Today in a hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Republicans expressed a number of concerns to Dr. John Holdren, President Obama's chief science and technology advisor, regarding spending levels and relative prioritization of funding in the proposed fiscal year 2012 (FY12) research and development (R&D) budget.
"Our debt today is slightly over $14 trillion dollars, and our Nation's budget deficit has increased 50 percent over the last three years," noted Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). "And yet the amount of new debt proposed in this budget is greater than the total amount of debt accumulated by the federal government from 1789 to the day President Obama took the Oath of Office. This level of spending is simply not sustainable."
The President's FY12 budget proposes a total of $147.9 billion for R&D across all agencies, representing a $772 million increase over the FY 2010 enacted level. The President's proposed FY12 budget does not treat R&D uniformly, but rather, provides significant increases in some areas, while reducing or freezing spending in other areas.
"While it is true that prudent investments in science and technology will almost certainly yield future economic gains and will allow our knowledge economy to grow, it is also true that these gains can be thwarted by poor decision-making," Chairman Hall said. "Americans expect and deserve better. With our unemployment hovering at over 9 percent, they expect us to reduce or eliminate those programs that are duplicative and wasteful and examine ways to advance real job creation and economic growth, not just spend their hard-earned money on what the government assumes is best for them."
Republicans raised concerns with several aspects of the proposal, particularly the increases in funding for climate change research and how that disproportional spending can displace funding from other worthy investments. The Chairman noted that from 2006 through the present, the U.S. has spent nearly $36 billion on climate change, and he questioned whether that spending has had meaningful benefits. Chairman Hall said, "This rather singular focus for the Federal government's limited research dollars slows our ability to make innovative and perhaps life-altering advances in other equally, if not more important, disciplines."
Republicans also raised concerns over the Administration's response to issues related to scientific integrity; concerns over burdensome regulations and tax policies that are pushing jobs overseas; and concerns over the priorities represented in the budget's energy R&D portfolio.
Members on both sides of the aisle also discussed our nation's human spaceflight program. In last year's budget proposal, the President cancelled NASA's Constellation Program, which was the planned follow-on system to the Space Shuttle. When questioned today about NASA's progress in following Congressional direction in achieving the goals of the recent authorization bill, Dr. Holdren maintained that the Administration is doing its best, and that it will be a challenge. When pressed on whether the goals in the bill will be achieved, Dr. Holdren conceded, "We will try."