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AAS ACTION ALERT 2000-02

 

SUMMARY

 

This action alert summarizes current events related to the Federal Budget and advocates new and continued action on the part of AAS members, members of its divisions and supporters of astronomy research. This alert is rather long mainly due to the sample letters and addresses of Congressional offices towards the end of the alert.

 

CURRENT SITUATION

 

The President's budget was submitted to Congress on February 7. The situation for science funding in the Administration budget looks quite good overall, with large increases planned for NSF and NASA, which fund most federally supported astronomical research. Other agencies that fund astronomy research such as the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense also fared well in general in the amount available for research, but exact numbers related to astronomy funding are difficult, if not impossible to extract from the agency funding documents. Members of the AAS and its Divisions were mailed a Public Policy Brief in early March outlining much of the detail of the budget and the appropriations process. Extra copies of this document are available, contact Kevin Marvel (marvel@aas.org) for more information. A PDF file of the brief is available online at the AAS public policy web page (http://www.aas.org/policy/FY2001Budget.html).  NASA's Office of Space Science is slated to receive a large overall increase in funding for FY 2001 of nearly $200 million or about 9.4%. This would move the Office from a funding level in FY 2000 of $2.2 billion to a level in FY 2001 of $2.4 billion.

Detailed budget information is available from the NASA Code B web page (http://ifmp.nasa.gov/codeb/). Note that some care must be exercised when reading these documents as NASA's budgeting scheme is detailed on a functional basis, while the funding of interest to astronomy researchers is often mission oriented. This means that various portions of funding for a mission are often listed under multiple functional categories. The total cost accounting measures (described on the web page above) provide separate documents for major OSS efforts that combine all the various expenses for a given mission/project (sources: NASA FY 2001 budget documents).

 

Reports on the Faster-Better-Cheaper program and the failed Mars missions have been released and at least as of now have had little impact on the Hill. In his hearing with NASA's oversight committee, Administrator Dan Goldin was grilled on the status of the International Space Station and the ongoing delays caused by Russian participation. He also had to answer probing questions from Congress regarding the Faster-Better-Cheaper philosophy as well as Mars program failures. Look for the Mars issue to come up during Congressional debate on NASA funding since the President suggested a significant increase to the Mars exploration effort (sources: NASA documents, Capitol Hill contacts).

NSF Astronomy scores a significant increase in funding in the FY 2001 budget, supporting Director Rita Colewell's message of "a rising tide floats all boats". The Astronomy Research and Instrumentation program, which directly funds grants, is proposed to increase from $43.6 million to about $59.8 million for a percentage increase of 37.3%. Unfortunately, the Facilities program (National Centers) would receive only a minor increase, essentially remaining flat in FY 2001 (source: NSF FY 20001 budget documents). The House of Representatives has approved (as of March 23) its version of an FY 2001 budget resolution in response to President Clinton's proposed FY 2001 budget. This is the first step in the Congressional budget procedure and sets the tone for the coming months of debate on the Hill. This resolution does not actually appropriate funds for agencies, but outlines Congress' budget targets in response to the President's submitted requested budget. The levels proposed are $29 billion below the President's requested level, but $45 billion above the scheduled budget cap mandated by Congress in 1997 This resolution, if endorsed by the Senate (as of 4-7-00 still under consideration on the Senate Floor), sounds the death knell for the 1997 budget caps (sources: Science Magazine 31-March-2000, Congressional documents). The appropriations process begins in mid to late spring and continues into the early fall. This is when members must be prepared to respond quickly to any negative Congressional proposals.  The good news is that the House's resolution matches large portions of the President's proposed budget for FY 2001. NSF would receive $175 million less for R&D than the President's requested level under the House resolution and, agency-wide, NASA would receive $317 million less than the Administration level for R&D (source: AAAS House Resolution analysis, Congressional documents).

 

The most dramatic part of the House resoultion is that it clearly deviates in the outyears from the President's projected outyear budgeting. This should not be an immediate concern, as the current administration will not be responsible for the FY 2002 and subsequent budgets bringing to mind the cliche of crossing that bridge when we come to it. However, it is a clear sign that the current Congress values other areas of expenditure (like tax cuts) more than investment in basic research. We must continue to communicate to our representatives that one major reason the nation has a booming economy is that the Federal government funded basic research 30 to 40 years ago at levels approaching 2 percent of our GDP. The current federal investment is less than 1 percent of the GDP. Industry has made up the difference, investing an amount equal to nearly 2 percent of the total GDP in research. Most of this investment is in applied research leading to marketable products and lacks the fundamental character of federally funded basic resarch in the 1960's. (source: AAAS Analysis graph => http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/trendusg.pdf).

 

A final bit of good news is that the appropriations process is likely to take place very quickly this year to allow members of both parties to return to their districts and campaign for re-election. This will likely limit the total number of earmarks in the final budget simply due to time constraints as well as limiting debate on the budget. Both should place funding levels for agencies close to the President's requested levels.

 

WHAT TO DO NOW

 

First of all, members of the AAS, its divisions and other supporters of astronomy research should actively thank members of Congress (both House and Senate, the Senate will likely pass its budget resolution by early next week at the latest) for their early efforts in support of R&D funding. Of particular note, some members (Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), James Rogan (R-CA), Dave Weldon (R-FL), David Dreir (R-CA) and Nick Smith (R-MI)) went out of their way to place support for R&D into the House budget resolution. The addresses of all House members who helped support R&D in the resolution are listed below.

Second, contact with individual members of Congress should continue. Remember that it takes only 5 letters per week to a Congressional office to become "an issue" at the weekly meetings. Plan on sending letters regularly to your members of Congress and attempt to arrange a visit with them when they are in the home district.

 

Third, letters to the NSF, both to Director Rita Colwell and the Head of the Mathemeatics and Physical Sciences Directorate, Robert Eisenstein as well as Hugh Van Horn, head of the Astronomical Sciences Division should be sent expressing appreciation for the increased funding levels for the grants program and pledging to work on behalf of the foundation to guarantee continued funding increases in the coming years.

 

 

Finally, stay informed. The Congressional appropriations process is expected to move quickly this year so that members of the majority party can return to their districts and effectively carry out their re-election campaigns. There are several resources available on the AAS Public Policy web page that will keep you informed as to what is happening and how to participate effectively.

 

RESOURCES

 

Addresses for key House members who supported R&D in the House Budget Resoultion passed on March 23, 2000 by fighting for an increased function 250 level. Budget Function 250 covers expenditure for Basice Science, Space and Research.

 

Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)

1714 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Rush Holt (D-NJ)

1630 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

James Rogan (R-CA)

126 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dave Weldon (R-FL)

332 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

David Dreir (R-CA)

237 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Nick Smith (R-MI)

306 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Steven T. Kuykendall

512 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dan Miller

102 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

John Kasich

1111 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Lynn Rivers

1724 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Ken Bentsen

326 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

James Moran

2239 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Darlene Hooley

1130 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

David Price

2162 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

John Sptratt, Jr.

1536 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

 

Sample Thanks Letter to Congress

 

Dear Representative X,

 

Thank you for your support of Federal R&D funding. By working with your colleagues to pass the House Budget Resolution with an increased function 250 level on March 23, you have ensured that R&D funding will receive adequate support for the coming fiscal year.

 

[personal info paragraph]

 

I work at a small college in Georgia where I teach introductory physics and upper level classes in astronomy. My students are thrilled by every new scientific result that appears in the press and I am always sure to let them know when that result is funded by the Federal government. Many don't know that the Federal government is practically the only source of funding for truly basic research and are surprised to find out that basic research funded by the Government in the late 1950's has led directly to the digital revolution we are experiencing today.

I look forward to working with you in the coming year to ensure that your good intentions as expressed by your efforts on the House Budget Resolution will be implemented in the appropriations process. If I can provide you with any information about astronomy research, undergraduate science education or help your efforts in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Fred E. Astronomer

 

 

NSF Address:

 

National Science Foundation

4201 Wilson Boulevard

Arlington, VA 22230

 

Sample Letter to NSF

 

Dr. Colwell,

 

Thank you for your hard work this past year. It has paid off handsomely with a wonderful result for NSF in the President's proposed budget. The situation appears even better as this week the House of Representatives passed a Budget Resolution that will allow the large increase for NSF to be funded. We have now to only work our way through the appropriations process to see your laudable goals realized.

 

I am particularly excited about the improved situation for the Division of Astronomical Sciences. As you know, the division has been hard pressed to support both its wonderful National facilities and its grant program. This year the grant program is slated to receive a very large increase of nearly 40%. This increase will go a long way at alleviating the small size and number of grants available to astronomy researchers through the division.

 

[Include below paragraph if you support the national centers]

However, I am concerned that continued flat-funding of the facilities program will lead to decreased user support and facilities upkeep that is so vital for our Nation's astronomy facilities. Please consider working hard next year to find a way to increase this very vital funding. Our nation currently leads the world in astronomy research, helped in no small way by the NSF's excellent facilties. Please don't let them fade away under the biting press of flat funding. They are too good and perform at too high a level to deserve this awful fate.  I will be actively supporting NSF in the coming year during the appropriations process by visiting my members of Congress when they are in the home district and regularly writing letters to them when they are in Washington. If you ever need any assistance in your quest to grow the NSF, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Cindy A. Astrophysicist.

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