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NIH Funding, International Student Visas and War Spending
Discussed as AAAS Colloquium on S&T Policy Opens
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and other new public health challenges identified by the U.S. National Institutes of Health; war costs; and international student-visa procedures were discussed today as the 28th Annual AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy opened. In addition to the AAAS federal R&D budget analysis that is a staple of the prestigious colloquium, this year's event also addresses current affairsnamely, homeland security and the war in Iraq, as AAAS Chairman of the Board Floyd E. Bloom noted in his welcoming remarks.
NIH Funding and the Impact on Public Health
NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni described key "fundamental challenges in public health" that must be addressed through federal research funding in coming years. Rapid response to emerging and re-emerging diseases such as SARSthe debilitating respiratory illness that has been reported in Asia, North America and Europewould never have been possible without the doubling of the NIH budget that took place between 1998 and 2003. "Without doubling, we could never have placed labs in 85 countries," he said. A key laboratory in Hong Kong, funded by NIH, is charged with monitoring a variety of viruses, including the coronavirus that is a leading suspected cause of SARS, Zerhouni noted.
In addition to emerging diseases, Zerhouni cited the shift from acute (lethal) diseases to chronic illnesses; the aging population; readiness for biosecurity threats; and other issues as key public-health challenges facing the NIH.
Federal investment in research clearly has helped to stimulate growth, Zerhouni said. Some $9.5 billion in medical-school research facilities are now planned. Further, the number of students seeking doctoral degrees in medical fields has been steadily rising, said Zerhouni, echoing comments by speaker Karen A. Holbrook, president of Ohio State University and a member of the AAAS Board. In the mid-1960s, said Holbrook, the federal government provided two times as much R&D funding when compared with the private sector. Today, only 28 cents of every dollar spent on R&D arrives through federal sources.
International Student Visas
Responding to a Chronicle of Higher Education news feature on problems associated with international student access to U.S. laboratories, John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said, "This Administration values the contributions that foreign students make." A large backlog of work applications from international students has caused unacceptably lengthy delays, Marburger acknowledged, but steps are being taken to correct the problems. "We know we have to make it work," he said, adding, "We think that progress is being made."
Marburger identified a series of steps for addressing the application backlog to encourage multi-national research contributions by applicants who pose no risk to public safely. Steps toward improvement will include a greater use of guidance from technical experts and elimination of redundancy across three existing systems for screening applications, he said. (Specifically, he described the Consular Lookout Atuomated Support System, or CLASS, and two code-named programs called MANTIS and CONDOR.)
For example, the IPASS system (Interagency Panel on Advanced Science and Security), not yet implemented, "could be a model for embedding technical expertise," Marburger noted. An additional security measure, SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) is scheduled to begin maintaining information on international students this summer.
Rejection rates of work applications from international students have increased only slightly since September 11, 2001, according to Marburger. The real problem, he said, is that the volume of cases under review has increased exponentiallyfrom 1,000 cases reviewed in calendar year 2000, to 14,000 in 2002.
Marburger called on the technical and higher education communities to strive toward a "frame of mind" that "perhaps falls short of patience, but rises above hysteria" on the issue of international student visas. He emphasized that the visa application process is highly complex, and better understanding of it will be needed. (Marburger's complete speech is available online at www.ostp.gov/html/new.html.)
R&D Spending in 2004
A summary of AAAS Report XXVIII: Research & Development FY 2004 was provided by Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. Some $1.5 trillion in tax cuts are at the center of the proposed budget, he noted, and "as a result, now we are looking at record budget deficitsit's a bit of a change."
Also significant within the 2004 budget proposal is that it does not include any of the costs associated with the war in Iraq. An $80 million supplemental bill has been submitted to help cover the cost of the war thus far, he noted.
R&D spending for 2004 would be 5 percent of the $2.2 trillion federal budget, Koizumi said. The request for total federal R&D in FY 2004 is another record, the AAAS report notes, at $122.5 billion, or 4.4 percent more than FY 2003. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, created this year, would become a major R&D funding source, with a budget of $1.0 billion. Two agenciesthe NIH and the National Science Foundation"may have to adjust to diminished expectations after years of favored treatment," the report states. To read the full report, see www.aaas.org/spp/rd/rd04main.htm.
10 April 2003