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July 10, 1998

On June 25, Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a new bill, the Federal Research Investment Act (S. 2217). The purpose of the bill is to provide for the continuation of federal research investment in a fiscally sustainable way.

The Act is intended to encourage as an overall goal, the doubling of the annual authorized amount of federal funding for basic scientific, medical, and pre-competitive engineering research over the next twelve years. The bill also sets a minimum level of investment in order to maintain the high priority that science, engineering, and technology had previously been afforded in the federal budget.

The language of the bill provides for a steady 2.5% annual increase above the rate of inflation each year for the next twelve years. The bill assumes that the rate of inflation each year will be 3%. By the year 2010, if this bill is passed, the civilian research and development appropriation would total more than $67.9 billion.

The bill also states that there is a minimum funding threshold. If funding ever fell below this level, long-term harm to both the research infrastructure and economic strength of the United States would be caused. Therefore, the Act states that the total amount of federally-funded research and development should never fall below 2.1% of the overall federal budget.

Historically, the percentage of the civilian discretionary budget allocated to research and development efforts has increased steadily from approximately 10% in 1980 to 14% for fiscal year 1998. The investment in civilian research and development efforts for fiscal year 1998 represents 2.12% of the overall federal budget.

The legislation would also mandate that a study be conducted by the National Academy of Science that would recommend processes to determine prioritizing research programs, assessing performance, and terminating programs which are unsuccessful.

It is questionable whether or not the bill will be able to pass through the Senate during the already full 105th Congressional agenda. However, several factors support the possibility that the bill may make it to the floor for a vote. First, Senator Frist chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space. Secondly, Senator Rockefeller is the subcommittee's ranking Democrat. Finally, there are six other strong co- sponsors of the bill: Senators Lieberman, Bingaman, Breaux, Domenici, Burns, and Gramm.

There is currently no companion piece in the House. However, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) recently stated at a commencement speech at the University of California at San Diego that he wants to see federal spending on science and technology double.