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FYI Number 124: December 26, 2007

Reaction to FY 2008 Spending Bill: "A Step Backwards," "Very Disappointing"

The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, Association of American Universities, and the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America have issued statements that are highly critical of the FY 2008 consolidated appropriations bill. The day after the appropriations bill was cleared for President Bush's signature, he expressed disapproval of the billions of dollars of earmarked funds in the $555 billion bill, and said he was exploring what actions he might take.

As reviewed in FYIs #121, 122, and 123 (see ), the FY 2008 funding bill provides an increase of 2.6 percent for the DOE Office of Science (after earmark funds are removed), a 2.5 percent increase for the National Science Foundation, and an increase of 1.4 percent for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Scientific and Technical Research and Services. Average annual increases of 7 percent are needed for budgets to increase over ten years. Reacting to these increases, the Task Force, AAU, and ASTRA issued the following statements:

The Task Force is a coalition of businesses and business organizations, scientific societies, and higher education associations (see .) The American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society are Member Organizations of the Task Force. The Task Force issued the following statement:

"The FY08 omnibus appropriations bill that Congress is considering represents a step backwards for the bipartisan innovation agenda. The President and Congress, for all their stated support this year for making basic research in the physical sciences and engineering a top budget priority ended up essentially cutting, or flat-funding, key science agencies after accounting for inflation.

"The nations that seek to challenge our global leadership in science and innovation should be greatly encouraged by this legislation.

"The President and a near-unanimous Congress, by enacting the America COMPETES Act [see ] earlier this year, laid out a bold path toward revitalizing basic research in the physical sciences and engineering. COMPETES was a welcome Congressional initiative to double funding for America’s science research programs and expand science education that complemented the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the Democratic Innovation Agenda.

"This appropriations legislation takes a step back from the promises contained in all of these initiatives.

"The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation is hopeful that this reversal of direction does not represent a lack of commitment to turning around the nation’s long decline in support for basic research programs. For now, the failure to provide the funding required to begin growing these programs makes these promises little more than empty gestures. We intend to work with the Administration and Congress in the new year to make the promise of America COMPETES a reality."

AAU is an association of 62 public and private research universities ( ) which released the following statement:

"The FY08 omnibus appropriations bill is very disappointing to those who support the competitiveness and innovation agendas of the President and Congress. After accounting for inflation, this legislation essentially flat-funds or cuts funding for key science agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy Office of Science. Additionally, the bill cuts need-based student aid, making it more difficult for low-income students to attend college and contribute to the nation’s economy.

"The America COMPETES Act, enacted earlier this year, was a far-reaching response to concerns about the nation’s long-term competitiveness, particularly those described in the National Academies report 'Rising Above the Gathering Storm.' It proposed new funding and programs that would enhance the nation’s research capabilities while improving science and math education for students from elementary schools right through postgraduate education.

"The America COMPETES Act has little meaning if it is not funded, and this bill does not fund it. We will work with Congress and the President in hopes that they begin to fulfill that commitment next year, because this year has been a severe disappointment. In exchange for an arbitrary cap on domestic spending and thousands of earmarks, the Administration and Congress have sacrificed investments in research and education that would help assure our nation's long-term national and economic security."

The Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America ( ) is comprised of corporations, universities, and scientific associations, among which are the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America (which are two of AIP's Member Societies.) ASTRA quoted its Chair, Dr. Mary Good; selections of her remarks follow:

"Reversing years of hard work, Congress and the Administration have been short-sighted in their haste to get a budget agreement — and they have short-changed America in the process. Only a few months ago, we achieved a refreshing consensus to begin the much-needed doubling of key science budgets under the America COMPETES Act. Passage of the COMPETES Act recognized that America must increase its investment in physical sciences and engineering if it is to compete successfully in the future global economy. The COMPETES Act was bipartisan and signed by the President. It was a first step in insuring that future generations of Americans can be prepared for the competitive dynamics of a flat world.

"More alarming than the battle over spending priorities is a failure by some to understand the consequences of not planting our 'seed corn' today -- that means investing in our scientific infrastructure. America is not keeping pace with the rate of investment in scientific infrastructure elsewhere. The consequence is that many of our global competitors are moving ahead and we are not. Beyond our deep disappointment today is our commitment to continue to work with both sides of the aisle and the Administration. There is nothing inevitable about our decline as a global competitor.”

On December 20, President Bush said the Administration was exploring its options regarding almost 12,000 earmarks in the FY 2008 appropriations bills. One preliminary estimate places the value of these earmarks at $15.3 billion. The President said:

"Another thing that's not responsible is the number of earmarks that Congress included in a massive spending bill. Earmarks are special interest items that are slipped into big spending bills like this one -- often at the last hour, without discussion or debate. Congressional leaders ran in the last election on a promise that they would curb earmarks. And they made some progress and there's more transparency in the process, but they have not made enough progress. The bill they just passed includes about 9,800 earmarks. Together with the previously passed defense spending bill, that means Congress has approved about 11,900 earmarks this year. And so I'm instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill."

Almost all earmarks are found in reports or explanatory statements, and not in the bill itself. Report language does not have the force of law. One option that the President could take would be to direct senior officials to discard earmark language. An unsuccessful attempt to do this occurred during the Reagan Administration. The year 2005 was the peak year for earmarking; Congress did not include earmarks in the domestic FY 2007 appropriations bill.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics

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