Congress Set to Boost Research Funding

This morning House and Senate leaders of the respective Appropriations Committees announced a deal on funding for the current fiscal year. As we’ve reported this year’s funding for most of the federal government has been limbo for months because of the national elections last year. The current Congress faced two choices — extending 2006 funding for the full year government-wide, or extending it for most of the government but reviewing funding for certain programs and agencies on a case-by-case basis. Many scientific societies called on Congress to follow through with already proposed increases for key science agencies in what was called a “continuing resolution plus” strategy. ACM recently joined with other computing leaders in a letter to Congress on the issue.

The reported deal is fairly close to what the computing research community was seeking. From CRA’s weblog:

“While the agencies won’t receive the full amounts they requested as part of ACI [the American Competitiveness Initiative], each agency should receive significantly more than they received in FY 2006. Under the agreement, NSF would receive a 6 percent increase, slightly below the 7.8 percent increase called for in the ACI, but $335 million more than FY 2006. NIST would receive $50 million in additional funding for its core research budget. DOE Office of Science would see $200 million more than FY 06, plus the elimination of $127.8 million in earmarks that would then be available for competitive research. And NIH, while not officially part of the ACI and expecting flat-funding in FY 07, would see an increase of $619.5 million — which, according to the appropriations committee, would “support an additional 500 research project grants, 1,500 first time investigators, and expand funding for high risk and high-impact research.”

This is welcome and somewhat surprising news considering the conventional wisdom was that Congress did not favor increasing funding for any of these agencies in the continuning resolution. The House is expected to debate and vote on the legislation this week. The Senate should quickly follow any House action.

Hill Tech Happenings, Week of January 29

January 31
Hearing:
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will complete its organizing for the 110th Congress, prior to a hearing on promoting travel to America.
2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Building

Meeting:
The Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus will hold its annual State of the Net Conference.
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency, 400 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.

February 1
Hearing:
The Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the privacy of health records and privacy implications of the federal government’s health information technology initiative.
2:30 p.m., 342 Dirksen Building

House Science Committee in the 110th: New Chair, New Name, New Subcommittees

While we’ve known about some of the changes in the House Science and Technology Committee (including the new name) for a while, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the new chair, finalized the changes in a hearing this morning. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is the new Ranking Member.

Per a press release available on the committee’s website the Science and Technology Committee will have 5 subcommittees during the 110th Congress. This is up one from the previous Congress. The new addition is the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, which will be chaired by Rep. Miller (D-N.C.), and Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI, and former committee chairman). The other four committees remain essentially the same as before, with slight name changes to better reflect their jurisdictions. They are as follows:
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USACM Submits Comments to Federal Identity Theft Task Force

In response to a request for public comment from the Federal Identity Theft Task Force, USACM submitted comments on Friday on the technical implications of several different proposals under consideration. The full text of the request for comment, which includes discussion of the use of Social Security numbers, the effectiveness of a possible nationwide policy on data security and data breach notification, and the idea of identity files for victims of identity theft is available online (PDF). The Task Force is a joint effort of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
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Hill Tech Happenings, Week of January 22

Congressional Committees continue to organize for the new Congress and hold their first hearings.

January 22
Meeting:
The Board of Advisors for the Election Assistance Commission is meeting to review recent election and Election Assistance Commission activities.
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Four Points Sheraton, 1201 K Street N.W., Washington, D.C.

January 23
Meeting:
The Board of Advisors of the Election Assistance Commission continues its meeting.
8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Four Points Sheraton, 1201 K. Street N.W., Washington, D.C.

January 24
Hearing:
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation holds its organization meeting just prior to a hearing on airline mergers and industry consolidation.
10:00 a.m., 253 Russell Building

The House Committee on Science and Technology will hold its organization meeting just prior to a markup on pending legislation.
10:00 a.m., 2318 Rayburn Building

NSA Wiretapping Program Will Be Supervised

The controversial National Security Agency (NSA) wiretapping program, which the Bush Administration has asserted did not need warrants to operate, has been changed. In an article published in today’s Washington Post (registration required), the Attorney General has stated this program will be subject to judicial review through the court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. From the article:
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Computing Community Urges Congress to Fix Appropriations Mess

ACM joined with several groups other leaders in the computing community expressing concern over the state of the 2007 budget (which is currently in limbo) for information technology research and development and calling on Congress to complete proposed funding increases for several key science agencies. We’ve mentioned this issue a couple of times (1,2) over the past several weeks. Last year, Congress left town without passing most of the annual appropriations bills required to fund most federal agencies. Instead it passed a stopgap measure, called a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep federal agencies funded at 2006 levels. This meant that proposed increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office or Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), were shelved until the final budget was determined for 2007.
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Data Mining Attracts Congressional Attention

Two actions in recent days demonstrated the level of Congressional interest in privacy under the new Democratic Congress.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on government data mining programs. You can access witness statements, member statements and the hearing webcast at that link. The new chairman, Senator Leahy of Vermont, indicated that there would be a series of privacy related hearings throughout this Congress. He indicated the extent of the government’s data mining activity, noting at least 52 agencies use data-mining technologies and at least 199 data mining programs are planned or currently operating within the government.
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NY Times: Science Agencies Hurt by Congressional Budgeting

Before the New Year, one of the stories we wrote (it is a couple of paragraphs down) was about Congress embracing a full-year “Continuing Resolution” for most federal agencies. They did this because the last Congress only completed 2 of its 13 appropriations bills and decided it would be too complex to pass two sets of annual approprations in one year. As the New York Times writes, the strategy will undercut some gains in funding for these agencies that were supported by Congress:

“The failure of Congress to pass new budgets for the current fiscal year has produced a crisis in science financing that threatens to close major facilities, delay new projects and leave thousands of government scientists out of work, federal and private officials say.

“The consequences for American science will be disastrous,” said Michael S. Lubell, a senior official of the American Physical Society, the world’s largest group of physicists. “The message to young scientists and industry leaders, alike, will be, “Look outside the U.S. if you want to succeed.”

“It’s rather devastating,” said Jeff Nesbit, the foundation’s [National Science Foundation] head of legislative and public affairs. “While $400 million in the grand scheme of things might seem like decimal dust, it’s hugely important for universities that rely on N.S.F. funding.”