $4.5 billion or 10.8 percent. DOD science and technology activities, encompassing research plus advanced technology development, will rise to $11.7 billion, up 13.5 percent. This amounts to 3.2 percent of the total DOD budget, compared with 2.6 percent that had been proposed by the president.

In the eleven nondefense bills drafted by the Senate, total FY 2003 federal R&D funding would hit $117 billion, a 14 percent increase. Although most of this increase would go to defense R&D and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nondefense R&D, excluding NIH, would rise 4.4 percent. This total includes an 11.9 percent increase, to $3.9 billion, for R&D at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Senate would complete NIH's five-year doubling plan, providing a 16.4 percent increase in R&D funding for a total of $26.4 billion. Most other R&D funding agencies would also get increases over FY 2002; exceptions are the Transportation and Agriculture Departments, whose FY 2002 budgets were inflated with one-time emergency appropriations to respond to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The nine nondefense bills drafted by the House would also provide generous increases for many R&D programs, including a 14.5 percent or $510 million boost for NSF R&D, a 6.9 percent or $697 million increase for R&D at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and an 8.3 percent or $48 million increase in Environmental Protection Agency R&D. R&D at the Department of Energy's Office of Science would fall by 0.3 percent or $10 million. The House has not drafted two of the largest appropriations bills, which include the Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, and Education.

The president's original budget request proposed a ceiling of $750 billion for all discretionary spending, and he has repeatedly insisted that he will veto any appropriations bills that could cause the total to exceed that amount. The House set a $755 billion total, but found it impossible to write 13 appropriations bills capable of winning a majority vote while staying within the total. The Senate discretionary spending total was set at $771 billion. This higher total made it possible to draft all 13 appropriations bills, but the full Senate approved only one nondefense bill because the floor schedule was consumed with debates on homeland security legislation, authorization for military action against Iraq, drought, and other disaster relief, and other nonbudget issues.

The new Republican-controlled Senate may be amenable to bringing its discretionary totals in line with President Bush's original request, which called for an overall cut in nondefense R&D spending. Although the large increase for NIH approved by the Senate will probably remain because it was included in the president's budget, the R&D budgets for the other agencies are now uncertain.

Department of Homeland Security will have big S&T component

On November 25, after months of partisan debate over personnel rules, President Bush signed legislation establishing a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the primary mission of preventing terrorist attacks within the United States. DHS will bring together nearly 170,000 federal employees and up to $35 billion in annual funding in the largest reorganization of the federal government since the 1940s.

The new department will have significant role in science and technology (S&T) related to homeland security. DHS will have its own S&T policy infrastructure as well as a significant research and development (R&D) portfolio, drawing on programs transferred from other agencies, as well as newly created programs.

The law creates an under secretary for science and technology, a provision absent from the Bush administration's original proposal, to serve as the head of a new S&T infrastructure. The under secretary, who will report directly to the secretary of homeland security, will be in charge of the Directorate of Science and Technology, one of four broad directorates in the new department. This directorate will have responsibility for setting R&D goals and priorities, coordinating homeland security R&D throughout the federal government, funding its own R&D programs, and facilitating the transfer and deployment of technologies for homeland security.

The under secretary will act as scientific and technical adviser to the secretary and will convene a Homeland Security Advisory Committee consisting of first responders, citizen groups, researchers, engineers, and businesses to provide S&T advice. DHS will create a new federally funded research and development center (FFRDC), the Homeland Security Institute, to act as a think tank for risk analyses, simulations of threat scenarios, analyses of possible countermeasures, and strategic plans for counterterrorism technology development.

The S&T directorate will also have an Office for National Laboratories to coordinate DHS interactions with Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories that have expertise in homeland security. The office will have the authority to establish a semi-independent DHS headquarters laboratory within an existing federal laboratory, national lab, or FFRDC.

The homeland security legislation directs DHS to establish one or more university-based centers for homeland security R&D, and includes 15 detailed criteria for where to locate it. It has been widely reported that House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Tex.) drafted the criteria in order to favor Texas A&M University. In order to win the support of senators opposed to what they saw as an uncompetitive earmark, incoming Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) worked with House leaders to issue a promise to amend the legislation in the next Congress to make competition for the center more open.

The S&T directorate will house a new research agency named the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the Department of Defense (DOD). HSARPA will award competitive, merit-reviewed grants in a wide spectrum of R&D, from basic research to prototyping new technology products. The legislation authorizes $500 million in fiscal year (FY) 2003 for the agency, but the actual appropriation will have to be decided as part of the FY 2003 budget process.

In addition to HSARPA, DHS will fold in existing R&D programs from DOE and the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation. Precise R&D funding figures are not yet available because of the vague parameters of the final legislation and because the FY 2003 budget process was left unfinished by the 107th Congress.

Although the original administration proposal envisioned a $3.4-billion R&D portfolio for DHS, the final legislation suggests a portfolio of up to $800 million. In contrast to the original proposal, the final legislation keeps federal bioterrorism R&D programs, which could total as much as $2 billion in FY 2003, within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead of transferring them to DHS. The homeland security secretary would, however, have joint authority with the HHS Secretary to set priorities for these programs.

Although DHS will have an enormous impact on the federal government and especially on goods and travelers crossing U.S. borders, the impact on scientists and engineers will be minimal. Few federal scientists and engineers will be affected. The new priority-setting powers of DHS, however, mean that NIH bioterrorism research priorities will be set with strong input from the new department.

Because the 107th Congress failed to complete the FY 2003 budget, all domestic programs are currently operating at FY 2002 funding levels. As a consequence, there is no money available to create new programs such as HSARPA unless funds can be shifted from existing programs. Congress hopes to finish work on FY 2003 appropriations in January, before DHS formally comes into existence, but it will be difficult to meet this goal. It may be months, then, before the new department has the necessary resources to begin organizing its S&T infrastructure.

Congress approves bill authorizing a doubling of NSF spending

After a compromise developed in response to White House objections, Congress passed the National Science Foundation (NSF) doubling bill (H.R. 4664), which authorizes NSF programs for the next five years. The bill specifies funding that would rise to $9.8 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2007, compared with the agency's current FY 2002 budget of $4.8 billion. The president was expected to sign the bill.

The bill's passage represents a milestone in a long-term effort by the scientific community and NSF's congressional supporters to increase the agency's budget. Although total federal funding of scientific research has risen dramatically in recent years, the increase has been driven largely by support for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, leaving funding for many other areas stagnant. NSF's mission is to strengthen the nation's capabilities in all scientific disciplines.

"Improved science and math education, scientific innovation, and new technology hold the key to our nation's future economic success, as well as to our national security," said House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). "We turn to NSF to solve some of our most pressing problems; we can't turn from NSF when we decide where to invest federal funds."

Although the House passed its original version of the bill in June and the Senate finished its version in October, objections by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delayed final passage until the very end of the session. OMB argued that five years was too long for an authorization bill, and that doubling the agency's budget would be arbitrary and inconsistent with President Bush's efforts to lower spending and institute management reforms.

Eventually, congressional negotiators and OMB officials agreed to a compromise that removed the word "doubling" from the bill's title and made the final two years of the authorization contingent on NSF's progress toward meeting a set of management goals.

The agreement solidified an additional set of compromises that had already been worked out between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The final legislation does not include a Senate provision that would have combined a math and science partnership at the Department of Education with a similar program at NSF. Critics of this provision argued that the Education Department program, which distributes funding based on formula grants, is designed to have a broader reach than the NSF program and should remain separate.

Also dropped from the final bill was Senate language expanding eligibility to participate in NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). NSF had expressed concern that expanding the program would dilute the funds available to participants.

Several programs focusing on education are authorized in the bill, including the math and science partnerships program; an effort to encourage the hiring of "master teachers"; a program to encourage girls to study math and science; the "Tech Talent" program, which would provide grants to universities that increase the number of science, math, and engineering majors they graduate; and the Robert Noyce scholarship program, which would provide financial support to science, math, and engineering majors who pledge to spend two to four years teaching math and science in a secondary or elementary school.

The bill authorizes the creation of plant genome research centers and research partnerships to conduct basic research focused on plants that are important to the developing world. The legislation also includes specific funding levels for research programs in information technology and nanotechnology.

Republican control of Congress could lead to science policy changes

Because science and technology research generally enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, the outcome of the November elections and the return to a Republican-controlled Senate will not likely result in major shifts in funding priorities. However, significant changes could materialize in policy issues that involve science matters but are fueled by politics.

One example is the proposed comprehensive ban on both research and reproductive cloning championed by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Brownback was unsuccessful during Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's tenure in shepherding his bill to the floor for debate. But on the day after the election, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer called the bill a priority, and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the new majority leader, supports it. However, strong support remains for a measure supported by the scientific community that would permit cloning for research purposes to proceed.

Republicans are also likely to resurrect a comprehensive energy bill that was approved by both houses but failed in conference committee. Although some science provisions may be kept intact, many of the most contentious energy issues, such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are now up for grabs. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) will replace Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Bingaman was a strong force behind the 2002 bill, but Domenici's priorities are likely to differ substantially.

On the regulatory front, environmentalists will anxiously await the policy agenda of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the incoming chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, who has a strong pro-industry voting record.

In the medical research arena, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) will assume the chairmanship, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the ranking member slot of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In addition, Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Kennedy will continue as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Public Health Subcommittee. Frist is stepping down as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which should give him more time to devote to health policy issues.

A key committee for civilian R&D is the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will become chairman and Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) ranking member. Both have recently focused primarily on telecommunications and broadband policy, and likely will continue to pursue that agenda.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) will become chairman of the committee's Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) as ranking member. Although Allen's agenda is still relatively unknown, he worked with Wyden on both the NSF doubling bill and the cybersecurity R&D bill.

In a potentially significant development for the scientific community, the House Republican leadership moved recently to exert more control over appropriations. From now on, the chairs of appropriations subcommittees will be appointed by the speaker and the majority leader rather than succeeding to their posts on the basis of seniority. Presumably, chairmen who are beholden to the speaker and majority leader for their posts will be more willing to take direction from the leadership.

President Bush signs cybersecurity R&D bill

On November 27, President Bush signed into law the Cybersecurity Research and Development Act, authorizing nearly $903 million in funds over five years to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The funding would go toward an array of programs to improve basic research in computer security, encourage partnerships between industry and academia, and generate a new cybersecurity workforce.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y), who first proposed the new law, said that it is designed to "usher in a new era in cybersecurity research. Cybersecurity research will no longer be a backwater, but rather will become a priority at two of our premier research agencies."

The bill authorizes $593 million between fiscal year (FY) 2003 and 2007 for NSF, of which $233 million would go to basic research grants; $144 million to the establishment of multidisciplinary computer and network security research centers; $95 million to "capacity building" grants to establish or improve undergraduate and graduate education programs; and $90 million to doctoral programs. In addition, it authorizes $25 million in grants for faculty development to establish training programs to increase the number of professors teaching courses in cybersecurity. Finally, NSF would receive $6 million to support computer and network security education grants under the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act of 1992.

NIST would receive almost $310 million, of which $275 million would go toward research programs that involve a partnership among industry, academia, and government laboratories. In addition, money can be spent on postdoctoral research fellowships. The bill provides $32 million for intramural research conducted at NIST laboratories.

In addition to the $310 million in research funds, the new law provides $2.15 million for NIST's Computer System Security and Privacy Advisory Board to conduct analyses of emerging security and research needs. Finally, the bill would provide an additional $700,000 for the National Research Council to conduct a two-year study of the nation's infrastructure vulnerabilities.

New system to scrutinize foreign students hits snags

A new system designed to more closely scrutinize foreign students is unlikely to be fully implemented by the January 30, 2003, deadline set by Congress, according to witnesses at a fall 2002 hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been setting up the new system, called the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an electronic database for monitoring visas issued to foreign students and for tracking those students once they arrive in the United States. It was designed to reduce fraud, improve the collection of data that can be analyzed by appropriate agencies, and augment the INS's enforcement capabilities.

Glenn A. Fine, the Department of Justice's inspector general, said that although SEVIS would "technically" be operational by the deadline, it was unlikely that INS will have completed all the necessary steps to ensure "full and proper" implementation. His concerns centered on whether the INS "will assign and train sufficient numbers of dedicated staff to review and approve the schools' applications to access SEVIS; whether SEVIS will be operational at all INS ports of entry, service centers, and consular posts; whether the INS will conduct sufficient and thorough site visits of schools applying to accept foreign students; whether the INS adequately will train school officials to use SEVIS; and whether INS will train INS inspectors and investigators adequately to use SEVIS to detect fraud."

Janis Sposato, the INS's assistant deputy executive associate commissioner, said that SEVIS has been available to selected schools since July 2002 and that the software would be fully deployed by the January deadline. She acknowledged that not all schools will have been certified to begin using the new system and that not all INS agents will have received the necessary training. But she argued that these delays should not be of enormous concern, noting that, "It's a process, not an event."

Sposato said that the INS had been reviewing school petitions for eligibility to issue visas since July and that as of September 11, 2002, 736 were actively putting student records into the electronic system, 595 had submitted a certification petition and were awaiting approval, and an additional 590 schools had created petitions but had not submitted them as yet. She estimated that by January 30, 2003, between 7,500 and 74,000 institutions would be certified and using SEVIS. But many of the committee members as well as other witnesses expressed skepticism.

Complicating the current situation is that Congress required that a temporary system be established by September 11, 2002, in order to monitor students on a preliminary basis. However, this Interim Student and Exchange Authentication System will not be able to share data with the SEVIS system. Thus, as the January deadline approaches, academic institutions and federal agencies will find themselves in the situation of having to register information in two separate systems.

California approves landmark stem cell legislation

The state of California on September 22 approved legislation that would make it legal to derive embryonic stem cells from human embryos and to conduct research using stem cells from "any source," thereby opening the door for institutions to conduct somatic cell nuclear transfer (also referred to as research cloning).

The landmark legislation was intended to remove what legislators considered a logjam created by the Bush administration's narrow stem cell policy and the inability of Congress to pass any legislation related to reproductive and research cloning. Although some states have passed legislation prohibiting the cloning of a human being, California is the first state to take a definitive stand in support of the controversial subject of research cloning.

The bill states that "the policy of the state shall be that research involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells, and human adult stem cells from any source, including somatic cell nuclear transplantation, shall be permitted, as specified." At the same time it would prohibit a person from "cloning a human being, and from purchasing or selling an ovum, zygote, embryo, or fetus for the purpose of cloning a human being."

A unique aspect of the bill is that it opens the window for the expenditure of state public funds to support stem cell research. It takes that position that "publicly funded stem cell research, conducted under established standards of open scientific exchange, peer review, and public oversight, offers the most efficient and responsible means of fulfilling the promise of stem cells to provide regenerative medical therapies." However, the bill stops short of actually authorizing specific funds for research.

By taking this stance California legislators hope to lure companies and other institutions interested in pursuing the field of stem cell research to the state.


"From the Hill" is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org/spp) in Washington, D.C., and is based on articles from the center's bulletin Science & Technology in Congress.