News | October 23, 1998

AIP FYI: Senate Passes Federal Research Investment Act

By: Richard Jones, American Institute of Physics

In the push leading up to this week's adjournment, the Senate, earlier this month, passed S. 2217, the Federal Research Investment Act. This action puts the Senate on record in support of a doubling of the authorization for the civilian federal research budget by 2010.

  • Expanded support
  • Revised funding processes
  • Dead on the vine

    The Senate passed this bill, sponsored by Bill Frist (R-TN), using a legislative mechanism called a unanimous consent agreement. Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) was the only speaker. Among his remarks were the following points: "Our science and technology base is vital to the nation's future…Advanced technologies are responsible for driving half of our economic growth since World War II, and that growth has developed our economy into the envy of the world. We need to continually refresh our stock of new products and processes that enable good jobs for our citizens in the face of increasing global challenges to all our principal industries."

    Expanded support

    Domenici, who is Senate Budget Committee chairman, was an original cosponsor of an earlier bill to double federal research spending over ten years. He explained that the 12-year schedule in S. 2217 "proposes a more realistic time scale for achieving this expanded support. This doubling must be accomplished within a balanced budget that avoids deficits, thus a longer period is a better choice. That balanced budget is essential, it enables the economic health that is fundamental to our ability to really use advanced technologies."

    There continues to be discussion about the role of the federal government in supporting research. Domenici argued that the "bill continues to emphasizes a broad range of research targets, from fundamental and frontier exploration, through pre-competitive engineering research. This emphasis on a spectrum of research maturity is absolutely critical. The nation is not well served by a focus on so-called basic research that can open new fields, but then leave those fields wanting for resources to develop these new ideas to a pre-competitive stage applicable to future commercial products and processes."

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    Revised funding processes

    S. 2217 also, Domenici said, "proposes to utilize the National Academy of Science in developing approaches to evaluation of program and project performance…The new bill incorporates a set of well-developed principles for federal funding of science and technology. Those principles, when carefully applied, can lead to better choices among the many opportunities for federal S&T funding. The new bill also incorporates recommendations for independent merit-based review of federal S&T programs, which should further strengthen them."

    Many aspects of the Federal Research Investment Act support and compliment key points in the new study released by Representative Vern Ehlers just recently (see National Science Policy Report: Summary of Recommendations association-news/19981008-8456.html). His study, 'Unlocking our Future,' will serve as an important focal point for continuing discussions on the critical goal of strengthening our nation's science and technology base.

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    Dead on the vine

    When Congress adjourns this week, S. 2217 will die, as will all other unfinished legislation. The bill's supporters plan to reintroduce it early next year. With over one-third of all senators listed as cosponsors, and Senate passage of S. 2217, the new legislation should do well in the Senate. A real unknown is if, how and when the House of Representatives will act with a companion bill. House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) has frequently said that it was necessary for the Ehlers' report to be completed before acting on any legislation. That report is done, and the Senate is on now on record in support of a doubling of the federal civilian R&D budget over the next twelve years

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