Big Budget Boost for NIH

Sometimes good just isn't good enough. President George W. Bush said on Friday that he would request a record $2.8 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 2002 budget proposal that he will present to Congress tomorrow night. But some biomedical science groups say that the figure--a 13.8% boost, to $23.1 billion--is only a starting point for their campaign to win a $3.4 billion boost.

"We will work in a bipartisan fashion with our congressional champions ... to increase the agency's budget," vowed Mary J. C. Hendrix, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The 60,000 member group has helped lead an effort, begun in 1998, to double NIH's budget to $27.3 billion by 2003.

Bush briefly mentioned his plans for NIH during a photo opportunity on 23 February, 4 days before outlining to the nation his spending proposal for the 2002 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. "We recognize the federal government plays a very important role in researching cures for disease," Bush said in recommending the largest increase in NIH's history.

But Bush was mum on the subject that has much of the science community talking: the pain his budget is expected to inflict on nonbiomedical science budgets (Science, 23 February, p. 1463). He was expected to request only a 1.3% increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF), whose budget now stands at $4.4 billion. Scientists are also bracing for grim news for science programs at NASA, the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whether Congress will follow Bush's blueprint, however, is unclear. Congress traditionally increases the president's request for NIH and, already, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have introduced legislation calling on the Senate to back a $3.4 billion increase. Dozens of House and Senate lawmakers have also signed an array of letters to Bush and congressional leaders asking for major science budget increases at NSF, DOE, and NASA.

The first real test will come this spring, when congressional budget committees issue roadmaps to spending panels overseeing specific agencies. Researchers, says one House aide, "are going to know pretty early just how far they'll have to push the rock up the hill."

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