ASM Letter on DOE FY 2017 Appropriations

May 24, 2016

The Honorable Bradley Byrne 
U.S. House of Representatives 
119 Cannon House Office Building 
Washington, DC 20515-0101

Dear Congressman Byrne:

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is concerned about legislation currently being considered by the House that would substantially cut funding for specific R&D programs at the Department of Energy (DOE).  The proposed legislation, which would amend the Senate passed Energy Policy and Modernization Act of 2016, also places unwarranted restrictions on allowable DOE R&D activity.  The ASM supports robust funding for all disciplines of basic scientific research and believes that this legislation could seriously undermine future energy and environmental research needed to protect our quality of life and promote the nation’s innovative leadership in science and technology.
 
Last year, the ASM sent a letter to Congress outlining opposition to provisions in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1806) that would excessively underfund discovery research supported by the DOE Office of Science.  The DOE has traditionally been a major supporter of environmental, energy, and bioremediation research relevant to multiple areas of microbiology.  Unfortunately, the current amendment contains not only DOE budget cuts, but restrictive language identical to the COMPETES Act that prompted last year’s protest from across the nation’s R&D enterprise.
 
The ASM has similar issues with multiple aspects of the current House legislation, which include but are not limited to the following: 

  • The FY 2017 authorization level for the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research Program (BER) would be 9.7% below the FY 2016 appropriated level and 16.9% below the President’s FY 2017 request. It is also 7.6% below that in the FY 2017 House Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. The amendment also authorizes a 9.7% cut to the already enacted funding level for FY 2016. 
     
  • The FY 2017 authorization level for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is 52% below the FY 2016 appropriated level and 60% below the President’s FY 2017 request. It is 54% below the current level in the FY 2017 House Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, and the amendment authorizes a 52% cut to the already enacted FY 2016 funding level.
     
  • The FY 2017 authorization level for DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) R&D is 42% below the FY 2016 appropriated level and 59% below the President’s FY 2017 request. It is also 35% below that in the FY 2017 House Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. In addition, the amendment authorizes a 42% cut to the already enacted FY 2016 funding level.
     
  • Among examples of the amendment’s shortsighted restrictions on R&D creativity, BER would be required to “prioritize fundamental research on biological systems and genomics science” over climate and environmental research. Also, DOE is prohibited from continuing a joint initiative with the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture to establish a cost competitive drop in biofuels production capability for military and commercial applications. 

The potential negative impact of the current legislation is significant.  Although the FY 2016 budget cycle has ended, the amendment retains the same insufficient funding levels proposed in H.R. 1806 for both FY 2016 and FY 2017.  More importantly, if passed, this legislation will become the official House position in conference with the Senate when determining the first comprehensive energy policy bill in nearly a decade.  DOE programs underwrite irreplaceable basic research and technology development that are crucial to future innovation and global competitiveness.  The House legislation currently under review is a step backward at a time when we must be looking forward by supporting leading edge R&D efforts.
 
The ASM appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed bill and urges Congress to reconsider the budget cuts and limitations included in this legislation.  Past DOE support of widely diverse R&D activities has consistently yielded notable scientific and economic returns on the public’s investment.  The ASM urges Congress to recognize the unique position of DOE funding in advancing R&D discovery while deliberating the current legislation.
 
Sincerely,
 
Lynn W. Enquist, Ph.D.
President, American Society for Microbiology
 
Stefano Bertuzzi, Ph.D., M.P.H.
CEO, American Society for Microbiology
 
Ronald M. Atlas, Ph.D.
Chair, ASM Public and Scientific Affairs Board