Web Extra  Friday, October 11

Earthscope closer to a reality

On Wednesday, after months of postponement, the House Appropriations Committee voted to give Earthscope $40 million for fiscal year 2003, now almost two weeks old. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Earthscope is a massive effort to study the way the North American continent moves and formed. President Bush's budget requested included $35 million for Earthscope, and the counterpart committee in the Senate voted in July to give the program $20 million. By allotting funds for Earthscope beyond both the administrative and Senate requests, the House committee vote was worth the wait -- poising Earthscope to become the first-ever Major Research Equipment and Facilities (MRE) project for the earth sciences.

Earthscope funding falls under the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies (VA/HUD) appropriations bill, which oversees spending for NSF, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Within the MRE account, the bill calls for level funding over the five-year lifespan of EarthScope, providing right around $40 million each year. Committee members say that this approach will yield "significant cost savings over the long-term operation and maintenance of the facility, and providing higher quality data through the acquisition of instrumentation with uniform technical characteristics."

Other funding for MRE projects in fiscal year 2003 includes $13.6 million for the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, $9.7 million for the Large Hadron Collider and $30 million for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. The bill would also give $6 million for constructing the South Pole Station and $10 million for the Terascale Computing System. A few other MRE projects were not requested but still receive funding under the House bill, including the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research and the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. The House committee decided "without prejudice" not to initiate the National Ecological Observatory Network, in order to "fully fund ongoing projects as well as begin funding for one new research effort, the EarthScope project."

Under the bill, NSF overall would receive $5.42 billion, about a 13 percent increase over fiscal year 2002. Research within the Geosciences Directorate accounts would receive $701 million out of the total $4.1 billion for NSF research accounts. And like the Senate, the House committee rejected the administration's request to transfer programs from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey to NSF. "Each of these programs works well within its current framework and the Committee has not been convinced that such transfer as proposed in the budget submission will either enhance the individual programs or benefit the ongoing programs of the Foundation," writes the House committee.

Because the House allocation for VA/HUD this year was lower than in previous years, it took the subcommittee members more time to figure out how best to allot funds. Still, despite the delay in the House subcommittee, it is unlikely that the full House will vote on a final bill before elections this November. After the House vote, the two legislative branches will craft a compromise bill.

For more on VA/HUD appropriations, including funding for EPA, FEMA and NASA, visit AGI's Government Affairs Program.

Lisa M. Pinsker

Related Stories:

Senate boosts NSG geoscience funding, Web Extra, July 26
Bush Budget would reshuffle geoscience, Web Extra, Feb. 5
Earthscope: Reassembling a Continent in Motion, April 2002
Turning a Request into Reality, Political Scene, April 2002

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