1997 Budget Watch

Before Congress adjourned for the elections, it passed and President Clinton signed a massive 1997 spending bill for several federal agencies whose individual budgets had not yet been approved. Here are some of the scientific highlights of that omnibus bill:

  • Big bucks for AIDS research--$1.5 billion--and a national breast cancer initiative--$14.8 million--at the National Institutes of Health. One move that raised eyebrows, however, was a hefty raise, from $7.4 million to $11.1 million, for the controversial Office of Alternative Medicine. The increase includes set-asides for pain research and a center for chiropractors.
  • The entire $191 million requested by the Department of Energy (DOE) to begin building its National Ignition Facility (NIF), a set of lasers that will create tiny thermonuclear reactions. That's more than triple its 1996 budget of $61 million. NIF will be used to study fusion as a potential commercial energy source, and to model nuclear explosions without resorting to now-banned underground tests. DOE will announce the site of NIF--expected to be Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California--by Thanksgiving, and hopes to break ground next spring.
  • A life raft thrown to the U.S. academic oceanographic fleet to ease its problem of excess capacity. The bill provides $7.5 million in the Navy's budget to fund nearly 500 days of defense-related research next year on the 27 vessels of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory Systems (UNOLS). At the same time, Congress may have exacerbated the underlying problem by ordering the Navy to build a $45 million twin-hulled research vessel for the University of Hawaii, a ship that the National Science Foundation has told Congress does not fit into its long-range plans for the UNOLS fleet.
  • Basic research at the Department of Defense (DOD) took a sizable hit. Funds for basic research will drop by roughly 4%, to $1.090 billion in 1997, from $1.132 billion in 1996. (The actual figure won't be known until officials allocate a $674 million cut across a $37.4 billion R&D account.) That level is particularly disappointing to university officials because it falls well below the $1.181 billion House figure and the $1.230 billion approved by the Senate, not to mention the president's $1.156 billion request.