Basic research gets mixed bag in U.S. budget

WASHINGTON, D.C.-On February 15, U.S. President George Bush signed a $463.5 billion fiscal year 2007 omnibus appropriations bill that includes increased funds for biomedical research and health programs.

Mar 15th, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C.-On February 15, U.S. President George Bush signed a $463.5 billion fiscal year 2007 omnibus appropriations bill that includes increased funds for biomedical research and health programs. However, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), while the overall federal budget for scientific R&D is on the rise, much of this is due to increases in weapons-development funding. In fact, support for long-term research is down, and several agencies are experiencing year-over-year cutbacks.

According to the AAAS, under the final budget for FY 2007, total R&D funding grew 3.4% to a record $140 billion; however, the entire increase will go to development programs in the Department of Defense (DoD) for weapons systems and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for new human spacecraft. In fact, funding for basic and applied research increased only 0.2% to $56.8 billion.

For FY2008, Bush is proposing a record $142.7 billion for R&D funding, with $55.4 billion for basic and applied research ($28.4 billion targeted for basic research), down 2% from FY2007 despite large proposed increases for physical sciences and related research in the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Dept. of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A rare cut in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding and steep cuts in research funding at the DoD, NASA, and other agencies would more than offset any gains made through the American Competitiveness Incentive (ACI). Thus, in real terms, the federal research portfolio would fall for the fourth year in a row, down 7.4% from 2004.

Defense R&D continues to climb to record levels, boosted by additional billions for development war-related supplementals. Total defense R&D would reach $83 billion in 2008, up 0.9% over FY2007. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would do relatively well among research-oriented programs with a request of $3.1 billion, holding steady with this year’s budget.

Once again, development looks to be the clear winner in FY2008. Development funding would hit a new high of $82.8 billion (up $2.4 billion or 3%) because of big increases for DoD weapons and NASA spacecraft development, including a new request of $2.8 billion in 2008 for DoD development as part of the Bush Administration’s war supplementals. Weapons systems development at the DoD would increase dramatically by $3.5 billion (5.5%) to a new high of $68.1 billion, but once again there would be steep cuts in DoD’s Science and Technology programs, which would plummet 20.3% to $10.9 billion, with cuts in all three categories of basic research, applied research, and technology development. Space-related R&D would gain 11.4% to $12 billion, entirely from gains in development funding of new space vehicles. But R&D for other national missions including agriculture (down 12%), transportation (down 19%), energy (down 8%) and the environment (down 5%) would all fall in a tight budget.

While NASA is suffering a setback of sorts in the FY2007 budget, the agency is hoping for a 6.5% increase to $17.3 billion in FY2008, with $12.6 billion going for R&D activities (up 7.7% over FY2007). However, the entire increase would go to two big projects: finishing the International Space Station and developing the Crew Launch Vehicle and Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Although NIST expects to benefit from increases in the ACI in FY2008 (NIST intramural research will climb 21.5% to $421 million and construction funding for NIST research facilities will jump 60% to $94 million), the Bush Administration is once again proposing to eliminate NIST’s Advanced Technology Program (ATP). The ATP had a budget of $79 million in FY2006 and the same in FY2007.

Over at the NSF, Bush is asking to increase the budget to $6.43 billion in FY 2008, 45% above 2001’s $4.43 billion level. The centerpiece of the ACI is the president’s plan to double investment over a 10-year period in key federal agencies-including NSF-that support basic research programs emphasizing the physical sciences and engineering. NSF also has central roles in the National Nanotechnology Initiative and the Networking and Information Technology R&D program. NSF-funded nanotechnology research is proposed at $390 million in FY 2008, up 5% over the 2007 request and 160% since 2001.

-Kathy Kincade

Laser Focus World launches new Web site

NASHUA, NH-Laser Focus World, the monthly magazine that provides global coverage of photonics and optoelectronics technologies, applications, and markets, has launched a new version of its Web site at www.laserfocusworld.com. The new site highlights the breadth and depth of its industry resources including news, features, white papers, Webcasts, new products, and Web-exclusive content. The goal is to bridge the gap between print and digital media at a time when readers are transitioning to more digital information sources and expecting more immediate access to information, according to Christine Shaw, publisher of Laser Focus World.

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