Congress does U-turn on NGI's future funding

In a change of heart, House and Senate lawmakers have drafted bills that would ensure
that Next Generation Internet research receives at least $200 million for fiscal years
1999 and 2000.


Both houses of Congress last fall refused to fund NGI at the level the administration
had requested. After complaining that agencies had no clear plan for NGI research,
Congress approved $85 million instead of the $105 million Clinton requested for the
program for this fiscal year.


If the legislation becomes law, it would mark the first time lawmakers had set aside
specific funds for NGI as a project.


For this fiscal year, Congress parceled out the NGI funding to the five participants in
the program: NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards
and Technology, and the Energy and Defense departments.


President Clinton, speaking at the Technology '98 Conference last month, called on
Congress to loosen its purse strings.


"My [fiscal 1999] balanced budget includes $110 million to develop the Next
Generation Internet in partnership with leading U.S. high-tech companies and
universities," Clinton said.


"We will work with you in every way we can to lift our eyes to the remarkable
potential of the Internet for learning, for the arts, as a means to spread our shared
values," he said.


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) led the push for NGI in
Senate, introducing S 1609, the Next Generation Internet Research Act.


The House Science Committee is working on a similar bill, but chairman Rep. James
Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is not yet satisfied with the details, staff members said.


The McCain-Frist bill directs Congress to appropriate $102.5 million for NGI in fiscal
1999 and $115 million in fiscal 2000. The administration originally had called for $105
million annually for the three-year project.


Staff members would not disclose the figures in the House's NGI bill. If the figures
are similar to those in the Senate bill, the administration will receive $12.5 million
less over three years--but cumulatively more money over the next two years--than
requested.


Under the plan proposed by McCain and Frist, the White House's Advisory Committee on
High-Performance Computing and Communications would administer the NGI funds and make sure
agencies do not duplicate one another's work.


Staff members in McCain's and Frist's offices said House and Senate members decided to
work out a compromise funding plan with the administration after the NGI project agencies
presented a persuasive research plan.


"Frankly, we went in being very skeptical," one staff member said.


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