NSF Gets 9.5% Boost From House Panel

A congressional spending panel has recommended a 9.5% increase next year for the National Science Foundation (NSF), warming the hearts of those who say that the country's basic research portfolio has been tilted toward biomedicine. The proposed $424 million boost for the $4.4 billion agency greatly exceeds the $56 million increase sought by President George W. Bush and includes $292 million for its disciplinary research programs, which the president would have cut by $24 million.

Yesterday's action by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Veterans Affairs, Housing, and independent agencies is part of a $111 billion bill that would fund dozens of federal agencies in 2002. NASA fared unexpectedly well, jumping to $14.9 billion--an increase of $641 million over its 2001 budget and $415 million above the Administration's request. EPA's science and technology account would receive $680 million, a $16 million drop from this year but 6% ($39 million) more than the president's request.

"This is a pretty good mark given all the other pressures on the committee," says Samuel Rankin, head of the Coalition for NSF Funding and Washington lobbyist for the American Mathematical Society. "We'd still like to see the 15% that would lead to doubling NSF's budget in 5 years, but we don't want to be seen as greedy."

Most of NASA's 2.8% boost will go to cover space station cost overruns, such as $275 million for a crew return vehicle that NASA had threatened to abandon for lack of funds. Space science, by contrast, won $27 million less than the $2.45 billion request, though still a modest increase over this year, in a budget chock-full of projects that the agency has not requested.

The House bill is expected to be approved next week by the full spending committee, the second leg of a long journey before it reaches the president's desk this fall. NSF advocates hope for at least as good a showing in the Senate, whose chair and ranking member have endorsed the doubling bill, while NASA is looking for help with several science programs.