From the Hill – Fall 2004
Nondefense R&D budgets face major squeeze
As Congress resumed work in September, it was increasingly clear that it would once again fail to complete all of its budget work by the October 1 beginning of the new fiscal year. What was also clear is that increasing federal budget deficits and high-priority spending increases for homeland security and national defense are combining to squeeze the federal investment in virtually all other R&D areas.
As of mid-September, Congress had made only halting progress on the federal R&D budgets, with the House drafting all 13 fiscal year (FY) 2005 bills and approving 11 of them. The Senate, meanwhile, had drafted only 4 of the 13 bills and completed action on only the Department of Defense (DOD) budget, which was signed into law in early September.
The House would increase overall FY 2005 R&D by 4 percent or $5 billion to $131.2 billion, which is $489 million more than President Bush’s budget request. But the entire increase would go for defense and homeland security. Nondefense R&D, except for a modest increase for biomedical research in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), would decline 2.1 percent.
The DOD bill signed by the president provides $70.3 billion for R&D investment, a $4.7-billion or 7.1 percent increase. Congress re-buffed administration efforts to cut long-term investments and instead approved $13.6 billion, an 8 percent increase, for DOD’s investments in basic and applied research and early technology investment.
The House also approved a budget of $4.4 billion, a $114-million or 2.7 percent increase, for Department of Energy (DOE) defense-related R&D as well as an increase for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defense R&D. This would bring total defense R&D to $75.1 billion, a boost of $4.9 billion or 7 percent. The House would fund total DHS R&D (defense and nondefense) at $1.2 billion, a 19.3 percent increase. The Senate bill would provide a similar amount.
As in the past few years, all other R&D funding agencies not only face flat funding overall, but are likely to have to wait until well after October 1 to receive their final budgets. Even agencies such as NIH that are slated for increases would see their funding growth fall short of recent increases. In the case of NIH, the House would match the administration’s request for a budget of $28.8 billion, a 2.6 percent increase. Most NIH institutes would receive increases ranging from 2.8 to 3.3 percent. Unlike the past two years when biodefense research was heavily favored, there would be no clear favorites. NIH research (basic and applied) would increase 2.5 percent to $27.7 billion.
The modest increase for NIH would be offset by cuts in R&D funding for other nondefense agencies. Excluding DHS, 6 of the top 10 nondefense R&D funding agencies would see their R&D budgets decline next year.
One casualty might be the administration’s ambitious plan to send humans back to the moon and Mars, because the House Appropriations Committee approved cutting new initiatives first in order to spare existing programs. The total FY 2005 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) budget of $15.1 billion would be $229 million less than this year and $1.1 billion short of the president’s request. NASA R&D would fall by 6.2 percent or $674 million to$10.2 billion. Funding for construction of the International Space Station would increase 12 percent to $1.7 billion, and the non-R&D Space Shuttle program would receive a big boost in preparation for a return to flight in the spring of 2005. The Space Science program would emerge a relative winner among science programs in the House bill with $4 billion, down $105 million from the request because of the elimination of moon and Mars supporting programs, but still up 1.6 percent from this year. There would be large increases, however, to build the next generation of Mars robotic explorers (up 16.1 percent to $691 million), butno funds in the new Lunar Exploration account.
Total R&D by Agency
House Action on R&D in the FY 2005 Budget (as of September 9, 2004)
(budget authority in millions of dollars)
|Action by House|
|FY 2004 Estimate||FY 2005 Request||FY 2005 House||Chg. from Amount||Request Percent||Chg. from Amount||FY 2004 Percent|
|(“S&T” 6.1,6.2,6.3 + Medical)*||12,558||10,623||13,561||2,938||27.7%||1,003||8.0%|
|(All Other DOD R&D)*||53,098||58,136||56,778||-1,358||-2.3%||3,681||6.9%|
|National Aeronautics & Space Admin.||10,909||11,334||10,235||-1,098||-9.7%||-674||-6.2%|
|(Office of Science)||3,186||3,172||3,327||155||4.9%||141||4.4%|
|(Atomic Energy Defense R&D)||4,244||4,333||4,358||25||0.6%||114||2.7%|
|Health and Human Services||28,469||29,361||29,299||-62||-0.2%||830||2.9%|
|(National Institutes of Health)||27,220||27,923||27,923||0||0.0%||703||2.6%|
|National Science Foundation||4,077||4,226||4,038||-187||-4.4%||-39||-0.9%|
|(U.S. Geological Survey)||547||525||548||23||4.3%||1||0.2%|
|Environmental Protection Agency||616||572||589||17||3.0%||-27||-4.3%|
|Agency for Int’l Development||238||223||240||17||7.5%||2||0.7%|
|Department of Veterans Affairs||820||770||770||0||0.0%||-50||-6.1%|
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||60||61||61||0||0.0%||1||1.7%|
|Nondefense R&D minus DHS||55,239||56,484||55,271||-1,213||-2.1%||32||0.1%|
|Nondefense R&D minus NIH||28,770||29,295||28,178||-1,117||-3.8%||-592||-2.1%|
AAAS estimates of R&D in FY 2005 appropriations bills.
Includes conduct of R&D and R&D facilities.
All figures are rounded to the nearest million. Changes calculated from unrounded figures.
* – DOD FY 2005 House figures are final (conference) FY 2005 funding levels.
** – FY 2005 House funding assumes requested level.
September 9, 2004 – AAAS estimates of House or House Appropriations Committee-approved funding levels.
Based on House action up to September 9, 2004.
The White House has threatened to veto the appropriations bill that includes NASA funding because of the lack of support for the president’s space exploration vision, which could result in alterations when the full House takes up the legislation.
The House appropriations committee also proposed to cut the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget to $5.5 billion, which would be $278 million less than the request and $111 million or 2 percent below current-year funding. NSF’s R&D funding would total $4 billion, a cut of 0.9 percent.
The House would provide $8.9 billion for DOE R&D in FY 2005, an increase of $141 million or 1.6 percent. DOE’s Office of Science would have an R&D budget of $3.3 billion in FY 2005, a boost of 4.4 percent or $141 million, compared with the president’s request to cut the budget. The House would add funds for high-performance computing research, domestic fusion research, increased operating time at user facilities, and nanoscale science, but would refrain from the traditional addition of earmarked projects. DOE’s energy R&D programs would decline 8.3 percent to $1.3 billion.
With Congress determined to stick to an $820-billion discretionary spending total that would allow for increases in defense and homeland security but flat funding at best for all other programs, it would take the last-minute infusion of billions of dollars in additional funds to improve the funding situation of agencies such as NSF and NASA, an infusion that is looking increasingly unlikely as the deficit situation deteriorates. Yet the cuts to all programs not related to defense or homeland security that will be required to meet budget targets are so politically painful that Congress is dragging its feet in finalizing the budget.
Thus, the most likely scenario is that Congress will wrestle with individual appropriations bills into early October. The House will try to debate and approve its remaining two bills. The Senate, meanwhile, has already indicated that it will most likely delay action on its legislation and will roll all of the bills, except possibly the DHS budget, into a year-end omnibus appropriations bill. In an optimistic scenario, the final version of the omnibus bill could be negotiated and approved in a frenzied postelection lame-duck congressional session that would give agencies their final budgets in December. But it is just as likely that, as with the past two budgets, Congress might leave the budget as unfinished business for January. Either way, agencies and the scientists and engineers they support could spend months waiting for their final FY 2005 budgets.
DHS relaxes visa policy on foreign students and scientists
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed extending the duration of the Visas Mantis security clearance for foreign scientists and students. The new DHS policy would allow clearances to be valid beyond the current one-year limit and possibly throughout the duration of study or academic appointment.
During the past few years, academic and scientific groups have argued that stringent visa policies that have restricted the flow of foreign students and scientists to the United States will have harmful effects on the overall research enterprise. A recent Council of Graduate Schools survey found that visa applications by international students declined by 32 percent for fall 2004 compared with 2003.
The new changes are expected to alleviate at least some of the problems with visa delays and repeated security checks. Although the policy had not been finalized as of mid-September, the new regulations were expected to be in effect by sometime in the fall.
In early September, at a hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) questioned DHS and Department of State representatives about the rigid visa policies covering scientists and students and the effects these regulations may have had on the research community. Janice Jacobs, the deputy assistant secretary of visa services at the State Department, who had recently met with university and science groups, acknowledged that the initial policies after 9/11 had hampered and delayed many foreign scholars but noted that consular offices have been instructed to expedite processing of visa applications for students, especially in the crucial summer months. Jacobs also said that current State Department statistics had shown an improvement in the handling of student visas.
A September 7 letter from the State Department to Alan Leshner, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also made the case that the situation is improving. In the letter, Maura Harty, the assistant secretary for state for consular affairs, acknowledged that increased post-9/11 security procedures had led to lengthy delays but also cited recent improvements in the process. As of the beginning of September, 98 percent of all Visas Mantis cases are being cleared within 30 days, she said.
House restricts NIH travel and research
The Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill passed by the House in September would restrict overseas travel by National Institutes of Health (NIH) employees and bar further funding of two mental health research grants.
The House approved an amendment proposed Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) that would forbid NIH from sending more than 50 employees to any single overseas conference. Garrett said the more than 130 federal employees who attended an AIDS conference in Bangkok, Thailand, was excessive. In a press release, he said that the amendment “represents common sense and fiscal discipline.”
An amendment introduced by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) would bar funding by the National Institute of Mental Health of a study by University of Missouri-Columbia researchers examining whether the mental health of individuals experiencing depression and/or post-traumatic disorders can be improved through techniques such as journal writing, and a study by University of Texas, Austin, researchers trying to find indicators for measuring the depression or suicide risk in college students by means such as the way individuals decorate their dorm rooms.
“It is imperative that Congress be more responsible with taxpayer money,” Neugebauer said. “We should support research to find cures to serious mental health diseases like Alzheimer’s and depression instead of wasting valuable dollars researching interior decorating for college dorm rooms.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) both sent letters to the House opposing the amendment. Alan Leshner, AAAS’s chief executive officer, asked House members to “oppose efforts to subvert the rigorous scientific review process.” AAU’s letter stated that, “by protecting the scientific peer review system, which subjects research proposals to rigorous review for scientific and public health merit, Congress ensures that the highest-quality research—research that contributes directly to public health—is funded with federal dollars.”
The Neugebauer amendment recalls the Toomey amendment of last session that would have de-funded six NIH research grants that dealt with sexual behavior. That amendment also claimed fiscal responsibility as a rationale. It failed by a narrow margin.
“From the Hill” is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org/spp) in Washington, D.C., and is based on articles from the center’s bulletin Science & Technology in Congress.