A Focus on the Physical Sciences

President continues to push for increased spending for NSF and Energy Dept. research, shortchanging NIH, science advocates complain.
February 6, 2007

President Bush rolled out a 2008 spending plan Monday that disappointed advocates for scientific research, even as it called for hefty increases for several key programs in the physical sciences aimed at continuing the president's drive to double such spending. While they applaud that goal, academic leaders are troubled by the fact that the administration's budget plan, if adopted, would result in a reduction in funds for the National Institutes of Health, in relation to the months-late 2007 budget that Congress is on the verge of adopting.

“[O]ur greatest disappointment with this budget is that it actually would cut funding of the National Institutes of Health $500 million below the amount that Congress appears poised to approve for [fiscal year] 2007,” Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement. “It is essential that Congress accomplish what this budget fails to, and not only sustain but increase the nation’s investment in NIH research.”

Because of the timing of the release of the president's budget plan -- as the new 110th Congress quickly tries to complete work on the 2007 fiscal year budget that the 109th Congress failed to pass -- the White House's budget blueprint looks like it would provide an increase for the NIH. The budget plan calls for $28.321 billion in spending on the biomedical research agency, which is $200 million more than the NIH is receiving under the 2007 continuing resolution under which the federal government is operating through February 15.

But under House Joint Resolution 20, which passed the House last week and is believed to be headed for passage in the Senate and, ultimately, President Bush's signature, spending for NIH would rise to $28.832 billion in 2007. “The bottom line is that the request from the administration is $511 million less than the [fiscal year] '07 continuing resolution,” said Pat White, director of federal relations at AAU. “Since 2003, the administration has let NIH research wither on the vine.”

At a news briefing Monday, representatives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy defended the president’s support for research and development, while noting that the administration is showing “spending constraint.”

“This year’s budget focuses on balancing the budget by 2012 and keeping the tax cuts in place,” said David Anderson, the budget office's associate director for resource programs. Anderson stated that the future of federal spending on research and development depends on keeping mandatory spending -- especially Medicare and Medicaid -- in check. “Under today’s budget, 13.9 percent of discretionary spending goes to civilian R&D,” he said.

White House officials emphasized the funds the Bush budget would provide for the American Competitiveness Initiative that the president unveiled last year, which seeks to double spending on basic research in the physical sciences by 2012. The 2008 budget plan would increase spending for the National Science Foundation to $6.449 billion, for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to $4.4 billion, and for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's research programs to $594 million. 

The final 2007 spending measure on which Congress is nearing completion would provide about half the amount that the White House requested last year for the American Competitiveness Initiative. Based on that  continuing resolution, which the Senate is expected to pass next week, the president has requested more for all three agencies that fall under the competitiveness initiative. 

Amy Scott, a senior federal relations office at AAU, said that the overall funding for NSF would provide an increase of about $400 million. For the research and activities account, that’s about a 5.13 percent increase, or $366 million. “We’re very excited about that,” she said.

Scott said that research support for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration appears to have been bumped up slightly, though not enough to accomplish many of the agency's goals. 

This point was echoed in a statement by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology. “Once again, NASA’s budget request is not sufficient to do all the agency is being asked to do. Exploration and human space flight are important long-term missions for the agency and our country. So are NASA’s core activities in science and aeronautics.”

Spending on agricultural research would fall by 14.4 percent, to $2.35-billion, compared with the current levels, with an emphasis on cooperative grants involving multiple institutions rather than grants to individual colleges.
Matt Owens, assistant director of federal relations at AAU, said that the 2008 budget proposal for the Defense Department's basic research programs is 8.7 percent less than Congress enacted as part of the 2007 budget. He added that the other science and technology accounts at the Pentagon also show reductions.

“The one piece of good news is the National Defense Education Program, which is DOD’s attempt to address [scientific] work-force problems,” Owens said. The administration is seeking to double funds for the program, which awards scholarships to undergraduates and graduate student who then have a service requirement in the Defense Department upon graduation, to $44.4 million, Owens said.

Federal Funding for Research Across Different Agencies (dollar amounts in millions):

Agency 2006 enacted (000,000s) 2007 request (000,000s) 2008 request (000,000s)
National Institutes of Health $28,242 $28,269 $28,700
National Aeronautics and Space Administration      
--NASA Science 5,110 5,330 5,516
--NASA Aeronautics 893 724 554
National Science Foundation 5,581 6,020 6,429
Department of Energy      
--Science Programs 3,596 4,102 4,398
--Nuclear Energy 416 560 811
Department of Agriculture      
--Cooperative Research and Extension 2,170 1,921 1,934
--Economic Research Service 675 569 566
--Agricultural Research Service 1,141 1,001 1,022
--U.S. Geological Survey 965 945 975
National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration    
--Oceanic research 369 338 358
National Institute for Standards and Technology    
--Intramural research and facilities 570 535 594


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