Bush Budget Mixed for Science

The Bush Administration is pushing to prove Albert Einstein's maxim that mathematics isn't necessarily reality. Today it talked up its newly detailed budget proposal as a real boon to science--even though the numbers often said otherwise. While the 2002 budget plan calls for major increases for biomedical science, few other fields share in the bounty.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for instance, would receive a 13.5% increase, while the budgets of three major physical science funders would remain essentially flat, and the U.S. Geological Survey is slated for an 8% cut. The pronounced tilt toward bioscience has researchers and some lawmakers vowing to convince Congress, which will now massage the proposal, to plump up slimmed programs. "This [budget] is creating an awful lot of discomfort," says physicist Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society.

The budget's highlights include:

  • National Institutes of Health: NIH is slated for its fourth major boost in a row, a record $2.8 billion increase to $23.1 billion. Most of its two dozen institutes and centers will get raises of about 12%, with the new National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering starting life with a $40 million budget.
  • National Science Foundation: Director Rita Colwell touted a $40 million increase in three high-profile programs--nanoscale science, information technology research, and biocomplexity--without mentioning that the agency's $3.3 billion research account drops by $15 million. Overall, NSF's budget would grow by 1.3%, to about $4.5 billion, a far cry from the 13.5% jump it received last year. NSF spokesperson Curt Suplee assured reporters that "nothing will be eliminated" under the president's plan. But another senior official knows better. "Clearly, you can't support all these increases without cutting back in other areas," says Robert Eisenstein, head of the $850 million mathematical and physical sciences directorate.
  • NASA: The space agency won a 2% boost to $14.5 billion, but "faces some very difficult decisions" in the coming year given a host of overruns, says NASA administrator Dan Goldin. For instance, while space science would see a slight increase, from $2.3 billion to $2.45 billion, Goldin warns that growing cost estimates for some important missions, such as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, will limit the number of new starts. Overruns may also force NASA to scale back the international space station and abandon missions to the sun and Pluto.
  • Department of Energy: The Office of Science's $3.16 billion budget would remain the same. In high energy and nuclear physics, major projects such as the Large Hadron Collider being built in Europe and the Spallation Neutron Source under construction in Tennessee would stay on track. But researchers using some existing facilities, such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, would have less running time, with RHIC dropping from 27 to 20 weeks.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: There are "no wild swings" in most research programs, which range from endocrine disruptors to climate change, says EPA's Amy Battaglia. Agency scientists are also bracing for the loss of 36 of its 1971 full-time positions. The STAR extramural grants program would remain unchanged at $97 million.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: Most existing research programs--including the $106 million National Research Initiative, the department's extramural research effort--will remain unchanged. But a few "high priority" areas, including mad cow disease research, will get a bit more cash. Overall, the Agricultural Research Service gets a $1 million increase to $916 million.
  • U.S. Geological Survey: An overall 8% cut, to $813 million, will hit the agency's Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program hardest. The toxics effort drops 85% to $4 million, while NAWQA falls over a 30% waterfall, to $40 million. "This means people out of work," says USGS director Chip Groat, with up to 300 positions in danger.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: NIST's standards measurement laboratories will get a 12% jump, to $337 million. But the White House plunged NIST's controversial $200 million Advanced Technology Program into freefall by suspending money for new cost-shared research projects with industry, requesting just $13 million to finish existing projects.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: The budget catch was slim, with a slight cut to $2.5 billion. Most of the cut is set to come out of the budget for the National Marine Fisheries Service, one of the programs charged with enforcing the embattled Endangered Species Act.

Related sites

Bush Budget Overview
Bush Budget R&D Highlights (see page 123)