House subcommittee scales back Commerce, science budgets for fiscal 2012

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Fiscal 2012 budgets at the Commerce Department and many of its technology-centric components will fall short of requested amounts, if an appropriations bill set to appear before the House Appropriations Committee July 13 becomes law.

The Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee voted in a July 7 markup in favor of a fiscal 2012 Commerce Department budget of $7.1 billion, $1.7 billion below the president's request and $464 million less than what Congress gave Commerce in the current fiscal year.

Within Commerce, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would get $700 million, which is $49 million below current funding and $300 million below the president's request.

The subcommittee voted for a $517 million appropriation for NIST's scientific and technical core programs, which is $10 million more than enacted in 2011 and $162 million below the request. That budget line includes NIST's cybersecurity program, what NIST is calling Ensuring a Secure and Robust Cyber Infrastructure.

A NIST request for $75 million for a Technology Innovation Program as part of its Industrial Technology Services appears to have been entirely cut by the subcommittee, which recommends $128 million for ITS in fiscal 2012. TIP was established by the recently reauthorized America COMPETES Act and aims to accelerate innovation through research competitions. "TIP support for collaborative high-risk, high-reward technology development projects aims to attract a critical mass of talent in industry, academia and government to take on important national challenges that can be addressed through advances in technology," according to NIST. 

NIST's plans for a $100 million Public Safety Innovation Fund would also be placed on hold by the subcommittee, which said that Congress must first vote on legislation that would authorize incentive auctions for the sale of government- and commercially- held spectrum.

The subcommittee also voted to give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, another Commerce component, $4.5 billion in discretionary funds. That appropriation would be $103 million less than the congressional appropriation for the current fiscal year and $1 billion below the requested amount.

The subcommittee mark would give a $1.6 billion appropriation for the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which is exceeds the amount appropriated in fiscal 2011 by $334 million, but still falls short of the budget request by $304 million. Under the mark, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) would receive $567 million, which is $95 million below the amount appropriated in fiscal 2011 and $50 million less than the requested amount. The committee also voted $901 million for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program, which is $429 million above the fiscal 2011 level but $168 million below the request.

NOAA's inspector general recently urged lawmakers to carefully consider NOAA's satellite program as a budget shortfall could create a gap in weather and climate data that could last between 18 and 30 months. Inadequate funding, and poor program staffing--the latter due to uncertainty caused by the series of continuing resolutions Congress used to appropriate funds during the current fiscal year--has left NOAA unprepared for the end of the NPSS lifecycle and behind in planning its transition to the Joint Polar Satellite System-I.

NOAA would receive an appropriation of $40 million for Weather and Climate Supercomputing--$11 million above the fiscal 2011 amount and the same as the request. The subcommittee shot down a $349 million NOAA request to create a NOAA Climate Service, warning the agency not to spend any money on creating such a service. NOAA proposed the service as part of a reorganization (.pdf) to take place in fiscal 2012.

When it comes to to Commerce Department headquarters, the subcommittee says in the report accompanying the mark that it supports efforts to establish a new Enterprise Cybersecurity Monitoring and Operations program. The program falls under the Departmental Management budget line, which would be $57 million--the same amount enacted in fiscal 2011, but almost $7 million less than the requested amount.

Commerce Economic Development and Assistance Programs would receive $204 million in appropriations. The president's EDAP request was for $284 million and the recommendation is $55 million less than the fiscal 2011 appropriation. Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative (WI3), a banner EDAP project, proposes to "reallocate a total of 500 megahertz of federal agency and commercial spectrum bands over the next 10 years in order to increase Americans access to wireless broadband," according to the original budget request.

The committee also voted for a science budget appropriation of $23.7 billion, a decrease of $1.6 billion from fiscal 2011 and $2.8 billion below the president's budget request. The budget line includes a $6.9 billion appropriation for the National Science Foundation, including an increase of $43 million for basic scientific research; and $16.8 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

As the manned space program scales down, NASA's budget appears set for a substantial reduction--the subcommittee's amount is $1.6 billion below the fiscal 2011 appropriation and $1.9 billion below the request. "After several years of debate and compromise, the Congress and the administration have finally settled on a consensus program for NASA in the form of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 [S. 3729 (.pdf)]," notes the subcommittee report.

For more:
- download the subcommittee mark and accompanying report (.pdfs)
- see more on Commerce, NIST and NOAA's the fiscal 2012 budget requests

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