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<< Back to November 2006 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the November 2006 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 18/No. 5]

Congress Delays Appropriations, Creating Uncertainty for Science Increases
Competitiveness Authorizations Also Stalled; Defense Bill Provides Increases for DARPA IT R&D

By Peter Harsha

Congress will reconvene in mid-November in a post-election session to finish work on a slate of appropriations bills—including bills that would fully fund the basic research elements of President Bush’s “American Competitiveness Initiative”—that they failed to finish by the traditional end of the legislative session in early October.

Less clear is whether any of the authorization bills drafted to boost U.S. competitiveness will receive floor time before the 109th Congress adjourns for good. Congress did complete work on the mammoth FY 2007 Defense Appropriations bill before recessing in late September. Included in the bill were healthy increases to defense research and development, and some reductions to requested budgets for defense IT research.

Still on the plate for legislators in the “lame duck” congressional session are final approval of the FY 2007 Commerce, Science, Justice, State Appropriations and the FY 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations, which contain significant increases to the research budgets of the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy Office of Science—all agencies with research areas that are the focus of the ACI.

The bills are part of a suite of 12 must-pass annual appropriations bills that fund the operations of government. House and Senate appropriators this year failed to pass all 13 bills before the end of the 2006 fiscal year on September 30, 2006. In fact, only the Defense Appropriations bill received final approval from both chambers before Congress recessed in the first week of October, leaving 11 bills still unresolved when Congress returns in mid-November. Congress recesses in late September or early October in even years so that Members of Congress facing reelection can return to their home districts for last-minute campaigning.

The increases in funding for NSF, NIST, and DOE Office of Science granted by congressional appropriators, but not yet approved by both chambers, are responsive to the President’s request last February for a boost in the federal investment in the fundamental “physical sciences” (broadly defined as including physics, chemistry, computing, mathematics, and engineering). Though the final numbers have yet to be decided, both House and Senate appropriations committees included in their respective bills increases that are close to the President’s requested budget: an 8 percent increase for NSF in FY 2007, 18 percent increase for NIST, and a 14 percent increase for DOE’s Office of Science. Included in those increases are healthy increases to computing research accounts. NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate (CISE) would grow 6.1 percent in FY 2007. DOE’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research account would grow $84 million, or 36 percent, above the FY 2006 level.

It is not clear how the Congressional leadership will decide to finish the outstanding appropriations bills during the lame-duck session. There are three basic approaches they could choose. They could elect to work each appropriations bill separately—an approach that preserves “normal order” and gives the appropriations committees the most control over the final shape of each bill. However, given the time constraints—Members of Congress are typically very averse to staying in lame-duck session for very long—it is unlikely the leadership will allow each bill to come up for separate consideration.

The leadership could elect to bundle all the outstanding appropriations bills into one “omnibus” bill. All 11 outstanding bills would then face a single up or down vote for passage. This approach has been used in 3 out of the past 4 years. The approach puts a large amount of power in the hands of the leadership who get to determine what provisions from all 11 appropriations bills—and any other provision that might benefit from its inclusion in a “must-pass” bill—appear in the final omnibus.

The third option for the leadership is to pass a stopgap spending measure, called a “continuing resolution,” that simply funds government agencies and services at the same rate they had been funded in FY 2006. This is a favorite option of opponents of increased government spending because it short-circuits the creation of any new government programs or spending approved by the appropriations committee and essentially starts the annual appropriations process over from scratch. The leadership could also pass a “modified” continuing resolution that contains exceptions for favored programs. Those programs wouldn’t be restricted to FY 2006 levels but would receive whatever the bill’s authors intend for them.

For the science advocacy community, either of the first two options is preferable to the continuing resolution model. Both “normal order” and “omnibus” approaches would preserve the increases in funding for fundamental research the community has worked hard to achieve in the FY 2007 appropriations bills. Securing an exception in a continuing resolution could be difficult, given the number of other congressional priorities that would also be affected by that approach. Without an exception, federal science agencies would be forced to make do with FY 2006 funding levels, and no new programs would be permitted to start.

It is likely that the approach the congressional leadership ultimately decides upon will not be known until after the November 7th elections. A change in party control after the election to one or both of the chambers will significantly impact the leadership’s calculus about the best way to approach the outstanding appropriations bills in ways that are difficult to predict as this goes to press.

Also difficult to predict is whether Congress will decide to move forward with any of the competitiveness bills that have been proposed this session. Several bills were introduced in Congress this year that attempt to "authorize" specific provisions of ACI, or the various recommendations of the National Academies’ influential Rising Above the Gathering Storm report or the Council on Competitiveness’ Innovate America report. None of the bills currently introduced—there are 2 House bills and 3 Senate bills1—has received the approval of its respective chamber.

The biggest hurdle for passage of any of these authorizations appears to be the White House’s continuing insistence that the programs contained in the ACI do not require additional authorizations (and so the Administration is reluctant to allow Congress to put its stamp on programs in authorizations), and the House leadership’s continuing reluctance to pass “high-dollar” authorizations at a time when it is trying to cut and demonstrate “fiscal restraint.” This despite the fact that authorizations do not actually mandate any increased spending, only “authorize” appropriations committees to spend the money should they determine that the money is available.

With the limited time available on the congressional calendar—literally just the days the members are willing to stay in lame-duck session—it is highly unlikely any of the authorization bills will receive the required consideration in both chambers necessary for enactment. While the science community would likely appreciate the important symbolism of seeing any of these authorization bills approved overwhelmingly by Congress, the lack of passage is not seen as a big loss.

For some—including from the perspective of the computing research community—there appears to be some benefit in not having these particular bills enacted. One key element of increasing the Nation’s capacity to innovate is ensuring that the nation has a diverse, well-educated workforce. Increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in math and science, particularly in computer science, is a key factor. Though the various authorization bills have a number of provisions the community finds particularly desirable, none is particularly strong in promoting the participation of women or minorities in math and science. Having to start the process of working through these bills with the next Congress beginning in January actually presents the community with an opportunity to continue to make the case for increasing support for programs that aim to create a more diverse workforce, with the hope of seeing that reflected in whatever bill finally moves toward passage.

The one aspect of the annual appropriations process whose outcome is already known is the FY 2007 Defense Appropriations bill. Overall, defense science and technology will receive a small increase in FY 2007, growing $87 million to $13.3 billion, an increase of 0.7 percent. Within that account, basic research will grow a healthy 5.6 percent, or $82 million, to $1.6 billion. Defense applied research will grow $114 million, or 2.2 percent, to $5.3 billion. Defense advanced technology development will receive a 1.7 percent cut, declining by $109 million to $6.5 billion.

DARPA will see an increase of $200 million in FY 2007, up 7 percent to $3.1 billion. DARPA’s “Information and Communication Technology” account will increase $39 million to $235 million, an increase of 20 percent, but $8 million less than the President’s budget request. Also receiving less than the President’s requested level is DARPA’s “Cognitive Computing Systems” program, which will receive a $17 million increase to $181 million in FY 2007, an increase of 10 percent. The President had requested that account to grow by 36 percent in FY 2007, a level the House agreed with. As we noted in the September 2006 issue of CRN (Vol. 18, No. 4), Senate appropriators disagreed for reasons that are still unclear, and slashed the requested level by $71 million. Pressure from the computing community helped mitigate the Senate’s cut by $30 million in the final compromise version of the Defense bill.

For the latest details on the FY 2007 appropriations and authorizations “end game,” check the Computing Research Policy Blog:

End Note:

1 For a table listing the outstanding innovation/competitiveness bills, what they include and their status, see:


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