Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Democracy and the Science Budget - No appropriations bills for the current fiscal year other than those for the Depart- ment of Defense and Department of Homeland Security were passed before congress adjourned for the winter holidays. This means that all other federal spending is essentially "frozen" at 2006 levels. Both the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics have been particularly concerned about what this will mean for basic science and laboratory research in the coming year.

The background story is one which many scientists were aware of long before Christmas, and scientists and scientific institutions are not entirely blameless for the current fiscal crisis. Back in late September, Richard Jones of the AIP reported that "flat funding" of science for fiscal year 2007 was one of three possible outcomes of the ongoing congressional debates.

The first (outcome), and that which House and Senate appropriators prefer, is for each of the remaining bills to be passed as a stand-alone bill in what they call "an open and orderly manner." This will take considerable floor time, something which might be in short supply, given that there is a desire to complete these bills this year by the current Congress. The second, more likely option, will be for two or more of the bills to be combined into an "omnibus" funding bill. An omnibus is assembled by a limited number of individuals, and comes to the floor largely without the opportunity for change. This bill would take much less time to pass, and has the distinct advantage of being a vehicle for controversial provisions that could slow passage of an individual funding bill. The third option, which is far more unlikely, is continuing the present level of funding for an entire year, until October 1, 2007. 1

The Senate leadership, and Bill Frist in particular, opted for the "omnibus" approach. They were clearly intending to reward important Republican campaign donors, among whom are many leading scientists and scientific institutions. With the defeat of the Republicans, the omnibus came crashing down in the middle of December. This was also reported on by Jones of the AIP2, and the current story by William J. Broad of the New York Times3 appears to reflect a new lobbying effort by scientists directed now at the Democrats who are in charge of the process. If you are concerned, as I am, you can contact your congressman or Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Rep. David Obey (D-WI), Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

1Jones, Richard M., 2006, "Congress Delays Final Action on Science Funding Bills," FYI 116. College Park, Md.: American Institute of Physics.
2Jones, Richard M., 2006, "Slipping Away: FY 2007 Budget Increases for DOE Office of Science, NSF, NIST," FYI 141. College Park, Md.: American Institute of Physics.
3Broad, William J., 2007, "Congressional Budget Delay Stymies Scientific Research," New York Times, January 7.

A hat-tip to Jacquelyn Gill of theclimateblog for the lead to the New York Times story.

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