Members of Congress Speak Out in Support of Science

With Congressional attention focusing increasingly on the pending FY 2006 appropriations bills, there were numerous statements on the Bush Administration’s FY 2006 budget request and several House Science Committee hearings in March, most notably from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).

Alexander has been a strong supporter of federal S&T programs. In a Senate Budget Committee report accompanying the Senate Budget Resolution, S. Con. Res. 18, Alexander was responsible for the following language: "The budget resolution recognizes the importance of the research and education initiatives of the DOE’s Office of Science and the NSF to the nation’s economic future and our position as the world’s leader in technology innovation. Investment in the physical sciences, life sciences, engineering, mathematics, and computing is critical to our national security, energy security, as well as development of the next generation of America’s scientists and engineers."

The report pointed out that other countries are investing heavily in research that produces talented, highly-educated workers and cutting-edge companies. China graduates almost four times as many engineers as the US India is pouring money into technology parks to lure back native talent and produce world-class companies. South Korea graduates nearly the same number of engineers as the US though it has 1/6th the population and 1/20th the GDP. The European Union is poised to graduate four times as many PhD’s as the US over the next five years. "Clearly, the statistics point to an emerging crisis in US competitiveness like never before and sustained investment in science and technology at the DOE’s Office of Science and the NSF must be at the core of America’s strategy to compete," the report said.

Ehlers is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards of the House Committee on Science. In this role, he recently appeared before the newly established House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce and Related Agencies, chaired by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). (This subcommittee does not have jurisdiction over the DOE Office of Science.) Ehlers testified in support of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at this March 15 hearing.

While recognizing the need to balance fiscal priorities, "We must not overlook the fact that scientific research and development forms the foundation of increased innovation, economic vitality, and national security for our nation," Ehlers said, citing the National Institute of Standards and Technology as one of the nation’s most critical science organizations. "Almost every Federal agency and US industry sector uses the standards, measurements, and certification services that NIST labs provide. The future of many cutting-edge technologies depends on the research and technical expertise of NIST’s laboratories." He asked Congress to provide the President’s requested funding of $426 million in FY 2006 for the Scientific and Technical Research Services account at NIST. Ehlers also spoke out in support of the NSF. In 2002 Congress authorized a doubling of the agency’s science research budget. However, said Ehlers, "We have not stayed the course on this proposed doubling path," and asked Congress to fund the NSF in FY 2006 at$6.1 billion, still $2.4 billion below the authorized level for FY 2006. In 2005, the budget for NSF was reduced, particularly in the area of education programs. Last year, Congress only appropriated$5.47 billion for the NSF, well below the \$5.75 billion requested by the administration.
— Excerpted from FYI, the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News (http://aip.org/fyi)

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