Stimulus: Substantial money for research infrastructure

President Barack Obama signed into law, today, the much talked about $787 billion stimulus package — officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The venue: Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. It’s an appropriate setting, since there’s plenty of science- and engineering-based programs in the nearly 1,100-page blueprint for jumpstarting the nation’s ailing economy and putting millions of taxpayers back to work.

Much of the stimulus spending is intended to rehab ailing infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, weatherizing homes and government buildings, and converting the nation’s automotive and rail fleets into greener modes of transportation. The nation’s aging research facilities also stand to gain from the new rehab-funding package.

Building and upgrading R&D labs is a special interest of the Washington, D.C.-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. It had initially recommended that the new administration set aside $2 billion in the spending stimulus for improving the nation’s research infrastructure at colleges and universities. In fact, notes ITIF’s Daniel Castro, the final stimulus package contains only about two-thirds that much, and some of it might be spent on federal labs as well.  He notes that there’s:

— $360 million going to the National Institute of Standards and Technology for construction of research facilities (half going to competitive grants)

— $900 million going to the National Science Foundation — $300 million of it to fund research equipment, another $200 million for modernizing university research facilities, and the final $400 million for the construction of new facilities and equipment

— and $230 million slated for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be spent on a mix of operations, research and facilities. Since there is no breakdown yet on how that money will be divvied up, Castro is reluctant to count it in the infrastructure pot.

Notwithstanding, he maintains, “$1.26 billion is still a good chunk of change for research facilities, no matter where it is spent.”

Janet Raloff

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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