House Spending Panel Punishes OSTP Over Links to China

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Bad things can happen to federal agencies when they cross swords with their budget overlords in Congress.

The latest example of that political adage comes in the 2012 spending plan for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) unveiled today by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. It cuts OSTP's budget by 55%, from the current $6.65 million to $3 million. And the subcommittee that made the recommendation, chaired by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), doesn't hide the fact that the reduction is payback for the office's response to language Wolf inserted in this year's spending bill passed in April that was aimed at restricting U.S. relations with China.

"OSTP has chosen to disregard a strong and unambiguous legislative prohibition on bilateral engagement with China or Chinese-owned companies," says language accompanying the 2012 bill, to be voted on tomorrow by the full appropriations committee. "OSTP's behavior demonstrates a lack of respect for the policy and oversight roles of the Congress."

Asked for his reaction to the committee's move, a spokesperson for OSTP director and presidential science advisor John Holdren repeated the Obama Administration's position that "it is OSTP's intention to live within the terms of the appropriations prohibition insofar as doing so is consistent with his responsibilities for executing the President's constitutional authority in foreign relations." Holdren had previously told Wolf that he would examine each proposed U.S.-Chinese interaction "on a case by case basis."

OSTP's 2012 request is 5% below what the office received in 2010. And a spokesperson for Holdren noted that the current spending bill "is the first of many steps in a budget process that will play out over the course of the next several months." That is, the 2012 budget won't be final until the House and Senate agree on a version that is also acceptable to the president.

The House panel also has some advice for how OSTP should spend its diminished resources. Although Holdren has a staff of 34 that operate programs in science, technology, environment, and national security/international affairs, the legislators said that his office should devote its 2012 appropriations to improving U.S. science and math education. That effort includes finding better ways to share with local schools the results of federally funded research on so-called best practices. "The Committee expects that OSTP will take all necessary steps to integrate dissemination goals and policies into its STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education strategic plan."

Posted in Funding Budget 2012