Science agency set for budget boost

The fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill awaiting action by lawmakers would boost funding for the National Science Foundation. Lawmakers also restored part of the funding for the Commerce Department's Technology Administration that the House and Senate Appropriations committees had voted to strip.

The House is expected to vote on the spending bill early next week, but it is doubtful that the Senate will act before January because of Democratic opposition to quick action. The measure combines the text of the seven remaining annual spending bills for the year, which cover spending for 11 federal departments, foreign aid and the District of Columbia.

The conference report for the bill, H.R. 2673, would allocate $5.6 billion for the NSF in fiscal 2004, about $130 million more than the Bush administration requested and a boost of nearly $300 million over fiscal 2003.

Lawmakers retained the House request of $4.3 billion for research, compared with the Senate's request of $4.2 billion for research and related activities. The bill maintained the Senate's allocation of $3.9 million for the National Science Board, the governing body of NSF.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would receive $15.5 billion, a boost of $80 million over the fiscal 2003 level.

The Senate bill sought $15 million to help public housing residents develop the technology skills needed in today's workforce, but the compromise makes no mention of such an earmark.

Within Commerce, the Technology Administration would receive $6.4 million in fiscal 2004 despite efforts by the Senate Appropriations Committee to eliminate funding for the agency. The administration had sought $8 million.

Lawmakers also agreed to provide $14.6 million for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration within Commerce. And $22 million would be allocated for grants to fund public telecom facilities, planning and construction, and $15 million would be for information infrastructure grants.

The omnibus bill also contains $39.6 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership housed at the National Institute for Standards and Technology and $179.1 million for the Advanced Technology Program, dictating that $60.7 million would have to be spent by the end of fiscal 2004. The Bush administration had targeted both programs for cuts.

Congress also earmarked $1.8 million for the Social Security Advisory Board, noting that funds unused by the end of fiscal 2004 would remain available for the Social Security Administration to invest in information technology and telecom equipment.

Appropriators are calling for the funding of technology investments for drug enforcement efforts. For example, the bill would offer the Drug Enforcement Administration $6.8 million "to enhance the Internet Online Investigations Project" and to develop a system that would enable online transfers of prescriptions from doctors to pharmacies.

Other tech-related items include a $1 million allocation for the Broadcasting Board of Governors to oversee a pilot program that would use Internet technologies to thwart jamming of broadcasts to China.