New AAAS Analysis Offers Slightly More Hope for Federal R&D Spending
Congressional action before the August recess raised hopes that U.S. research and development in non-defense agencies may be spared broad cuts in the budget year beginning 1 October, according to a new AAAS analysis.
The U.S. Senate is inclined to push for R&D spending that exceeds the budget proposed by the administration of President George Bush, says the analysis by Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS. Based on action thus far, the Senate would increase non-defense R&D investment by $2.2 billion, or 3.9 percent, over 2005 levels.
But the Senate and House of Representatives remain far apart on key appropriations issues, and many of the gains advocated in the Senate could melt away in joint conference committee negotiations, Koizumi said.
"Although the Senate has proposed more money for federal R&D than the House or the administration, senators had to use accounting tricks to do so," Koizumi said in an interview. "The House rejected similar tricks last year, so the Senate increases could disappear in the final budgets. Even if the Senate increases go through, the long-term trend remains flat or declining funding for most non-defense R&D investments such as the environment, the physical sciences, and engineering stretching back 15 years. Even biomedical and homeland security research, two recent growth areas, could fall behind inflation in the final budget."
In a second new analysis, Koizumi explores the 1,725-page comprehensive energy policy bill approved by Congress on 29 July.
The energy bill authorizes $14.5 billion in funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science between 2007 and 2009, a trajectory that could see the office's budget double over the next decade. The bill authorizes similar increases for the department's R&D programs in the areas of energy efficiency, fossil energy, renewable energy (including a comprehensive hydrogen fuel program), distributed energy and electricity transmission, and nuclear energy.
But Koizumi stressed that the increases will require yearly budget votes, meaning that actual funding in the long-term probably will not match the budgets authorized in the policy bill. "As we saw with the NSF doubling bill of 2002, an authorization doesn't guarantee anything," Koizumi said. "The NSF budget was authorized to double by 2007, but actual appropriations could fall $3 billion short next year. The same could happen with the Office of Science."
The 2006 budget shows just how difficult the prospects for energy and other research and development programs may be in the years ahead.
Under the administration's original budget proposal, issued in February, the total federal R&D portfolio for 2006 would rise $733 million to $132.3 billion, a 0.6 percent increase that would be far short of the expected 2 percent rate of inflation, Koizumi found. Terms of the budget proposal augured the first decline in the total federal R&D portfolio since 1996.
The House has approved all of its appropriations bills, with non-defense R&D totaling $57 billion, an increase of 0.9 percent over current levels. The Senate has drafted appropriations for all R&D funding agencies except for the Department of Defense. Its $58.7 billion for non-defense R&D is $1.8 billion more than requested by the administration.
The two chambers have come to agreement on budgets that provide small R&D increases for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior. Both chambers have plans to give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration an increase of more than 7 percent for research and development. Given the space shuttle's latest problems, however, much of that increase could be diverted to get the shuttle program back online.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) sustained a cut this year, and its total budget (including science and engineering education and other non-R&D items) would increase by just 1.1 percent to $5.5 billion next year under the latest Senate plan. The administration and the House have settled at $5.6 billion for NSF. Under those competing scenarios, R&D at NSF would rise 1.6 percent under the Senate plan, and 2.6 percent under the House appropriation.
But, Koizumi found, "most of NSF's education and training programs…would suffer steep cuts for the second year in a row under the House, Senate, and Administration plans."
Overall, Koizumi wrote, the Senate has shown a willingness to be "far more generous" to R&D programs. Koizumi cited two key examples:
The Senate would raise funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 3.7 percent, or nearly $900 million, compared to an 0.5 percent increase proposed by the administration and approved by the House.
The Senate would boost R&D at the Department of Commerce by 21 percent, increasing the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by 6.5 percent, to $693 million, and holding funding for the Advanced Technology Program steady at $140 million. The House has voted to cut NOAA by 23 percent and end the Advanced Technology Program.
According to Koizumi's forecast, many of the Senate's proposed increases will be lost in negotiation. Still, he wrote, things may be slightly better than they seemed six months ago. Where the administration's budget would have imposed flat funding or cuts for most R&D funding agencies, congressional action suggests that most such agencies will receive flat funding or modest increases, despite the federal government's difficult budget climate.
To see the full report, click here.
To read the full analysis of the new energy bill, click here.
Edward W. Lempinen
5 August 2005