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Volume 86 Issue 6 | p. 11 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 11, 2008

Patchy Increases For R&D

Proposed research funding is way up for some agencies, down for others
Department: Government & Policy
Credit: Newscom
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Credit: Newscom

FEDERAL SPENDING on research and development would be $147 billion in fiscal 2009 under the proposed budget released by the Bush Administration on Feb. 4. That would be a 3% increase over fiscal 2008 spending, according to figures from the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB).

"Overall, the increase in the total federal science and technology budget is modest," said John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, at a press conference. "But it is a reflection of the Administration's priorities."

Marburger also pointed out that the inclusion of congressionally mandated spending items, or earmarks, continues to negatively impact science. If earmarks are removed and agencies are allowed full discretion over appropriated funds, "the amount of money requested is more than adequate to meet the needs of the agencies," he noted.

Increases, however, are not consistent across agencies. The programs cited by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address as essential to U.S. competitiveness are all slated for increases. The Department of Energy's Office of Science programs would receive $4.7 billion, a 19% increase; NSF's funding would rise 16% to $5.2 billion; and the National Institute of Standards & Technology's laboratory budget would rise 4% to $634 million.

Commenting at his agency's budget briefing, NSF Director Arden L. Bement Jr. said: "Increased federal investments in research and education are imperative now to sustain our comparative advantages in a flattening world. The NSF budget for 2009 reflects that commitment."

The proposed spending for other major research agencies is flat or declining. NIH would get no increase at all next year. Its budget would be fixed at $29.3 billion, the same as in fiscal 2008. And despite continuing long-term energy concerns, spending at DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy would be cut 17% to $1.2 billion. Research funding at NASA next year would be down 7% to $5.5 billion. Also, research at the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service is slated for a 7% cut to $1.0 billion.

Multiagency programs touted by the Administration would get some increases. The National Nanotechnology Initiative, formed to create materials, devices, and systems that exploit the distinct properties of matter at the molecular level, would receive $1.5 billion next year, up 2%. Likewise, the Climate Change Science Program, which includes 13 federal departments and agencies, is slated for a 10% rise in funds to $2.0 billion in the proposed budget.

According to OMB data, most of the $3.9 billion increase in federal R&D spending will go to two areas. The Department of Defense would receive a $1.0 billion increase, to $74.4 billion—51% of total federal R&D funds—just for development and testing of large weapons systems. And at the Department of Homeland Security, spending for new research facilities and equipment would skyrocket to $2.1 billion from just $148 million this year.

However, the budget proposal is likely to undergo significant changes this year as Congress goes through the appropriations process. Cuts the President has proposed for popular programs such as NASA and USDA, along with the lack of an increase for NIH, may change. Especially in this election year, Congress may add funds to programs now slated for flat or lower spending.

 
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