Stimulus bill doesn’t ignore R&D

Rumors have circulated for weeks about how robustly the economic-stimulus package would invest in research and development. The first solid clues emerged yesterday when the House Appropriations Committee released draft legislation to finance a jump-starting of the nation’s moribund economy. The bill suggests that although overall science won’t come out a big winner, energy and biomedical-research programs might. Another notable theme: a strong commitment to upgrding the infrastructure to support quality research.

Although released by the House, the package also has broad support of Democratic lawmakers in the Senate —  and closely reflects the policies advocated by Barack Obama over the past six months.

The list that follows is not all-inclusive, but identifies many of the major R&D-related programs in the 258-page spending blueprint, such as recommendations to spend:

A whopping $21-plus billion at the Energy Department, which would include

1) $4.9 billion for implementing aspects of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and $3.5 billion for energy efficiency and conservation block grants;

2) $4.5 billion to modernize the electric grid, enhance the security of electrical production and support research on energy storage;

3) $2.4 billion for programs to demonstrate carbon-dioxide capture and sequestration technologies;

4) $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research (of which at least $800 million must be available for biomass studies and $400 million for geothermal projects);

5) $2 billion for science programs, of which at least 20 percent must be reserved for projects at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy —  and at least of quarter of this spending ($100 million) must fund advanced scientific computing;

6) $1 billion for manufacturing advanced batteries, and another $1 billion for an “advanced battery loan guarantee program;”

For the National Institutes of Health and related agencies, $6.66 billion, including

1) $2 billion to help foster the information-technology standards that would aid a national transition to fully computerized patient-health records;

2) $1.5 billion to support NIH research, although only half of that money would be available before the start of the next fiscal year (Oct. 1);

3) another $1.5 billion to renovate or repair non-federal research facilities through grants administered by the National Center for Research Resources;

4) $700 million for comparative-effectiveness research — studies to identify which of several different treatments works best (and for whom); and money to commission the Institute of Medicine to “produce and submit a report to the Congress … not later than June 30, 2009, that includes recommendations on the national priorities for comparative-effectiveness research to be supported with the funds in this [stimulus package]

5) $962 million for “high-priority” upgrades to facilities and equipment at NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

At the National Science Foundation, $3 billion:

1) the bulk of which — $2.5 billion — would go for research and related activities. Of this total, at least $200 million must be reserved to pay for major research instrumentation grants;

2) $400 million for construction of major research equipment and facilities;

3) and $100 million for education “and human resources.”

$2.7 billion at the Interior Department:

1) with $1.7 billion going for deferred maintenance and related projects within the National Park System;

2) $500 million for water reclamation and reuse programs;

3) $300 million for infrastructure upgrades and critical deferred maintenance on Fish & Wildlife Service properties, including wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries

4) $200 million to the U.S. Geological Survey to repair or upgrade facilities, replace equipment, conduct national mapping activities, strengthen seismic and volcano monitoring systems and more.

Department of Agriculture:

1) going to the U.S. Forest Service for wildlands-fire management and capital improvements (which includes energy efficiency enhancements, remediation of abandoned mine sites, removal of fish-passage barriers and watershed enhancements).

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

1) with $600 million for climate programs and related satellite procurements, of which at least $140 million must be reserved for the modeling of climate data;

2) and $400 million for habitat restoration and mitigation work.

Environmental Protection Agency:

1) with 80 percent available for cleaning up Superfund sites and the rest for addressing the nation’s leaking underground storage tanks.

$600 million at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration:

1) with $400 million to be spent for science, at least $250 million of which could be spent only on “accelerating the development of the tier 1 set of Earth science climate research missions;”

2) another $150 million to boost spending on aeronautics R&D;

3) and $50 million for infrastructure upgrades to facilities damaged during 2008 by hurricanes, floods and other nature disasters.

And $500 million at the National Institute of Standards and Technology:

1) with $100 million for science and technical research, another $100 million for “industrial technology services (70 percent of which would go to NIST’s Technology Innovation Program and the rest for its Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership);

2) and $300 million for construction of research-science buildings.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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