Clinton Seeks Boost for Civilian R&D

WASHINGTON, D.C.--President Clinton proposed today a 3% increase in civilian research spending, part of a federal R&D budget of $78.2 billion in 2000. The Administration's budget proposal marks the first time in two decades that civilian spending would top defense R&D, which is scheduled for a 5% decline. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would lead the way with a 6% increase, to $3.95 billion, while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may have to make ends meet with a 2% increase in a $15.9 billion budget.

The request faces an uncertain future before a partisan Congress badly bruised by the president's impeachment and ongoing trial. Still, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said at a press briefing today that "science has done relatively well in the early skirmishes. This is a strong budget." DOE's science programs would receive a 3.2% increase, including continued support for the $1.3 billion Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, while NASA's budget for space, earth, and life and microgravity sciences would rise by 2.5%. University-based basic research is scheduled for a 4% hike, to $18.2 billion.

The clear favorite of vice president Al Gore and senior Administration science officials is a $366 million computing initiative called Information Technology2. It's a multiagency effort led by NSF, which is slated to receive a $146-million slice. "It will transform the way we do science," said NSF director Rita Colwell. The initiative's focus on better software, faster networking, and brawnier computers would complement an ongoing $110 million-a-year federal program, called Next Generation Internet, that hooks leading research sites up with faster connections. Less clear is whether IT2 represents a quantum jump in the way the Administration funds computing or merely an elaboration of existing programs. "It looks like a grab bag of some new programs and some old, but it's hard to tell," said one congressional aide.

Biomedical lobbyists expressed disappointment that Clinton did not "continue the momentum" from last year's 15% raise for NIH and vowed to push Congress for a repeat performance. Presidential science adviser Neal Lane emphasized the importance of a balanced portfolio across disciplines, but allowed that "an increase in NIH's budget would be good" so long as Congress met the Administration's requests for the other agencies.