House supplemental bill praised for including extra research and science funds

A Senate vote on the House version is possible this week, and President Bush has indicated that he will probably sign it.

Congressional science champions are giving cautious praise to the House-passed war supplemental bill for its inclusion of extra funding for key federal science and research programs.

The measure would provide $150 million for the National Institutes of Health; $62.5 million for the Energy Department's Science Office; $62.5 million for the National Science Foundation; and $62.5 million for NASA.

A Senate vote on the House version is possible this week, and Bush has indicated that he will probably sign it.

The House-passed science funding is "better than nothing" but is only about one-third of the amount that was in the original Senate draft supplemental, said Kei Koizumi, who heads the R&D budget and policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On the other hand, the latest bill is seen as an improvement over the version that the House approved in May, which contained no extra money for the Energy Department's science office. Robert Boege of the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America said in an e-mail Saturday that it was too early to say how much of that increase will stay intact for fiscal 2009.

"The real work remains to get a robust full year's worth of funding for these science programs, especially the [Energy Department] programs that suffered the most in 2008," agreed Koizumi.

House Science Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said Friday that the bill's "down payment" will set up a number of programs "so that we won't waste another year while the new president comes in." Congress and President Bush have called for an increase in science funding over 10 years, but appropriators have not matched those pledges. For example, the 2007 America Competes Act authorized doubling the funding for Energy Department's science office and the NSF by 2016, but the fiscal 2008 omnibus appropriations bill fell short of the pace needed to meet such a goal -- a discrepancy that Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., and others have pointed out.

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who co-chairs the Congressional Research Caucus with Holt, lauded the push in both chambers to increase science funding. The original House bill in May would have stalled research and cost jobs at two Energy Department labs in Illinois. "We can't compete globally if we cut funding for operations at advanced research facilities and give our best scientists no choice but to work for our competitors in Europe and Asia," she said last week. Gordon said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had told him she is committed to boosting funds for science and research but remains frustrated with budgetary constraints.

"The speaker gets this; she understands this is our future," Gordon said, adding that making good on the America Competes Act cannot be achieved in one congressional cycle.

NEXT STORY: Contact with the Candidates