NSF Wins 12% Boost From Senate

Barbara Mikulski. The Maryland senator has been a vocal proponent of physical science research.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Kit Bond (R-MO) have delivered on their promise to put the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget on a 5-year doubling track. Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 2003 budget that provides NSF with a 12% increase, to $5.35 billion. That's more than twice what the president requested and close to the 15% target of science lobbyists.

The NSF numbers bear the strong stamp of Mikulski and Bond, chair and ranking member, respectively, of the spending panel that sets NSF's budget and vocal supporters of the doubling campaign. It bumps up NSF's research account by 15%, to $4.13 billion, with an emphasis on the physical sciences. It also boosts graduate student stipends for three major training programs from $21,500 to $30,000 a year, with the aim of making science a more attractive profession.

At the same time, the bill would throttle back on a new program to improve math and science education (Science, 11 January, p. 265). It slices $80 million from the president's $200 million request because of Mikulski's concern that NSF might not be able to spend this year's allotment of $160 million wisely. The bill also reflects the panel's apprehension about NSF's management of big projects. In addition to delaying the start of a proposed $12 million network of environmental monitoring stations, it cuts $15 million from a new $35 million earthquake detection and research network, called EarthScope, and freezes the money until NSF hires a permanent director to oversee big new research facilities (Science, 12 July, p. 183). It also deletes the proposed transfer of some $76 million in programs from three other agencies (Science, 8 February, p. 954).

The NSF budget is just one part of a $91 billion spending bill, and today's approval is only the first step in a budget journey that must also pass through the House and might not conclude until after the November elections. But the big boost leaves science lobbyists encouraged that their voices are being heard on Capitol Hill. "This is definitely a positive signal," says Samuel Rankin of the American Mathematical Society and the Coalition for NSF Funding.

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