Science, tech programs fare well in 2006 spending bill

The National Science Foundation and key government technology programs fared relatively well under a fiscal 2006 spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. House and Senate negotiators agreed to a final version of the bill last week.

NSF, which funds the majority of university-based basic research, would receive $5.7 billion under the measure, up about 3 percent from fiscal 2005. The agency's research account would be $4.4 billion, up $167 million over last year.

"In general, considering the circumstances, it is a very good appropriation," said Kei Koizumi, director of the research and development budget and policy program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

NSF already has withstood an 0.28 percent overall budget cut, the result of the ongoing deficit-reduction process, Koizumi said. And there is talk of an additional, across-the-board cut of 2 percent for all federal non-defense programs in fiscal 2006.

"So far, we are satisfied," said Robert Boege, executive director of the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America. "But there is a lot more to go." He added that the NSF budget needs to grow 7 percent each year to keep up with inflation.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, who pressed the Bush administration to improve R&D funding, seemed happy as well. "Given the significant budget constraints facing Congress right now, it is especially gratifying to see NSF treated so well," the New York Republican said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive $762 million under the legislation, including $80 million for the Advanced Technology Program and $106 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program -- both of which the White House sought to kill. The agency's science and tech budget would be $400 million, up $21 million.

The bill also would allocate $125 million to the Justice Department for a new information-sharing technology program. Conferees on the bill asked the attorney general to establish an "investment review board" to help oversee the process.

The department also would receive $500,000 for a third-party privacy assessment.

"The department is the repository of large amounts of personal information, much of it related to counter-terrorism initiatives," conferees wrote. "With this comes the responsibility of managing and protecting this personal information."

Appropriators expressed unhappiness regarding Justice's failure to report on the establishment of a privacy and civil liberties office, which was funded at $690,000.

Justice further would receive $10 million in fiscal 2006 to target cyber and intellectual property crimes, plus $27 million to investigate and prosecute identity theft. And the department would receive $90 million to upgrade its mobile radio systems.

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