House, employees urge more NASA R&D funding

House Science Committee leaders and NASA employees are urging appropriations subcommittee members to fund NASA research and development above the president's requested amounts, arguing that the agency’s R&D is important to the country’s future prosperity.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) testified before the Appropriations Committee’s Science, the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce, and Related Agencies Subcommittee that the sharply reduced funding for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in the fiscal 2007 budget “will sideline important scientific work that not only would increase human knowledge but that would require the development of technology that could promote U.S. security and competitiveness.”

Boehlert, who testified April 6, said Congress’ top priority should be fully funding the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, a 10-year plan to double basic research funding at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department’s Office of Science.

For fiscal 2007, that translates to about $910 million in additional funding for research and about $380 million for education programs.

After making that plan a priority, Boehlert said, additional funds should go to other areas of scientific concern, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program at NIST and the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.

“Following the recommendations of the scientific community, we urge you, at a minimum, to restore funding for the Research and Analysis programs in the [NASA] Directorate and to permit additional smaller missions to be launched,” he said. “Those items are more of a priority than any flagship science mission.”

Boehlert also asked the committee not to implement the president's requested cuts to the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA.

Late last month, employee union officials echoed Boehlert in a letter to the subcommittee.

Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, noted that Congress and the subcommittee admonished NASA last year for attempting to gut its fiscal 2006 aeronautics budget, yet NASA responded this year by again proposing to cut the directorate’s R&D.

The proposed cut shows that the agency continues to be willing to cannibalize successful science and engineering programs in an effort to fund the space shuttle and exploration programs simultaneously at full throttle, Junemann wrote in his testimony. That effort is unsustainable, ill-advised and a short-sighted scheme that would harm U.S. national security and economic competitiveness, he wrote.

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