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AAAS budget expert Kei Koizumi Issues Mixed Forecast for Federal R&D Spending
Confronted by continuing global instability and record federal deficits, Congress is moving toward a 2005 budget that would sharply raise research and development spending for security initiatives while holding it steady or cutting it in most other areas, reports Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.
Congress and President George W. Bush already have approved a 7.1 percent increase for research and development in the Department of Defense, raising the appropriation $4.7 billion to a record $70.3 billion. In a new analysis this month, Koizumi found that the House of Representatives would raise R&D spending for the Department of Homeland Security by 19.3 percent, while the Senate would increase the investment by 17.2 percent.
But with deficits expected to surpass $400 billion this year and $300 billion next year, lean times lie ahead for most other agencies. Areas such as energy, climate, transportation, space exploration and the National Science Foundation are facing cuts, Koizumi said in an interview. The House R&D budget for the National Institutes of Health would rise 2.6 percent, but a significant portion of that is made up by an increase in biodefense research. Excluding NIH, funding for all non-defense research and development would decline 2.1 percent under the House plans.
"Clearly, the big winners are defense and homeland security," Koizumi said of the budget process so far. "Within defense, the big priorities are missile defense and development and engineering work for some weapons systems that are in the pipeline. But Congress also did find money to boost Department of Defense support of research."
The R&D Budget and Policy Program has emerged as an authoritative source of budget information over the last 30 years, and today, Koizumi's reports are watched closely on Capitol Hill and frequently cited in news reports. "I always say his analyses are essentially the gold standard for science budgeting," said Bob Palmer, minority staff director for the House Science Committee. The analyses on R&D appropriations are updated regularly on AAAS R&D web page.
Before Congress broke for summer recess in July, the House had approved 10 out of a total 13 appropriations bills for the budget year beginning 1 October, but had taken no vote on bills involving NIH, NASA, NSF and other big R&D agencies. The Senate had completed action only on the Department of Defense appropriation bill.
Within the Department of Defense, the development budget for the agency which oversees the controversial missile defense system will rise 16 percent to $8.8 billion. At the Department of Homeland Security, both the Senate and House would increase funding for shipping container security, air cargo security and bio-warfare countermeasures, among other projects.
But because Congress has set strict budget guidelines for 2005, Koizumi said, the Senate will have limited ability to modify the House R&D plans for agencies that aren't related to defense.
"While the Senate total for R&D spending could be higher than that approved by the House, there's just no room to make it very different," he said. "So the Senate could give an increase to NSF, for example…but in order to do that, they're going to have to find cuts somewhere else. And that makes the Senate's job very difficult."
Indeed, the budget decisions carry such political risk that Congress may wait until after the November elections to complete its work on the budget, Koizumi said.
If something close to the House budget prevails, President Bush's high-profile plans to put astronauts back on the moon and for the first time on Mars would be effectively frozen. And it is likely to mean fewer successful grant applications and a slow-down in some projects at agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
NIH, between 1998 and 2003, had been getting 15 percent more every year as part of a policy to double its budget; while the 2.6 percent House proposal for 2005 is in line with increases granted in the 1990s, it would be more than offset by the projected 3.5 percent inflation rate for the cost of doing biomedical research. Some bio-medical interests had pushed for a 9 to 10 percent increase in 2005, Koizumi said, arguing that "to maintain the momentum of discovery, substantial increases were still necessary."
Koizumi did find some bright spots in the House plan for non-security initiatives: The Department of Agriculture would get a 6.1 percent increase, to $2.4 billion, to pay for research facilities. And the National Institute of Standards and Technology would get a 15 percent increase, to $325 million, for in-house research projects.
But, he concluded in his report, it would take "the last-minute infusion of billions of dollars…to improve the funding situation of agencies such as NSF and NASA, an infusion that is looking increasingly unlikely as the deficit situation deteriorates."
Edward W. Lempinen
26 August 2004