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Physical Focus in 2008 U.S. Budget

Good news and bad for researchers lies within President Bush's $2.9 trillion request to Congress for the 2008 federal budget, sent yesterday to Congress. The president would extend a still-pending 2007 budget plan to begin a 10-year doubling of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and core labs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). However, the 2008 proposal continues to squeeze the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which makes up almost half of the $60 billion federal science and technology budget. If the budget were to be adopted intact--a wholly unlikely prospect, given the Democratic control of Congress--government support for basic research would rise by a minuscule 0.5% over the Administration's 2007 request.

Accordingly, the scientific community's reaction correlates strongly with the fate of programs most important to its constituents. "The [president's] budget has much positive news for the nation's research universities, but it also raises some very serious concerns," says Robert Berdahl, president of the 62-member Association of American Universities, who praises the ACI funding but chastises the administration for "shortchanging" defense research and making what amounts to a $500 million cut in NIH funding. Democratic legislators who follow science are equally ambivalent. "The president's budget includes a few good targets for R&D funding, but ignores too many of our country's priorities," says Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

In contrast, biomedical lobbyists don't see much of a silver lining. "It's distressing," said Jon Retzlaff, legislative chief at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, which has called for a 6% boost for NIH. "Our goal will be to have this changed when it goes through Congress."

The 2008 budget is harder to interpret than most presidential requests because Congress hasn't finished work on the 2007 budget. Instead, the previous, Republican-led Congress adjourned in December after ordering agencies to keep spending at 2006 levels until 15 February. The new Democratic majority hopes by that date to pass a final 2007 budget holding most agencies to 2006 levels. But a measure adopted 31 January by the House made several exceptions to such a freeze, notably, the three ACI agencies. The Senate is expected to take up the 2007 budget resolution shortly.

Further analysis will appear in the 9 February issue of Science.

Related sites

AGENCY

House 2007 CR*

2008 request

% change

National Institutes of Health
Transfer to Global Fund

$28,931
99

$28,621
300

-1.1%
203%

National Science Foundation
Research †
Education †

5,916
4,766
700

6,429
5,131
750

+8.7%
+7.7%
+7.1%

NASA
Science
Exploration

16,247
5,251
3,401

17,309
5,516
3,924

+6.5%
+5.0%
+15.4%

Energy, Office of Science

3,796

4,397

+15.6%

Defense, basic research
DARPA basic research

1541
145

1428
153

-8.7%
+5.5%

Homeland Security, science and tech

1,003

976

-2.7%

Commerce Department
NOAA research
NIST labs
Advanced Technology Program

370
426
79

358
492
0

-3.3%
+15.5%

EPA science

563

540

-4.1%

USDA competitive research

190

257

+35.3%

US Geological Survey

978

975

-0.3%

Food and Drug Administration +

1965

2085

+6.1%

* Continuing resolution passed by the House 31 January, awaits Senate action
† Includes transfer of EPSCoR program from education to research account
+ Includes user fees

Source: Office of Management and Budget, individual agencies