[FoRK] guns, butter, or research into pork substitutes?

Rohit Khare <khare at alumni.caltech.edu> on Wed Dec 19 22:42:27 PST 2007

Ends of empires, indeed... Parochial of me, perhaps, to protest the  
cutting of the "industry" I'm in, but the key takeaway is the  
pressure from the wars and AMT rebates, and even more sadly, the  
happy media cycle that lets everyone smile for the COMPETES act in  
the summer and gut it in the winter... and we still spend $80M on son- 
of-ATP?! --RK


A Budget Too Small

By Jeffrey Mervis
With reporting by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Adrian Cho, Eli Kintisch,  
Andrew Lawler, Eliot Marshall, and Robert F. Service.
ScienceNOW Daily News
18 December 2007

The White House and Congress delivered a heavy blow to the hopes of  
the U.S. science community yesterday as part of a long-delayed final  
agreement on the 2008 federal budget. As a result, what began as a  
year of soaring rhetoric in support of science seems likely to end  
with agency officials and research advocates shaking their heads and  
wondering what went wrong.
"It's like someone pulled the rug out from under us," says Samuel  
Rankin of the American Mathematical Society, who chairs the Coalition  
for National Science Funding. "It's pretty disappointing."
The $515 billion spending package takes a big bite out of President  
George W. Bush's promise--backed up by votes earlier this year in  
Congress--to give a substantial boost to the research budgets of the  
National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's (DOE's)  
Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and  
Technology (NIST). Instead, the agencies get meager increases--a  
portion of which is eaten up by projects earmarked by legislators for  
their constituents--or across-the-board cuts. The package also makes  
moot the double-digit hikes authorized for research, education and  
training, and investment in innovation spelled out in a 6-month-old  
law, the America COMPETES Act, that the community fought hard to pass  
(ScienceNOW, 3 August). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would  
receive a 0.5% increase after high hopes for a slice that would at  
least keep up with inflation. Among the major science agencies, only  
NASA would receive the president's request--a 3% rise that is  
universally acknowledged as too little to handle all the projects in  
its pipeline.
The legislation (H.R. 2764) was approved last night by the House of  
Representatives. Although there may be some wrangling about spending  
levels for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress is expected to  
complete work by the end of the week and send the legislation to the  
president, who has said he will sign it if there's sufficient funding  
for the wars. The money covers the 2008 fiscal year that began on 1  
Meanwhile, the blame game is already in full swing. The chair of the  
House Science and Technology Committee, Representative Bart Gordon (D- 
TN), acknowledges that the legislation falls short of his  
expectations. "The overall budget predicament forced appropriators to  
make some tough decisions," says Gordon. "Despite our best efforts  
and intentions, COMPETES programs--and many others--are feeling a lot  
of pain."
Presidential science adviser John Marburger says he's also  
disappointed by the terms of the bill. And it's clear where he places  
the blame. "I've certainly been [on Capitol Hill] pushing them," he  
says of his lobbying efforts with the Democratic Congress. "The most  
surprising aspect to me is the absence [in the bill] of any visible  
priority for basic research in the physical sciences." At the same  
time, Marburger says that the White House never considered  
designating the research budget as emergency spending--as a way to  
avoid a self-imposed spending cap. "You can't say that the absence of  
long-term basic research is an emergency," he says. "Short of that  
tactic," he adds, "what [more] is the president going to do?"
Science advocacy groups, however, hold both the executive and  
legislative branches of government responsible for the contents of  
the spending bill. "In exchange for an arbitrary cap on domestic  
spending and thousands of earmarks, the Administration and Congress  
have sacrificed investments in research and education that would help  
assure our nation's long-term national and economic security," says  
Robert Berdahl, president of the 62-member Association of American  
Universities in Washington, D.C. The Task Force on the Future of  
American Innovation, a coalition of business, scientific, and  
educational organizations, calls the bill a "step backward. ... The  
President and Congress, for all their stated support this year for  
making basic research in the physical sciences and engineering a top  
budget priority, ended up essentially cutting, or flat-funding, key  
science agencies."
Here are some details for selected research agencies:
After Bush vetoed legislation that would have given NIH a $1 billion  
increase, Congress gave it $329 million more, or a 1% raise, to $29.2  
billion. Some $300 million is designated for the Global Fund to Fight  
AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, however, leaving the biomedical  
research behemoth essentially at 2007 levels.

Congress made no big changes in how the appropriation will be  
distributed, although it did single out a few areas for special  
attention. For example, the National Children's Study--a  
controversial $3 billion effort to track the health of 100,000  
infants from birth to age 21 that NIH says is too expensive to  
continue--will get an increase of $42 million, to $111 million, next  
year (Science, 9 February, p. 751). The NIH "common fund," a $496  
million pot controlled by the director for cutting-edge research,  
will get $13 million more. And bricks-and-mortar spending will  
increase by $38 million, to $119 million.

Congress also formally endorsed open-access publishing, requiring  
"all investigators funded by the NIH" to submit final peer-reviewed  
manuscripts to NIH's PubMed Central for release on the Internet "no  
later than 12 months after the official date of publication."

The president had requested a $506 million boost for the $6 billion  
foundation--an increase of 8.7%--and both House and Senate panels had  
added to that total. Instead, the omnibus provides a total increase  
of only $117 million (after a $33 million rescission is applied to  
selected programs). NSF research directorates will receive 1.2% more,  
or $56 million, while its education programs would go up by 4%, or an  
additional $27 million. A pot of money for several new and continuing  
large facilities would receive a total of $24 million less than the  
$244 million that NSF had sought. "It's not good news," says NSF  
Director Arden Bement.

Despite the tight allocation, a few activities were singled out for  
special treatment. NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate  
Competitive Research--a $100 million effort to help have-not states-- 
gets $8 million more than NSF had requested. The legislation also  
asked NSF's astronomy division to reconsider its planned cuts to the  
Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and to fully fund repair projects  
for NSF's collection of ground-based telescopes.

Bement says those two directives "will pinch" other programs and that  
the cuts in the new construction account will "stretch out" the  
schedules of some projects. He says that NSF "has no intention" of  
shutting down Arecibo but would like its backers to find other means  
of support. (Toward that end, another part of the bill directs NASA  
to ask the National Academies to examine the fate of the  
observatory.) One silver lining in the fiscal clouds is a $35 million  
boost, nearly the full request, to the $246 million NSF spends on  
salaries and operations, which includes its system of merit review.  
"I consider that to be a victory," says Bement, "and a sign that  
Congress realizes its importance."

For NASA the news is mixed. Although Congress approved its request  
for $17.3 billion, or 3.1% more than in 2007, the House and Senate  
conference rejected a Senate plan to add $1 billion to the space  
agency in order to cover rising costs in the space shuttle program.  
Those costs, combined with increases in the new Constellation rocket  
program and in several science projects, threaten to eat away at  
NASA's science and aeronautics endeavors. To cope with the rapidly  
increasing price tags, Congress wants NASA to work with the National  
Academies to come up with independent cost estimates before lawmakers  
approve future projects.

NASA science would receive $5.577 billion, a boost from 2007's $5.466  
billion, including a $24 million boost for research and analysis of  
spacecraft data. But agency officials say that millions of dollars in  
pork projects--many of which are not directly related to the agency's  
mission--will limit their ability to address pressing needs, as will  
directives for funding specific programs. For example, legislators  
told the agency to spend $40 million to address the lack of future  
Earth science missions, $60 million for the Space Interferometry  
Mission--$38.4 million more than planned--and $5 million to determine  
the next outer-planet destination. Mars missions, meanwhile, received  
the full $625 million requested.

In the exploration effort, Congress told NASA to spend $42 million  
next year developing a robotic lunar lander, a mission that NASA had  
deleted from its planning because of cost constraints in the  
construction of the new rocket. It also allocated $13.5 million more  
for microgravity life and physical sciences.

Energy Department
The bill set the budget at DOE's Office of Science at $4.055 billion-- 
$342 million short of the requested amount--and the shortfall comes  
mainly out of two programs: fusion sciences and high-energy physics.  
Congress realized some savings by allotting nothing for U.S.  
participation in the international fusion reactor experiment, ITER,  
which is set to begin construction next year in Cadarache, France  
(ScienceNOW, 21 November 2006). Although appropriators expressly  
forbid DOE to shuffle money from other programs to satisfy its  
planned $149 million contribution in 2008, Marburger predicts that  
the prohibition will not stand. "I can't see DOE not living up to its  
obligations," he says. "The department will have to use its money to  
stay in the project, so [the language] really just amounts to another  

High-energy physics takes a bruising, too, receiving $88 million less  
than the requested $782 million. Congress nixed funding for the NOvA  
neutrino experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory  
(Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, which would be the lab's centerpiece  
experiment once the aging Tevatron collider shuts down. It cuts  
funding for research and development on the proposed International  
Linear Collider from $60 million to $15 million and for  
superconducting accelerator research from $24 million to $5 million.  
Because Fermilab researchers have already spent nearly $20 million on  
those projects in FY '08, work on them could immediately stop.

DOE's largest program, Basic Energy Sciences (BES), gets $1.282  
billion, $217 million less than requested. That could translate into  
less beam time at the x-ray sources and other facilities BES runs for  
research in materials science, structural biology, chemistry, and  
other areas. In contrast, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research  
program gets $354 million, $14 million more that requested, and the  
Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program receives $549  
million, $17 million more than the White House asked for, for more  
work in nuclear medicine.

Homeland Security
The omnibus bill maintains funding for university research supported  
by the Department of Homeland Security at its current level of $49  
million. That amount would override a $10 million cut requested by  
the president.

The omnibus wipes out all but $6 million of a scheduled double-digit  
boost to the $435 million budget of NIST's core research labs. Agency  
officials say they are still digesting the impact of that flat  
funding on their 2008 programs. At the same time, the legislation  
preserves the renamed National Innovation Partnership but cuts $9  
million from the $79 million now being spent on precompetitive  
industrial research under what had been called the Advanced  
Technology Program.

Update: Late last night the Senate passed the House omnibus bill  
after adding $39 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That  
brings the total in the bill to $70 billion, and gives the Defense  
Department leeway to spend it as needed. The House is expected to  
ratify the final version today, and the president said yesterday that  
he would sign the bill if the additional money for the wars was  

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