From the Hill
Bush budget would cut most R&D programs
On February 7, President Bush released his proposed budget for FY 2006. Against a backdrop of record-breaking federal budget deficits, a continuing and costly war in Iraq, an expansion of Medicare to pay for prescription drugs, and expensive proposals to introduce private accounts for Social Security in the future, the federal investment in R&D would barely grow in FY 2006, with cuts in R&D programs outnumbering increases. In order to restrain the budget deficit, the president proposes to hold nondefense discretionary spending flat for the third year in a row. Indeed, after factoring in increases for international aid and homeland security, domestic nonsecurity spending overall would fall in FY 2006 by 1 percent. Defense spending would increase modestly compared to previous years, but the true picture is uncertain because the budget excludes funding for the Iraq war. Federal R&D investment mirrors these overall trends, with flat funding for defense R&D and increases for homeland security and space exploration R&D offset by cuts in most other R&D programs.
The past few years have seen record-breaking totals for federal R&D because of enormous increases for defense weapons development, the creation of new homeland security R&D programs, and the now-completed campaign to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. The federal R&D investment hit an all-time high this year because of defense and homeland security increases, but in completing FY 2005 appropriations last December, Congress went along with the president’s proposals to freeze most domestic discretionary spending at FY 2004 levels. As a result, the nondefense, non-homeland security R&D portfolio stagnates this year, with modest increases in some areas offset by cuts in others. The FY 2006 budget for next year would continue this austerity and extend it to defense R&D. As a result, growth in the federal R&D portfolio would fail to keep pace with inflation for the first time in a decade, and most R&D programs would suffer cuts in real terms.
Proposed federal R&D spending in FY 2006 is $132.3 billion, an increase of 0.1 percent or $142 million above this year and far short of the 2 percent increase needed to keep pace with expected inflation. A $507 million increase for space exploration R&D in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) budget would far exceed the $142 million increase, leaving all other R&D programs, including defense, with less money next year. The nondefense R&D investment would increase by 0.3 percent to $57 billion. When development spending is factored out, total federal support of research (basic and applied) would fall 1.4 percent to $55.2 billion.
The NIH budget, after doubling in the five years between 1998 and 2003, would see an increase of 0.5 percent in FY 2006 to $28.7 billion. NIH projects a decline in the number of research project grants for the second year in a row and a decline in the proposal success rate for the fifth year in a row.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), after a budget cut in 2005, would see a modest increase of 2.8 percent to $4.2 billion for its R&D portfolio, but most of the increase would go to R&D facilities. As a result, the average NSF research grant would shrink for the second year in a row. NSF’s education funding would fall steeply.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science would see its R&D funding fall 4.5 percent to $3.2 billion. Environmental R&D would decline across the board, including cuts to the USGS (down 4.8 percent to $515 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (down 11.2 percent to $565 million), andthe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (down 0.7 percent to $568 million).
There would be tough budgetary choices even in agencies with increasing budgets. At NASA, a 4.6 percent boost in R&D funding to $11.5 billion would still require steep cuts in aeronautics and earth sciences research and the cancellation of a Hubble servicing mission to pay for NASA’s ambitious space exploration plans and resumed construction of the International Space Station. Although DOE’s energy R&D portfolio would climb 8.4 percent to $1.2 billion because of increased investments in hydrogen, nuclear energy, fuel cells, and coal, DOE would eliminate R&D on gas and oil technologies and sharply reduce funding for other areas. R&D at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories would climb 12.7 percent to $357 million, but the budget proposes to eliminate NIST’s Advanced Technology Program and halve the budget of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
For the first time in a decade, defense R&D would be subject to fiscal restraints. Defense R&D would fall slightly by $16 million to $75.4 billion, after multibillion dollar increases for each of the past five years. Department of Defense (DOD) weapons development would see a modest increase overall, but there would be a $1 billion cut in missile defense. DOD science and technology programs would plummet 21 percent to $10.7 billion. DOE’s weapons-related R&D would fall by 2.6 percent, including cuts to inertial confinement fusion and advanced computing research.
R&D in the FY 2006 Budget by Agency (budget authority in millions of dollars)
|FY 2004||FY 2005||FY 2006||Change FY 05-06|
|Total R&D (Conduct and Facilities)|
|S&T (6.1-6.3 + medical)||12,377||13,578||10,691||-2,886||-21.3%|
|All Other DOD R&D||53,572||57,351||60,318||2,967||5.2%|
|Health and Human Services||28,521||29,084||29,139||55||0.2%|
|Nat’l Institutes of Health||27,248||27,784||27,925||141||0.5%|
|Atomic Energy Defense R&D||4,198||4,138||4,031||-107||-2.6%|
|Office of Science||3,279||3,334||3,184||-150||-4.5%|
|Nat’l Science Foundation||4,123||4,057||4,170||113||2.8%|
|U.S. Geological Survey||553||541||515||-26||-4.8%|
|Environ. Protection Agency||662||572||568||-4||-0.7%|
|Nondefense R&D excluding NIH||28,798||29,014||29,032||18||0.1%|
|R&D Facilities and Equipment||4,233||4,821||4,601||-220||-4.6%|
Source: AAAS, based on OMB data for R&D for FY 2006, agency budget justifications, and information from agency budget offices. Note: The projected inflation rate between FY 2005 and FY 2006 is 2.0 percent. REVISED March 9, 2005
Federal homeland security-related R&D would total $4.4 billion in FY 2006, a gain of $208 million or 4.9 percent, which represents a leveling off of the federal investment after dramatic recent increases. The majority of the multiagency portfolio would remain outside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the largest part of funding going to NIH for its biodefense research portfolio. NIH’s portfolio, mostly in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, would total $1.8 billion in FY 2006, up 0.4 percent but with room for an8 percent increase for biodefense research because of a drop in laboratory construction funding. After annual increases greater than 20 percent in the first few years of its existence, growth in the DHS R&D portfolio would level off with a FY 2006 request of $1.3 billion, up $44 million or 3.6 percent.
The Department of Agriculture, enjoying a record R&D portfolio in 2005, would see its R&D funding decline by 14.6 percent to $2.1 billion. Most of the decline is due to the proposed elimination of R&D earmarks.
The EPA overall budget would fall a steep 5.7 percent to $7.6 billion in FY 2006. EPA R&D would fare better, with a 0.7 percent cut to $568 million. Homeland security-related R&D would be the big winner in the R&D portfolio, with large increases for decontamination research and drinking water security. The proposed elimination of R&D earmarks would allow for modest increases in core EPA R&D programs in areas such as global change, particulate matter, drinking water, and water quality.
Department of Transportation R&D funding would rise 8.5 percent to $807 million. There would be a big boost in highway R&D, due in part to a perennial proposal to shift some resources away from state highway grants to highway research; similar proposals have been rejected by Congress in past years. R&D in the Federal Aviation Administration would decline 11.4 percent to $233 million, mirroring similar cuts in aeronautics research at NASA and in aviation security R&D at DHS.
Funding for all three multiagency R&D initiatives would decline in FY 2006. After a nearly $100 million increase this year, funding for the National Nanotechnology Initiative would fall 2.5 percent to $1.1 billion, well short of amounts authorized in the Nanotechnology R&D Act signed into law in December 2003. Funding for the Networking and Information Technology R&D initiative would decline 6.8 percent to $2.1 billion. The Climate Change Science Program would see its funding fall 1.4 percent to $1.9 billion, primarily because of steep cuts in NASA’s contributions in space-based observations of the environment.
Congress will tackle the FY 2006 appropriations process in a newly reorganized committee structure. The House and the Senate recently approved separate restructurings of their appropriations committees. Instead of 13 subcommittees in each chamber writing 13 appropriations bills, the House will now use 10 subcommittees. The Senate chose 12 subcommittees with jurisdictions similar to but not identical to those of the House. The result could be an appropriations process more protracted and confusing than normal. The federal R&D portfolio would be divided among all 10 House appropriations bills, and 10 of the 12 Senate bills. As before, four appropriations bills would fund 95 percent of all federal R&D, and the major R&D funding agencies of DOD, NIH, NASA, and DOE would continue to be funded in separate bills. NASA and NSF would move together from the eliminated Veterans’ Administration (VA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Independent Agencies bill to a Commerce, Justice, and Science bill in the Senate (Science, Commerce, and Justice in the House) to join the Commerce R&D portfolio, whereas EPA would move from VA-HUD to the Interior bill to join the Department of the Interior.
Hubble repair mission in doubt
Congress will have to decide this year whether it should buck President Bush and provide funding for a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. The president’s fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget proposal includes no money for a rescue mission.
Shortly after the January 2004 unveiling of President Bush’s space exploration initiative, Sean O’Keefe, then administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), cancelled a planned space shuttle mission to save the telescope. After much public outcry, O’Keefe reversed himself and endorsed a robotic servicing mission. Now, however, the administration no longer supports that option.
At a February 2 hearing, the House Science Committee examined whether Hubble should be serviced, and if so, the best option for doing so. Although witnesses and committee members agreed on the successes and importance of Hubble, no clear consensus emerged about its future.
Louis Lanzerotti, who chaired a National Research Council (NRC) committee in 2004 that backed a manned mission to repair the telescope, testified that the human risk of a shuttle mission is equivalent to that of the planned shuttle missions to the International Space Station. However, Paul Cooper of MDA Space Missions, the private company initially charged with developing a servicing robot, disagreed, arguing that the NRC had overstated the risks of a robotic mission and that such a mission could be accomplished in time to save Hubble. Joseph Taylor of Princeton University testified that he was worried that the estimated cost of more than $1 billion for a shuttle mission would drain funds from other space science activities.
Finally, the question arose about the effect that Hubble’s decommissioning would have on the research community, including new students. Hubble is expected to be decommissioned in 2007, but the next available space telescope is not expected to be launched until 2010.
Expanded tsunami warning system considered
In response to the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster as well as concerns that the Pacific Northwest could face such a disaster, the Bush administration and members of Congress have unveiled proposals to expand the U.S. Tsunami Warning System (TWS) in the Pacific Ocean and extend it to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean.
The administration’s plan, announced on January 14, would deploy 32 new Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoys, which can measure the size of a passing wave, by 2007. Under the proposal, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would install 25 buoys in the Pacific and 7 buoys in the Atlantic and Caribbean at a cost of $24 million in the next two years. NOAA would also install 38 new sea-level monitoring/tide gauge stations.
In the Senate, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has proposed a bill that would authorize $35 million for expanding TWS between FY 2006 and FY 2012. A similar bill proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) calls for $30 million for FY 2005 and $7.5 million for FY 2006 to FY 2014. Both bills would expand TWS in the Pacific as well as extend it to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean.
The current TWS, operated by the National Weather Service (NWS), consists of Pacific Warning Centers in Alaska and Hawaii. The centers operate in conjunction with NOAA seismic stations, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),universities, and a partnership of 26 countries in an effort to monitor earthquakes that might cause a tsunami. The current system includes six DART buoys.
At a January 26 House Science Committee hearing, USGS director Charles Groat explained that most tsunamis occur off the Pacific rim, making Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington particularly vulnerable. The Caribbean, too, faces a notable risk, whereas the likelihood of a tsunami in the Atlantic is relatively small. Groat warned that there is a 10 to 14 percent chance in the next 50 years of an earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone that could generate a massive tsunami off the Oregon coast.
Jay Wilson, Earthquake and Tsunami Programs Coordinator for Oregon Emergency Management, called for further study of seismic activity in the Cascadia subduction zone. Although he supports more technology, he pointed out that in a tsunami generated close to the U.S. coast, buoys would not helpOregonians near the earthquake. In Wilson’s opinion, the most cost-effective strategy would be to develop what he calls a “culture of awareness.” He praised tsunami education and preparation programs such as the NWS’s TsunamiReady but called for greater funding.
Also at the hearing, Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of the NWS, lauded the DART system as a means of preventing false alarms and saving money that would otherwise be spent on evacuation procedures, noting that buoys had saved Hawaii an estimated $68 million in 2003, when the buoys indicated that an earthquake detected by seismograph had not generated a tsunami.
However, it was pointed out at the hearing that three of the six existing DART buoys are currently out of service and waiting for repairs. John Orcutt, deputy director of research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said he was “extremely concerned about the ability and the willingness of the United States to maintain such a system.” Because of the high operating costs of the buoys and the relative infrequency of North American tsunamis, long-term funding commitments are essential, he said.
Orcutt stressed the importance of seismic measurements managed by the Global Seismic Network (GSN). The GSN is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and run by USGS and Scripps. Orcutt complained that the administration’s plan “does not recognize NSF’s role and does not include an augmentation of the NSF budget for GSN growth and modernization.” Under the president’s plan, the GSN would receive $8.1 million in emergency supplemental funding and $5.4 million in the FY 2006 budget to improve seismic monitoring and communications. Orcutt proposed permanently doubling annual funds for the “deteriorating” GSN, which now receives $5 million a year. He also endorsed tsunami hazard mapping performed by NOAA and USGS.
Visa delays drop for students, scientists
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on February 18 found that delays in granting visas to foreign students and scholars have been significantly reduced. The GAO report was released a week after the State Department announced an extension of visa limits to four years for students, two years for temporary workers, and one year for business visitors.
Because of concerns about the transfer of sensitive technology abroad, the United States in recent years has been screening foreign students and scholars under the Visas Mantis program. Since 9/11, however, many students and scientists have found it difficult to enter the United States because of long delays in the program. The GAO report, however, found that the average Visas Mantis processing time decreased from 67 days a year ago to 15 days now. The improvement, the report said, was accomplished through a coordinated effort by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. These agencies worked to expand the program’s staff, increase guidance to consular officers, develop an electronic tracking system, and ensure priority interviews for students and scholars.
“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.