Three Spending Bills Bolster Research

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Congress last week sent a mostly upbeat message to researchers that it is ready to give basic science a fresh infusion of cash for the 1999 fiscal year, which officially began on 1 October. It put the finishing touches on a trio of spending bills that would give the National Science Foundation (NSF) a 7% increase, science spending at the Department of Energy (DOE) a 10% boost, and basic research at the Department of Defense (DOD) a 6% rise. "We're delighted," says DOE science chief Martha Krebs, echoing reaction from the research community to the new spending levels.

Legislators agreed to increase the NSF budget to $3.67 billion and drop proposed Senate earmarks for several research centers. But they still directed the agency to spend $22 million more than it had requested to support Arctic research and added $10 million to the $40 million plant genome initiative begun last year by congressional directive.

Legislators not only gave DOE's science programs a $217 million boost, to $2.7 billion, but also moved fusion energy from its politically exposed position as a separate budget item into a new four-division Office of Science covering existing energy research programs. The Defense Department's 6.1% increase, to $1.1 billion, includes more than $200 million for several major biomedical programs, including $135 million for breast cancer research, $58 million for prostate cancer research, and $10 million for a new ovarian cancer program.

Space scientists have less reason to celebrate. Legislators gave NASA's science programs $2.1 billion for 1999, $61 million more than the administration's request but about the same as last year's budget. Lawmakers also met the administration's request for $2.27 billion for the embattled International Space Station. The conferees agreed to fund the EPA's science and technology account at $650 million, a 3% rise.

White House officials say President Clinton is likely to sign these bills, once Congress has completed its work. Congress has not yet decided what to do with three other key funding bills--including one that could give the National Institutes of Health a double-digit increase--that are mired in election-year politicking.