House Science Committee Democrats Comment on H.R. 3322 Passage

Republicans Touch the Future, Lift Wallet

In a move towards a complete reinvention of the Federal role in civilian science and technology, the House last week passed H.R. 3322, the Omnibus Civilian Science Authorization Act of 1996. This Republican bill boldly slashed approximately $2 billion from the President's FY 1997 budget request for the Department of Energy, NIST, NOAA, NSF and NASA.

George E. Brown, Jr., ranking Democratic Member of the House Science Committee commented, "I remain appalled at the lack of understanding my Republican colleagues show on the role of science and technology for this Nation's future. However, I do want to give credit where credit is due. By freeing up resources in both public and private sector laboratories across the country, the Republican majority are taking a brave step towards filling high-demand, service-industry jobs in burger and taco stands around the country."

Brown continued, "Priority setting in science and technology policy has become an arbitrary and capricious exercise, grounded not in fact-finding and solid oversight by the Committee of jurisdiction, but upon the accumulated myths, prejudices and whims of the Republican leadership. The only redeeming quality to the floor debate, and this is true for virtually all authorizing Committees in the House, is that it will probably be irrelevant to appropriators."

House Democrats failed, in an almost straight party-line vote, to adopt a Brown substitute which contained the President's request levels for civilian science agencies. The President's request was more generous for all categories of research-basic and applied. Other key amendments included:

Rep. Schiff (R-NM) restored $41 million to the research account at NSF. Although well below the level of funding contained in the Democratic substitute, the amendment did receive Democratic support.

Rep. Lofgren (D-CA) offered an amendment to restore personnel funding cuts at NSF and to remove language directing that a Scientific Directorate be disbanded. The amendment was defeated along largely partisan lines.

Rep. Brown offered an amendment which would have provided authorization for the Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) and the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) at NIST. Rep. Morella (R-MD) offered a substitute to the Brown amendment which passed the House on a voice vote. The effect of substituting the Morella amendment was to cut $15 million from the MEP program and to de-authorize the ATP program. It is not clear whether the Morella amendment provides sufficient funding for NIST personnel to actually run the program.

Rep. Kennedy (D-MA) offered an amendment to strike the bill's ban on indoor air quality research at EPA. This amendment was accepted by Chairman Walker and passed on a voice vote by the House. Interestingly, the following day, the Committee's press release on the bill credited Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) with striking the ban, despite the fact that Rep. Davis did not raise the issue at Committee markup, was not a cosponsor of the Kennedy amendment, and did not speak on the floor.

Rep. Wamp's (R-TN) amendment shifted $20 million among various NOAA weather-related accounts, including an addition of about $5 million to National Weather Service personnel. The Committee-approved cuts of $20 million to NOAA's personnel account had been made with no testimony or record on the impact of these cuts. Similarly, there was no evidence that the Wamp amendment would solve the problems created by the Walker bill and no description on the Floor of what impact the Wamp offsets would have on public weather services. Mr. Brown's amendment to fully fund forecast and warning personnel was defeated in the face of Republican opposition.

Rep. Weldon (R-FL) was recognized out of order on the House Floor in order to correct a problem that the Committee had created by slashing NASA's personnel account by $81 million. The underlying Weldon amendment would still have led to furloughs at NASA. After the Weldon amendment was "fixed" again on the Floor, it still provided for deep cuts in Research Operations Support -- i.e., utilities, security, fire protection -- at all NASA centers, including Kennedy. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) offered a simple amendment which would have fixed the personnel problem without creating additional problems, but her amendment was defeated on a party-line basis.

Representatives Lofgren and Jackson-Lee failed in efforts to strip bans on EPA funding of the Global Climate Change Action Plan and the Environmental Technologies Initiative.

One of the oddest features of the two days of debate on H.R. 3322 was the way the ground kept shifting on the need for "off-sets" to balance additional authorization provided in amendments to the bill. For example, Mr. Schiff received Chairman Walker's support for a $41 million increase at NSF without an offset because this new total supposedly reflected the recommendation of the Budget Committee - whose actions have no binding effect on any authorization bill. However, Chairman Walker opposed Representative Jackson-Lee's effort to fully fund the NASA personnel account because her amendment lacked an offset (even though the VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee had already provided $600 million more in funding for NASA than was contained in H.R. 3322). The Jackson-Lee amendment and all subsequent Democratic efforts to restore the ill-considered cuts in other accounts occasioned repeated lectures from Republican Members on the difference between "free-spending Democrats" and "fiscally conservative Republicans". On the last amendment to the bill, Chairman Walker reversed his position and supported Representative Morella's increase for MEP, despite the lack of an offset and a negative Budget Committee recommendation. The bottom line? According to Mr. Brown, "You can make any argument that seems convenient at the time so long as you have Members who will vote in lock-step."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 6, 1996 1:24 PM.

NASA Staff Meeting Minutes 3 June 1996 was the previous entry in this blog.

Dan Goldin's Comments to the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) Meeting is the next entry in this blog.

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