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Move Things Around

A congressional budget committee has proposed a shakeup, reports Jeffrey Mervis at ScienceInsider. The budget committee of the US House of Representatives has called for the elimination of the Department of Commerce and the reduction of research programs at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, he says.

Under this proposal, Commerce programs would be broken up and placed within other government agencies. For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be moved to the Department of Interior, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would go to NSF, and the Census Bureau would become part of the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The US Patent and Trademark Office, though, would become an independent agency, Mervis says.

While this could be viewed a merely a re-shuffling of agencies, Mervis points out that the budget resolution repeatedly refers to needing to reduce spending as well as to eliminate the "fraud, waste, and abuse" that it says plagues government programs.

In particular, the proposal only seeks stable funding for three of NSF's six research directorates: biology, computing and information science, and math and physical science. A similar idea had been floated by the chair of the House science committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and the chair of the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, John Culberson(R-Texas), though Culberson last week said he was abandoning the idea.

It further says that high-risk projects at the Department of Energy should actually be taken on by the private sector. Mervis notes, though, that this contradicts the conventional idea that government should fund basic research that's too risky for the private sector.