Record science budget evaded proposed cuts

Last April, the Bush administration requested that Congress scale back funding for most nonmilitary science. The plan would have slashed the Department of Energy’s research into renewable energy sources and eliminated some research programs at NASA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency (SN: 4/14/01, p. 231: Biomedicine, defense to sidestep budget ax).

Nevertheless, Congress and the President have now agreed on unprecedented rises in funding for research and development (R&D) programs. Bipartisan congressional resistance, the administration’s own assessment of the U.S. energy supply, and changes in national priorities after the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11 turned back the proposed cuts. The new plan drove the total R&D budget to a record high of $103.7 billion, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C.

R&D budgets increased by more than 15 percent at the Department of Defense–partly for missile defense and counter-terrorism projects–and the National Institutes of Health and EPA, both of which conduct antibioterrorism programs. The defense department’s 2002 R&D budget, a whopping $50.1 billion, is $7.4 billion larger than the 2001 allotment.

Terrorism removed a barrier to government spending in general, says Kei Koizumi of AAAS, and that allowed Congress to support some science projects not directly related to national security. Koizumi wrote the AAAS report, which was released Dec. 28, 2001.

The Department of Energy ultimately received a 5 percent increase in funding rather than a proposed cut of nearly the same magnitude, and NASA and other agencies also secured modest gains. The Department of Agriculture snatched a 9 percent increase in R&D support–some of it in emergency funds for combating terrorist threats to the food supply. The administration originally had proposed an 8 percent cut for agricultural R&D.

The administration’s 2003 budget request, due next month, may be less aggressive about cutting science than this year’s was, Koizumi notes. Bush had been in office less than 3 months at the time of the 2002 request. The proposed cuts were primarily “a numbers-driven exercise” in balancing the budget, Koizumi says.

Physicist John Marburger, whom Bush appointed as science advisor last October, came on too late to mitigate the administration’s articulated intention to trim spending aggressively, says Michael S. Lubell of the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C.

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