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What's new under the sea? Under Bush's budget proposal, the $60 million Sea Grant marine research program would fall under control of NSF.

Bush Offers Science Spending Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Biologists, computer scientists, and researchers working with minuscule materials would get a boost under a budget proposal unveiled today by the Bush Administration. Although White House officials had warned that the war against terrorism might squeeze many budgets, the $2.1 trillion budget request to Congress calls for increasing federal government R&D spending in 2003 by a fairly healthy 8%, to $112 billion. But Congress is unlikely to go along with some of the Administration's plans, such as shifting certain research programs to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The science budget plan's biggest winner is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would get a 16%, $3.7 billion raise to $27.3 billion. More than one-third of the new funds, $1.5 billion, are slated for research aimed at combating bioterrorism (ScienceNOW, 25 January), including studies of how pathogens that are potential bioweapons work and tests of new vaccines and drugs. Cancer research would get a 13% boost, to $5.5 billion. All other NIH research, however, would grow at a slower rate of 9%. Overall, NIH officials estimate that they would award nearly 500 new grants under the plan, which is likely to get a warm reception in Congress.

NSF also fared relatively well, with a 5% jump ($185 million) in research programs, to $3.7 billion, in a total budget of $5 billion. Some $76 million of the research increase, however would come from giving NSF control of three research programs now at other agencies: the Sea Grant marine research program controlled by the Department of Commerce, and hydrology and environmental education programs run by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively. In each case, the Administration believes that the quality of the science could be improved by forcing researchers to compete for funds. USGS scientists, for example, would have to compete against university scientists for NSF funding under the plan. But many researchers oppose the shifts, and law-makers aren't likely to support the idea, say Washington insiders.

Several multiagency research initiatives also get boosts. A nanotechnology initiative aimed at understanding how to manipulate matter at the atomic level would get a 17% increase, with $679 million spread among nine agencies. A new Climate Change Research Initiative would give $40 million to five agencies, and seven agencies would share $1.9 billion in funds for information technology studies.

Other major science agencies will have little new money. NASA scored only a 1.4% boost, to $15 billion, but space science would get a $555 million increase to $3.43 billion. The NASA plan also calls for completely rethinking the agency's outer planets exploration plans, canceling both a mission to Pluto and one to Jupiter's moon Europa until researchers can come up with more workable plans.

The Department of Energy, the nation's largest funder of the physical sciences, would see its research budget grow by less than 2%, to $3.3 billion. And the Department of Defense's basic research account, a major source of university math, engineering, and computer science funding, would grow by 2%, to $1.3 billion.

The budget plan now goes to Congress, which is supposed to approve its own version by 1 October, when the 2003 fiscal year begins.

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2003 science budget details