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New Congress Prepares Lengthy Science Agenda

WASHINGTON—The 100th Congress has tried to set the tone of political debate in the country by moving quickly on several issues in its first few weeks. Its science panels have been equally quick to assemble their own agenda for the coming months. One group that is certain to vie for the spotlight is a new task force on technology policy that will encompass the effect of current practices on scientific R&D in the United States. The group, expected to be chaired by Rep. Buddy MacKay (D-Fla.),

By | February 23, 1987

WASHINGTON—The 100th Congress has tried to set the tone of political debate in the country by moving quickly on several issues in its first few weeks. Its science panels have been equally quick to assemble their own agenda for the coming months.

One group that is certain to vie for the spotlight is a new task force on technology policy that will encompass the effect of current practices on scientific R&D in the United States.

The group, expected to be chaired by Rep. Buddy MacKay (D-Fla.), will perform its work under the auspices of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The new chairman of that committee, Rep. Robert Roe (DN.J.), considers the study a follow-up to a review of the nation's science policy conducted during the previous Congress by Donald Fuqua, a veteran Democrat who retired in December. Its report is expected sometime this spring.

MacKay, beginning his third term, is also co-chair in the House of the Congressional Caucus on Competitiveness. That group is one of many in Washington concerned about the nation's continued ability to compete with the rest of the industrial world.

"Many people see achieving a better trade balance as the solution to the problem," explained Andy Vermilye, legislative assistant to MacKay. "It's a first step, but there is a lot more that's needed." He said the task force, which in early February had not yet been formed, would address the funding of basic and applied research and the training of future scientists and engineers in the context of maintaining a competitive edge. Its work is expected to run beyond the two-year life of the current Congress.

Roe's agenda for his committee reflects the fact that science is a part of many of the pressing public issues of the day. Besides the taskforce, according to a senior staffer, the committee will focus on three issues that are also of general interest: "Getting the U.S. back into space, preparing for the energy crisis that nobody can admit is coming, and improving the scientific and technical education of our young people." The role of American science in the world, part of the task force's agenda, will be the chief concern of a new subcommittee on international scientific cooperation, chaired by Rep. Ralph Hall (D-Okla.).

The full committee has plunged enthusiastically into its work. At a January 23 hearing it gave a rough ride to White House Science Adviser William Graham in his role as spokesman for the administration's budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. Led by the chairman, members pushed beyond Graham's professed support for a range of research programs to demand whether anyone was developing policies to solve the problems facing the scientific community.

Closer Look at Space

In the Senate, the appointment of Sen. Donald Riegle (D-Mich.) as chairman of the science, technology and space subcommittee within the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation promises to bring a sharper focus to space issues. Riegle, elected to the Senate in 1976 after five terms in the House, replaces Slade Gorton, who lost his seat to Sen. Brock Adams (D-Wash.).

Riegle, who this month is examining the status of space science as part of NASA's overall budget, plans to emphasize the need for long-range planning by the agency. Such issues as the space station, the balance between military and civilian missions and the use of expendable launch vehicles for science payloads are also expected to receive attention.

The new Democratic majority in the Senate has meant a new roster of committee and subcommittee chairmen. The full Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is now led by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) rather than Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), and the committee has grown from 17 to 20 members. The science subcommittee has added Democrats Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Adams.

Elsewhere, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the National Institutes of Health and shares oversight of the National Science Foundation with the Commerce Committee. He replaces Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), now ranking minority member. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is led by Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), replacing Sen. James McClure (R-Idaho).

Appropriations subcommittees of particular interest to the scientific community include: HUD-Independent Agencies, chaired by Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), with jurisdiction over NSF's budget; Labor-HHS-Education, chaired by Sen. Lawton Chiles (DFla.), with responsibility for NIH's budget; Defense, chaired by Sen. John Stennis (D-Miss.); and Energy and Water Development, chaired by Sen. Johnston.

There are few changes in the House, which has remained firmly under Democratic control. Within the Science, Space and Technology Committee, Roe will also serve as chairman of the investigations and oversight subcommittee, replacing Rep. Harold Volkmer (D-Mo.). Rep. Marilyn Lloyd (D-Tenn.), beginning her seventh term, has been appointed chairman of a combined energy research and development subcommittee. Rep. Bifi Nelson (D-Fla.) defeated an attempt by Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) to unseat him as chairman of the space science and applications subcommittee. Brown, the, second-most senior member of the science committee after Roe, has instead become chairman of the research subcommittee within the Agriculture Committee. Rep. Doug Walgren (D-Pa.) continues as chairman of the science, research and technology subcommittee, and Rep. James Scheuer (D-N.Y.) remains chairman of the natural resources, agricultural research and environment subcommittee.

The chairmen of the appropriations subcommittees, whose jurisdiction parallels those in the Senate, remain the same. Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky.) leads the Labor, HHS, and Education panel, Rep. Edward Boland (D-Mass.) chairs the HUD-Independent Agencies subcommittee; Rep. Bill Chappell (D-Fla.) the defense panel; and Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.) the energy and water development panel.

Mervis is on the staff of The Scientist.

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