House, Senate split difference on Energy supercomputing funds

Lawmakers voted to provide more funding than President Bush requested for key science and technology efforts at the Energy Department in a spending bill cleared a week ago.

The House on Nov. 18 adopted the compromise version of a bill, H.R. 2754, to fund energy and water programs in fiscal 2004. The vote was 387-36. The Senate cleared the measure by voice vote the same day. President Bush has yet to sign it into law.

House and Senate negotiators compromised on funding for Energy's supercomputing research, providing $203 million. The House-passed version had called for $213 million, compared with the Senate's $183 million. The final number exceeded Bush's request by $30 million.

"The conferees provide these additional funds for the department to acquire additional advanced computing capability ... to initiate longer-term research and development on next-generation computer architectures," the conference report on the bill said. "The conferees expect that ... these funds will be awarded among various technologies, laboratories, universities and private-sector suppliers using a merit-based, competitive process."

Lawmakers did not specify how the money should be split among Energy's divisions that conduct supercomputing research. But they said that they support the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy task force on high-end computing revitalization "and expect the department to participate fully in this interagency effort."

Negotiators accepted the Senate's number of $726 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency that uses supercomputing to manage the nation's nuclear weapons.

In another competitive science field, the lawmakers voted to provide $221 million for construction of nanoscience research facilities--$28 million over the president's request. Nanotechnology, which is the manipulation of matter at the molecular level, is estimated to become a $1 trillion market.

The fiscal 2004 funding comes after Congress on Thursday passed a bill that would authorize nearly $4 billion over the next four years -- starting in fiscal 2005 -- for the coordination of federal nanotechnology programs.

Negotiators on the energy and water spending bill also voted to provide $304 million, a $3.6 million increase over the president's budget, for safeguards and security, including cyber security, at Energy's environmental management office.

And the conference report questioned the decision by the North American Electric Reliability Council to omit certain systems from its recently announced definition for "critical cyber assets." "[T]he conferees encourage the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure that process control systems, switching stations and substations are adequately protected by any cyber-security standards issued for the national power grid," the report said.

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