Protection Money: Budget Favors Defense and Bioterror Research. (Science News This Week)

By Harder, B. | Science News, February 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

Protection Money: Budget Favors Defense and Bioterror Research. (Science News This Week)


Harder, B., Science News


The four-volume, 2,726-page budget proposal that President Bush forwarded to Congress on Feb. 4 includes the largest-ever increase for scientific research and development, with particularly generous provisions for defense and health R&D programs. These priorities trump other areas of science, whose proposed allocations collectively break even, compared with the current budget.

Of the $2.13 trillion in proposed federal expenditures detailed for fiscal year (FY) 2003, nearly $112 billion would go to R&D, an overall increase over FY 2002 of nearly $8.6 billion, or about 6 percent after accounting for expected inflation. The Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reap the lion's share of the increase, a reflection of the new emphasis on national security, according to Bush's chief science advisor, John H. Marburger, who is director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Under Bush's proposal, DOD would enjoy the largest R&D windfall, as calculated in dollars. It would get $5.4 billion dollars in new funding, or an inflation-adjusted 8.6 percent increase. The boost, part of a whopping 14 percent increase in the overall defense budget, would be dedicated to developing technologies related to, among other areas, cyberspace security and counterterrorism. Those endeavors would receive $1.8 billion and $900 million, respectively. Meanwhile, the administration is asking Congress to slightly trim DOD's more basic research programs.

The proposed allotment for NIH reaches $27.3 billion, an increase of $3.7 billion over the institutes' current budget for supporting biomedical research. That figure represents the final installment of a process initiated by former President Clinton and Congress to double the NIH budget over 5 years. Programs to counter bioterrorism, including such threats as anthrax, smallpox, and plague, would get particular attention under Bush's budget, with approximately $1.5 billion in new funds. That's six times the FY 2002 budget for antibioterrorism research.

However, the influx of money for that effort would divert expected resources from NIH's other areas of health research. Most institutes would experience after-inflation boosts between 6 and 7 percent, barely half the average lift that NIH programs have received during each of the past 4 years.

Cancer investigation fares better than most health research not focused on bioterrorism. The budget calls for an inflation-adjusted 10 percent increase for the National Cancer Institute. HIV and AIDS research at NIH would increase by $255 million, or about 8 percent after inflation.

Science programs unrelated to security or health are treated unevenly in Bush's budget. If endorsed by Congress, new initiatives spanning several agencies will strive to capitalize on areas of opportunity in information technology, nanotechnology, and climate-change research.

Rita R. Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), calls the budget "encouraging news" for her agency, which would benefit from a modest funding increase in new-technology research and other research and education programs. NSF would also take over several R&D programs currently administered by other government agencies, in part because it's the only government agency to receive high marks for fiscal management under the administration's new assessment system.

NASA's modest postinflation increase of 3.1 percent would cap next year's budget for the costly and highly criticized International Space Station at $1.49 billion, a decline of $230 million from this year's appropriation. A new $125 million initiative in the budget proposal would have NASA work toward nuclear propulsion and power systems for exploration of the outer solar system. …

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