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Key Lawmaker Backs Growing the Science Budget

U.S. scientists would love to see funding levels in the stimulus package become the baseline for federal research agencies rather than a one-time bonus for their favorite agency. Today, they picked up the cautious endorsement of an important legislator—the chair of a House of Representatives spending panel with jurisdiction over several of those agencies. "It's a good idea, isn't it?" Representative Alan Mollohan (D–WV) told ScienceInsider. "It's something that I do not find unattractive."

Mollohan made his comments after gaveling to a close the last of five hearings over 3 days on science at the four science agencies that his committee handles: the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The hearings were an unusual attempt by the appropriators to gather outside advice on the nation's scientific priorities before the president submits a detailed 2010 budget request for each agency.

Several witnesses spoke in favor of using the numbers in the recently passed stimulus package—which add 50% to NSF's regular budget and 40% to the Department of Energy's Office of Science, for example—as a starting point. Although Mollohan was poker-faced during the hearings, he tipped his hand in a brief interview with ScienceInsider.

"It's a new day," he said. "We've already demonstrated that with the stimulus package and the omnibus [a bill to provide 2009 funding for most agencies that is expected to be completed tomorrow]. I support the president's [2010] request, and we're going to try to do even better in some areas."