- By Kenneth T. Walsh
The new conservative lineup in Washington—featuring Republican
control over the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White
House—will mean surprisingly little change in science and technology
policy at the federal level.
That's because much of the science and technology agenda is
considered nonpartisan and won't be altered by the stronger hand
that voters dealt to the GOP in the November 2002 elections. In the
last session, Congress sliced about $10 billion from what the government
had planned to spend in 2003, and some of this cut will likely come
out of R&D programs. However, on issues where both parties strongly
disagree—such as whether to greatly expand domestic energy development
as favored by many conservatives and the Bush White House—the
GOP didn't gain enough seats to give them an overwhelming advantage.
Here is what to expect in 2003:
National Science Foundation. For the first time in
years, Congress has passed, by huge margins, an NSF authorization bill.
And this one calls for doubling the agency's budget over the next
five years. It also promotes math and science education with scholarships
for future teachers, money for education research and curriculum reform,
and incentives for universities, K-12 schools, businesses, and education
agencies to form math and science education partnerships.
The challenge will be to find the money to pay for what Congress has
authorized. The House and Senate have approved double-digit increases
for NSF in 2003, but all nondefense spending is still susceptible to
cutting before Congress completes the appropriations process. In addition,
tensions between Congress and the agency over NSF's management
practices may make the agency a target for legislators looking for $10
billion in budget savings. Despite these uncertainties, the widely supported
authorization bill and general high regard for university-based R&D
in Congress make NSF's prospects better than those of most other
federal science agencies.
Other funding fights. Not surprisingly, following
the budgetary success of the National Institutes of Health, other science
agencies are lining up to claim their share of the pie. Some members
of the scientific community are arguing, for example, that NIH's
windfall crowded out the Department of Energy's civilian science
office and other agencies where more investment in science and engineering
could be a boon. Look for supporters of DOE's Office of Science
and NASA to be making big pushes in 2003. Meanwhile, NIH would like
to increase its budget by another 50 percent over the next five years.
Energy. The battle between energy developers and
environmentalists will continue to heat up as the 2004 elections approach.
On one side are the Bush administration and other conservatives who
believe the nation needs to develop more of its domestic sources of
oil, natural gas, and other energy supplies. To that end, Washington
insiders expect a renewed GOP push to allow drilling in Alaska.
On the other side are those who favor a shift to conservation and
what Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) calls "new sources of energy
born in the labs of American ingenuity and innovation." This would
mean more federal investment in R&D to create fuel cells and fusion
energy and to improve energy efficiency across the board. The Bush administration
favors more R&D but with a particular emphasis on defense and specific
programs to bolster the war on terrorism.
Leadership. Perhaps the most striking change triggered
by the November election will be a shift in leadership in the new GOP-controlled
Senate. Not only will a Republican replace Tom Daschle (D-S.Dak) as
Senate majority leader but there will be a complete turnover in committee
chairmanships. None is as dramatic as conservative James Inhofe (R-Okla)
replacing moderate (and former Republican) James Jeffords (I-Vt.) in
running the Environment and Public Works Committee.
In the House, Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.)
will continue to work cooperatively with Ralph Hall (D-Tex.). Modest
progress is expected on legislation to increase government investment
in nanotechnology, considered a key to treatment of disease and to advancements
in electronics and other fields. The committee is also expected to fashion
legislation reauthorizing NASA and proceeding with an international
But no one should expect any big policy departures over the next two
years. The outlook is simple: the status quo.
Kenneth T. Walsh is chief White House correspondent
for U.S. News & World Report. He can be reached at email@example.com.