Science Funding 2000: Waiting and Worrying

From the 30 July issue of Science , page 647.

Preliminary signs are that biomedical research again will be the big winner in the 2000 budget, while other disciplines fight to keep from losing ground.

Last week, the House appropriations subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education scheduled a vote on a bill to raise the budget of the National Institutes of Health by 8.6% in 2000, to $16.95 billion, according to congressional aides. But the meeting was canceled after battles over tax cuts and domestic programs made it impossible to reach agreement. So Representative John Porter (R-IL), the subcommittee chair, put the plan on indefinite hold. The counterpart subcommittee in the Senate, chaired by Arlen Specter (R-PA), hasn't even set a date for a vote.

On Monday the House did take its first step toward funding the National Science Foundation (NSF). But the news wasn't good: The Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs spending panel recommended a 1.5% cut in NSF's current $3.74 billion budget, which the Administration had wanted to raise by 5.8%. The panel deferred all but $35 million of a $146 million information technology initiative, including $35 million for a teraflops computer. However, it did approve $35 million of a proposed $50 million biocomplexity effort.

NSF director Rita Colwell didn't try to mask her disappointment. "We're able and ready to do 21st century science and engineering--but we can't do it on a 20th century budget," she said in a prepared statement. At the same time, NSF official Joel Widder says it could have been "a lot worse" had the committee not used an accounting gimmick: Appropriators declared $5.4 billion for veterans' health care and disaster relief "emergency" funding, so that it wouldn't count against the amount the panel can spend.

NASA received even worse news from the same panel, which cut $1.325 billion from its $13.67 billion budget. "These cuts would gut space exploration," says NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. "NASA has always stepped up to budgetary challenges, but this time [we] plan to fight." The full House was kinder to defense- related research, voting a 5.9% boost, to $8.25 billion, in the science and technology portion of the defense budget. That reverses the Administration's proposed cuts and tops the modest 1.1% increase in the Senate.

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