APS News

Inside the Beltway: A Washington Analysis

Bringing Home the Bacon

By Michael S. Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs

When Mitch Daniels, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, summons you to a meeting on three days notice, you know that something is on his mind. When he asks you to attend a meeting on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and he is aware that you are an observant Jew, you know that something is really troubling him. So you compromise your principles and go.

And go I did last fall. Amazingly, Daniels wanted to talk about pork, to a Jew, no less, on a High Holy Day. Depending upon your perspective, that's either irony or chutzpah.

Mitch Daniels, like every other Budget Director before him, wanted pork proscribed, just as it is writ in the Torah. But unlike any of his predecessors, he was enlisting a select group of scientists, about ten in number - just enough for a minyan - to carry the message to Congress: "Cease, or a veto shall be visited upon all your works."

"It's not just any pork, of which I want you to tell them to rid themselves," he declared, "it's scientific pork, the pork of bricks and mortar and special research projects that have had no peer review. It's the kind of pork that last year rose to almost $70 million in the Biological and Environmental Research account of the Department of Energy."

"And if we refuse to carry out your bidding," I ventured, "what will become of us?"

"All science shall suffer, and it will be known that you brought it upon your peoples," he warned.

"But what of projects, already peer reviewed and approved, that Representative Walsh and Senator Mikulski and their VA-HUD Appropriations brethren included in the National Science Foundation's Major Research Equipment account when they increased the NSF's budget?"

"Those, too, are pork," he said, "for the budget was too fat. We shall remove them within the year."

And that the White House did. Read the presidential budget carefully and you will find that almost every program in last year's spending bills not requested by the President has been skillfully excised from the FY 2003 budget request.

As you might imagine, Congress finds this kind of presidentially enforced budgetary diet most disagreeable. And members are already expressing their displeasure. Appropriators are busily planning to restore the excised programs, while authorizers are drafting legislation that will require agency heads to provide Congress with prioritized lists of peer reviewed projects.

If the voices of the science community are not heard, the Department of Energy, as has happened so many times in the past, could find itself penalized by the squabble between Congress and the White House over appropriations earmarking.

Here's how it might happen. The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill always prove a tempting target for pork, particularly in an election year, such as this. Half a billion dollars is the earmark number being floated.

And if it materializes, the DOE, which has the misfortune to draw its financial life from the same subcommittee that funds the water projects, could see its bottom line shrink substantially.

Congress is focusing on water projects to prove another point. In early spring, Mike Parker, once a Republican member of the House of Representatives, testified before his former colleagues, this time as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. His mandate was - you guessed it - the Army Corps of Engineers, the guardians of the water projects.

Parker was frank in his testimony: the Corps budget was too lean for the list of projects it had pending, lean to the extent of some 25 percent. The committee seemed receptive, and Parker returned to his office in the Pentagon certain that he had scored a victory. Later that day he was fired. Parker's former House colleagues are still seething over his treatment.

The science community faces two challenges, first to communicate to Congress that the DOE Office of Science should not be sacrificed in an internecine struggle over constitutional prerogatives and second, to communicate to the Office of Management and Budget, as well as Congress, that peer review and process transparency provide our nation with the strongest scientific enterprise. The stakes are too high for research and education to suffer as a result of a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches of government. Scientists must weigh in now.


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Editor: Alan Chodos
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