Reports Warn of R&D Cuts

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Scientists should be skeptical of the White House claim that R&D has been protected from the headlong rush to cut the federal deficit. That's the underlying message in reports released here today by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, which publishes ScienceNOW), which project a grim future for R&D based on the proposed 1998 federal budget.

After accounting for inflation, only the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation will have more money for R&D next year than in 1994, according to the NAS study. Overall, the 1998 request for science, after discounting for inflation, is 3.4% less than what was available in 1994. Much of this year's proposed increase goes for long-term construction projects, not research, the report notes.

Gazing deeper into the future, the AAAS analysis finds that White House projections for 2002 would slice the purchasing power of R&D budgets by 14%. Civilian R&D would fall by 9.4% and defense R&D by 17.8%. "Things aren't getting better for R&D--they're just projected to decline more slowly," says AAAS policy chief Al Teich.

The reports come on the heels of a bipartisan call from the House Science Committee, which wants to triple the 1% increase proposed by President Clinton for the science and technology programs under its purview--that is, most civilian R&D minus biomedical research. "Basically, we want to cover inflation," one staffer on the panel says. The 20 March plan, the panel's advice to the House committee that produces a budget resolution to guide spending decisions, would add money to the Environmental Protection Agency's science budget and make small cuts from research at the Department of Energy.

Congress will weigh this and other advice when it returns from its spring recess on 8 April to tackle the 1998 federal budget. Don't expect the White House to side with its critics. Noting that most other areas of the federal budget are projected to decline much faster than spending on science and technology, one White House official says: "If inflation is the only thing attacking the science budget, [scientists] should take the money and run."