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2008 R&D Budget Has Few Changes

President proposes continuation of last year's initiatives in science, energy

by David J. Hanson
February 12, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 7

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH'S federal budget for fiscal 2008 proposes an increase in total R&D spending, but it includes no new initiatives in science or energy research. Most of the increase goes to a few select departments, such as the Defense and Energy Departments and the National Science Foundation. The budgets of other R&D agencies will shrink.

Congress, however, has not yet passed the budget for fiscal 2007, so no real numbers are available to compare with the President's 2008 proposal. Although the White House Office of Management & Budget and various agencies have made estimates of likely 2007 appropriations, these probably will change as Congress finishes the 2007 budget this month.

Still, the overall numbers in the 2008 R&D budget point to a small increase, mostly for development. Bush has proposed spending almost $143 billion for R&D in the next fiscal year, 2.5% above what is expected to be spent in 2007. As usual, much of that total would go to the Department of Defense, which is slated for a 1.3% rise of almost $1 billion to $79 billion. That represents 55% of the entire R&D proposal.

Other increases support the American Competitiveness Initiative, which the President unveiled last year with a pledge to increase funding for physical sciences research. This includes a major jump for NSF, given as 15%, or $648 million, to $4.9 billion in 2008, but this number is based on the agency's 2006 budget. Congress is on track to give NSF a 7% increase for 2007, so the actual single-year jump may only be about 8%.

Another agency benefiting from the initiative is the Office of Science in the Department of Energy. The Administration is seeking a 7% rise, or about $300 million, above the estimated 2007 budget for programs such as nanotechnology and bioenergy research centers. And the core laboratory programs at the National Institute of Standards & Technology would get a 10% budget increase, or $50 million, to about $590 million.

The Administration was not so kind to Health & Human Services. NIH, its huge biomedical research agency, would get only a 1% increase to $29 billion in 2008, the third year in a row that the President proposed such a small rise in its budget. This most recent increase is much less than the rate of inflation. Congress may increase the allocation a little, but budget constraints will restrict what Congress can do.

Other R&D funding agencies will suffer budget cuts. Funding for the large R&D programs at the Department of Agriculture will shrink 13% to $2 billion. The President's budget will cut $11 million, or 1%, from the Department of Homeland Security's R&D budget and $5 million, or 1%, from research at EPA.

This budget is the first that President Bush has submitted to a Congress controlled by Democrats, and initial reactions from Democratic leaders were not positive. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both panned the budget as irresponsible and having the wrong priorities. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science Committee, said, "While the President's budget includes some important funding increases, it lacks the priorities and consistency to ensure our competitiveness now and in the long run."


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