The Administration supports in principle the importance of providing significant, long-term budget increases for civilian research programs, in keeping with the President's proposals. The President's fiscal year 2000 budget includes budget increases for a number of research and development (R&D) agencies. S. 296 could help to catalyze broad-based support of the science and technology enterprise.
The Administration, however, continues to have concerns with S. 296. The Administration would support Senate passage of the bill, if it were amended to address satisfactorily the following:
Authorization Levels. Section 6 of the bill includes authorization levels for civilian R&D in a number of agencies, but does not identify funding sources to offset the proposed increases. Authorized funding levels should be consistent with the levels presented in the President's budget. Although the Administration agrees with the importance of research funding, it remains the case that the President and Congress must determine the appropriate level of research funding within the context of the overall Federal budget. Given the constraints in the Federal budget process, we do not believe the bill should establish funding goals whose only probable effect would be to create expectations that will likely not be met.
Annual Report. The Administration recommends that Section 7 of the bill be deleted because it is inappropriate to require in statute that the proposed report on Federally-funded research and development be provided by the President. Statutory mechanisms already in place provide much of the information requested, such as the agency Strategic Plans, as required in the Government Performance and Results Act.
Study and Evaluation. The Administration recommends that Section 8(a) of the bill be substantially modified to encourage work within the existing strategic planning process. Given ongoing activity involving the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Academy of Sciences, and others, the Administration believes the statutory mandate for the study should be eliminated.
The Administration recommends that Section 8(b) be deleted. In the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), Congress placed on each agency the responsibility to develop its performance plan. This same approach applies when alternative performance plans are needed. While GPRA requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to "authorize" the use of alternative performance plans, such plans are developed by the agencies, not by OMB, because the agencies are in the best position to assess their activities and establish a performance plan that is geared to those activities. Departing from the GPRA approach, Section 8(b) would require OMB to "promulgate" alternative performance plans for research and development programs. If alternative performance plans are needed for these programs, they can be developed using the existing GPRA approach. It is not necessary or appropriate to transfer to OMB the responsibility for developing alternative performance plans for other agencies.
The definition of "Independent Merit-Based Evaluation," in Section 8(d)(3)(A), is potentially overly restrictive and could significantly constrain the number of experts available to conduct a review of certain programs. As an alternative, requiring reviewers to make "full disclosure" of any funds received from the program may work better to ensure fair and impartial analysis by experts.
Performance Assessment. The Administration recommends that Section 9 be deleted. It is premature to change the current approach under GPRA by requiring OMB to identify research and development programs that do not meet "an acceptable level of success." Also, the section could have the unintended consequence of encouraging agencies to ratchet down their performance plans.