Rep. preps IT research funding bill

The chairman of the House Science Committee this spring plans to introduce legislation proposing a program for federal information technology research.

Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the committee, said last month he would not describe the upcoming proposal as an answer to the Clinton administration's proposed $366 million Information Technology for the 21st Century Initiative (IT2). But late last month Sensenbrenner said he had concerns about how the administration plans to fund IT2.

IT2 would fund additional basic research in computer science. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of federal and corporate research spending issued last month noted that the administration has not proposed any funding for IT2 after fiscal 2000. It also said that given that Clinton has not proposed increasing the budgets of participating civilian agencies during the next few years, other research funding would have to be cut to boost future IT research spending.

The report "points out a few areas of concern with the administration's IT2 initiative, including the administration's funding commitment beyond 2000 and how IT2 fits into the larger R&D picture," Sensenbrenner said.

A spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) said the CBO's assessment of future funding for IT2 is "speculation until the Congress reaches agreement with the White House on how to apply the budget surplus to save Social Security and Medicare."

The administration has proposed its own legislation to authorize IT2 , which White House OSTP director Neal Lane, in a letter last month, termed a "starting point" for discussion about the program with Congress.

Lungren said he could not discuss any specific provisions of Sensenbrenner's legislation, which is still being drafted. But Lungren did say the legislation would address recommendations made last fall in a science policy study headed by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.). One of these recommendations called on the government to make basic research a priority.

The CBO study found that government spending on applied research has grown at almost twice the rate of basic research between 1986 and 1996. During this period, total federal research spending on IT grew 136 percent to $1.1 billion. Funding for applied research more than tripled, while funding for basic research nearly doubled.

"[The CBO report] provides valuable insight into whether federal agencies are indeed making basic research a priority or if they are spending scarce R&D funds on short-term product developments more likely undertaken by the private sector," Sensenbrenner said.

Clinton's IT2 is designed to address recommendations made by the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee that the government double funding for IT research over the next five years and devote that to basic research. Six agencies—the National Science Foundation, the departments of Defense and Energy, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—are slated to receive IT2 funds.

Most of the money would be distributed to universities as research grants, although the agencies would use about 40 percent of it for their own programs.

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