Cuts Remain for NSF, NASA Budgets

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The House of Representatives yesterday passed a spending bill that would cut the Administration's request for NASA by $1 billion and for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by $285 million. The fate of the bill--a $90 billion measure that funds housing, veterans care, and dozens of independent agencies--is uncertain as Congress and the White House remain deadlocked over whether to lift tight spending caps. But a series of floor votes suggest that researchers face an uphill battle in the stiff competition for federal funds.

For NASA, the bill cuts $265 million from the $2.2 billion space sciences account and $301 million from the $1.46 billion earth science account. Kevin Marvel of the American Astronomical Society called the final House vote "disappointing for the space sciences community." For NSF, it holds research spending level rather than providing a requested 7% increase and provides only $35 million of a $180 million request for the Administration's information technology initiative.

It was those reductions, first taken by the appropriations committee in late July, that spurred the White House and several scientific societies to start beating the drum for basic research. On 1 September White House chief of staff John Podesta warned that the housing and other spending bills are "playing politics with science and technology funding." On Wednesday, NSF director Rita Colwell called the budget process "disturbing," saying that it "turns our backs on the country's capability" to do great things in science.

But even as she spoke to reporters at NSF headquarters, House members were voting 212 to 207 to shift $10 million from NSF's $2.7 billion research account to a $225 million program to house indigent people with AIDS. "This is a Sophie's Choice, [putting us between] a rock and a hard place," lamented Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), an advocate for research on the Science Committee. Members were prohibited from proposing any funding increase without an offsetting cut, leaving research supporters with little room to maneuver.

The Senate was expected to begin work next week on its version of the housing bill. Subcommittee panel chair Christopher Bond (R-MO) and ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) have hinted they may be more generous to the two agencies than their House counterparts.