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Science and Technology Policy: Issues For the 107th Congress, Second Session

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Science and technology have a pervasive influence over a wide range of issues confronting the nation. Decisions on how much federal funding to invest in basic and applied research and in research and development (R&D), and determining what programs have the highest priority, may have implications for homeland security, new high technology industries, government/private sector cooperation in R&D, and myriad other areas. This report provides an overview of key science and technology policy issues pending before Congress, and identifies other CRS reports that treat them in more depth.

For FY2003, the President is requesting $112.1 billion for R&D, an increase of $8.9 billion over FY2002. Of that amount, defense R&D (for the Department of Defense, and Department of Energy military/nuclear programs) would receive $58.8 billion, while non-defense would receive $53.3 billion. Most of the increase is for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Some of the DOD and NIH funding will be spent on counter terrorism R&D. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is playing a major supporting role in coordinating some of the federal counter terrorism R&D activities. OSTP Director John Marburger told Congress in February 2002 that counter terrorism R&D funding is likely to increase from about $1.5 billion in FY2002 to about $3 billion for FY2003. Although total R&D spending is rising, non-NIH, nondefense R&D spending would fall by 0.2%, a pattern which raises concern among some scientists who argue that physical sciences, chemistry, social sciences, computer sciences and related fields are not being given the same attention as health sciences research. They believe such a pattern eventually could undermine the knowledge base needed to sustain growth in biomedical research and across all fields of science.

Apart from R&D funding and priorities, many other science and technology policy issues are pending before Congress. For example, a major debate is ongoing over the deployment of "broadband" technologies to allow high speed access to the Internet. The issue is what, if anything, should be done at the federal level to ensure that broadband deployment is timely, that industry competes on a "level playing field," and that service is provided to all sectors of American society. Other issues include slamming (an unauthorized change in a subscriber's telephone service provider), Internet privacy, electronic government, spectrum management, and voting technologies.

Congress also is debating what role the government should play in drug pricing. Because the federal government funds basic research in the biomedical area, some believe that the public is entitled to commensurate consideration in the prices charged for resulting drugs. Others believe government intervention in setting drug prices would be contrary to long-standing technology development policies. The role of the federal government in technology development is being debated as well.