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February 11
, 2002
Volume 80, Number 6
CENEAR 80 6 p. 5
ISSN 0009-2347
[Previous Story] [Next Story]

But most programs get little new funding as agencies undergo scrutiny


Federal research and development spending will total $111.8 billion in fiscal 2003, an 8% increase, according to the budget proposal submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration last week. However, the increases are largely targeted to Administration priorities. The rest of R&D support is essentially flat.

The Administration has four top R&D priorities--antiterrorism, networking and information technology, nanotechnology, and climate change--with the first getting the most attention and the most funding, including $1.75 billion in new funding for bioterrorism research at NIH.

Research, development, testing, and evaluation support at the Department of Defense would rise $5.4 billion, or 11%, from 2002 to $54.5 billion, and civilian R&D would rise 7%, or about $3.7 billion to $57.2 billion. But of this amount, more than $3 billion is allocated to NIH, leaving all other agencies with a total increase of less than 1%.

Funding for some other research-supporting agencies increases slightly under the President's budget, but the numbers are small. NSF, for example, is slated for a 4%, $129 million, increase to $3.7 billion for 2003. However, much of the increase stems from the Administration's decision to shift the Sea Grants program out of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the hazardous water pollutant program out of the U.S. Geological Survey and into NSF. Overall, the core R&D programs at NSF would grow about $53 million, or 1.5%. The Chemistry Division at NSF does not even fare that well. Its funding would drop to $161 million for 2003, a decrease of 1% from this year.

Fiscal 2003 funding for R&D at NASA would rise 5%, to $10.1 billion, but much of that increase also is due to shifting funds from non-R&D programs into R&D. An early analysis of the proposal by the House Science Committee finds so many policy changes under way at NASA that "the implications of the budget request are not likely to become clear for some time."

The Science Committee is also concerned about the growing imbalance between federal spending on biomedical research and its support of other science and technology fields. The Administration says it is aware of the concerns about balance but does not see it as a problem. According to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), the government's role is to ensure a good mix of support in many areas, but "the focus should not be on how much we are spending, but rather on what we are getting for our investment and how well it is managed."

Thus, the Administration says it is developing R&D investment criteria on which it will base future budget allocations at major R&D agencies.

OMB says several fundamental principles are guiding development of the evaluation criteria. According to these principles, research programs should be competitive and merit based, have clear goals and planned end points or off-ramps, and focus on areas where the private sector cannot capture the benefits of the R&D. Outstanding programs will be rewarded with continued support. Less successful programs will be reduced or moved to agencies where they can be managed more effectively.

Last year, a pilot study of the Energy Department's applied energy R&D programs, for example, resulted in increased funding for research aimed at controlling greenhouse gases because there is little incentive for private investment in this area. Conversely, the study led to decreased funding for another fossil R&D program focused on oil-drilling technology because the oil industry has the financing and incentive to do its own research.

Congressional earmarks for research projects are another target of the Administration's budget mavens. An analysis by OMB shows that earmarks to colleges and universities grew 60% in 2001 alone and that the practice does not spread research wealth to smaller universities. Furthermore, OMB contends that the use of earmarks improperly signals to researchers that there is an alternative to creating quality proposals for peer-reviewed research, "including political influence or appeal to parochial interests." As a result, this Administration, like previous ones, is actively discouraging future earmarks.

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