Research funding seeks your support

Aug. 1, 2000
The next few weeks will determine the fate of HR3161, the House counterpart to S296, The Federal Research Investment Act, which stakes out a 10-year plan to double federal spending on civilian research.

The next few weeks will determine the fate of HR3161, the House counterpart to S296, The Federal Research Investment Act, which stakes out a 10-year plan to double federal spending on civilian research. Congressional approval of such a plan is crucial for the long-term vitality of nonmilitary research, say the bill's supporters. If your work is subject to government funding, you may want to contact your representative to advocate sponsorship and the passage of this funding bill. Although the bill has bipartisan support, its passage is by no means guaranteed.

The Senate version of The Federal Research Investment Act was developed by Bill Frist (R-TN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) as a sequel to the National Research Investment Act, which had been introduced previously by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT). Prior to reaching the Senate floor, the Frist-Rockefeller Bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee without dissent. But that was only the first stage in a lengthy legislative process.

Last fall, by unanimous consent, the Senate passed S296 after it had garnered 45 bipartisan sponsors including the majority and minority leaders. The House bill, HR3161, (you can find it at thomas.loc.gov), which Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) introduced on Oct. 28, 1999, with eight other cosponsors, was referred to the Science Committee, where it has been stalled by Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who opposes its multiyear authorization plan. Senators and policy makers in the Executive Branch, however, argue that S296 already has been an effective tool for advocating increased federal investments in research.

In an attempt to break the legislative hold in the House, the Senate is now attaching S296 to the Next Generation Internet bill (S2046), which it will take to a House-Senate conference on information technology (IT) legislation. Rep. Sensenbrenner has been the prime sponsor of the House IT bill, HR2086, The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act. The Senate strategy is likely to succeed only if the Wilson-Dingell bill increases its cosponsorship to more than 100 members of the House of Representatives.

Public support would help increase the number of cosponsors. The thomas.loc.gov web site has e-mail and regular mail addresses for Representatives.

The Act calls for federal research and development programs to be conducted in accordance with specified guiding principles with respect to good science, fiscal accountability, program effectiveness, and criteria for government funding. In addition, the bill would authorize aggregate funding levels for civilian R&D in specified agencies for FY2000 through 2010. Although the bill authorizes aggregate funding levels, specific budget allocations would have to be made each year in order to actually spend the money.

The legislation directs the President to include with the annual budget request a report providing a summary of the total level of federal funding for R&D throughout all civilian agencies, a strategy reflecting funding projections of this Act, an analysis of funding levels across federal agencies by funding methodology, and specific proposals for infrastructure development and R&D capacity building in states with less concentrated R&D resources.

The Act would require the Director of the Office of Science Technology Policy to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a comprehensive study to develop methods for evaluating federally funded R&D programs. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), based on study results, would be required to promulgate one or more alternative forms for Federal R&D performance goals. This accountability requirement would be an important innovation for federal R&D funding.

All agency heads carrying out R&D activities, upon updating a strategic plan, would have to describe the current and future use of methods for determining an acceptable level of R&D success as recommended by the study. The OMB

Director, after reviewing program performance reports, would be required to identify the civilian R&D program activities or components that do not meet an acceptable level of success as defined under current law.

More details of the proposed legislation, including a list of the bill's sponsors, can be found at thomas.loc.gov. If your Representative is not already on the list of sponsors, you are urged to contact him or her.

About the Author

Jeffrey Bairstow | Contributing Editor

Jeffrey Bairstow is a Contributing Editor for Laser Focus World; he previously served as Group Editorial Director.

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