Research funds headed for small, but noticeable, cuts

Cuts will leave most agencies’ research coffers flat, but are not as deep as some in science community had feared.

Federal research and development funding appears likely to survive relatively intact for fiscal 2006, following a bruising budget rescission process.

Last weekend, Congress agreed to a 1 percent "haircut" across all government programs to pay for deficit reduction and costs associated with rebuilding the Gulf Coast region after the summer's hurricanes.

As it now stands, the government would spend about $135 billion on research and development in fiscal 2006, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"It's not 2 percent," said a somewhat relieved Kei Koizumi, director of the research and development budget and policy program at AAAS. "But still [the cut] has big impacts."

The higher rescission figure was discussed as Congress began the process this fall. The Senate still must clear the bill. That vote has been complicated by the addition of language to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The new research and development total would leave most agency research coffers flat, with the exception of the Pentagon, Koizumi said. The final budget for the National Science Foundation's research program would be $4.15 billion, down $42 million.

The Pentagon is the largest federal supporter of basic research work conducted at universities, and defense research and development funding saw some notable increases, thanks to congressional appropriators adding money beyond the Bush administration's request.

The Defense Department's total research and development allotment would be $73 billion, including the rescission. That comes to $1.5 billion more than last year, or 2.1 percent. Congress added $3 billion to the Pentagon's science and technology budget, for a total of $14 billion.

But Koizumi said the real plus would be in the form of earmarks for projects in lawmakers' states and districts. Those would deliver $6.7 billion to the military's basic and applied research accounts, despite the Pentagon's proposed cuts to the programs. Congress traditionally adds money into the accounts, and this budget cycle was no exception, Koizumi said.

Robert Boege, executive director of the Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America, welcomed the total government research and development budget numbers for fiscal 2006. "Considering what the [rescission] alternatives would have been, it's a good thing," Boege said.