In his State of the Union Address, President Bush implored the country to recognize the importance of basic research and science education, and introduced his American Competitiveness Initiative, which seeks to double research funding for three agencies over the next ten years.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives backed up the president's promises with the nation's money. The House passed the Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2007, which would provide the money requested by the president for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, in the 2007 fiscal year.
The legislation would provide $6.02 billion for the NSF, an 8 percent increase over the 2006 fiscal year. NIST’s research budget would rise under the legislation by about 18 percent, to $467 million. NIST’s overall budget, however, in keeping with ACI, is down about 16 percent from the 2006 fiscal year. The Advanced Technology Program, for example, which provides additional funding for industry to conduct high-risk research, received $79 million in the 2006 fiscal year, but would not get any money in 2007 under the House-passed bill.
In recent months, scientists have testified before the House Science Committee stressing the importance of keeping NSF in the education game, and not simply leaving everything to the Department of Education. The bill would provide $16 million over the president’s request of $816 million for NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate.
“[The Appropriations] Committee believes that the American Competitiveness Initiative must not only bolster the NSF's basic research activities, but also its education programs. The most critical need in this regard is to improve K-12 and undergraduate education in science and math,” according to a report accompanying the committee's bill.
The legislation calls for another $21 million – $11 million over the president's budget request – for the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which gives scholarships to math and science majors in return for a commitment to teaching.
“We’re obviously very happy about the progress the president’s initiative is making through the Congress,” said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities. The bill will now move on to the Senate.
In March, scientists who testified before the House Science Committee told lawmakers that the president’s proposed cuts to NASA’s budget could make it difficult for NASA to attract top young talent. The bill restores $100 million above the president's request for aeronautics research, and $75 million above the request for space science. Funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research is down slightly, but primarily from the elimination of earmarks.
Both Republicans and Democrats from the House Science Committee seemed pleased.
“The passage of this bill may be looked back on as a landmark moment in American history,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, during debate on the bill. “These agencies, which are not exactly on the tip of everyone's tongue, are keystones of our nation's economic future.”