A year behind

While oversight committees in Congress begin to take up President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget request, some are questioning whether any decisions they make will be useful when work still is not completed on the fiscal 2003 appropriations.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, posed that question at a hearing Feb. 13 about the fiscal 2004 federal science and technology budget.

Last week, Congress finally agreed on all of the provisions in the fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill. But between supplementals and amendments that are already planned to handle the problems caused by the almost six-month delay in getting money to the agencies, the numbers in the fiscal 2004 budget are often simply a "best guess," one Bush administration official said.

In fact, that official said, the White House may not have final numbers for the fiscal 2003 information technology budget until the end of March.

But Congress does still need to go forward with what they have on the fiscal 2004 request, John Marburger III, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, testified at the Science Committee hearing.

"I don't think we have any choice but to regard this budget as the starting point," he said.

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