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White House adviser urges funding equality for all sciences

Though President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget proposal would not provide as much funding for research and development programs as some seek, it demonstrates that the administration is addressing concerns about the balance between R&D funding for the physical and life sciences, a key White House official said on Thursday.

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Marburger testified that the administration is committed to funding basic research and has listened to concerns from the scientific community and lawmakers to ensure that there is a federal priority on physical sciences as well as life sciences.

The president's budget "sends a strong signal that we are addressing the concerns about balance raised by this committee and the scientific community," Marburger told the House Appropriations subcommittee that sets funding for the Veterans Affairs Department, Housing and Urban Development Department and other federal entities.

In the mid-1990s, Congress agreed to double the funding for the National Institutes of Health and to invest heavily in life-sciences research, while the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Energy Department and some agencies received small increases in R&D funding. That approach raised concerns about the balance of the nation's R&D portfolio.

Bush's fiscal 2004 budget would increase NSF funding by $453 million, or 3 percent more than in fiscal 2003, and would provide a $100 million boost in aid for physical sciences. The budget also would provide $3.3 billion for Energy's science programs, an increase of $55 million. That money would include an emphasis on support for physical sciences research, Marburger said in his opening statement to the committee.

Marburger faced criticism from the House Science Committee earlier this month, as lawmakers argued that the administration's proposed budget for NSF and physical sciences was insufficient. Several lawmakers said they plan to increase the level during the budget process.

Several lawmakers at the Appropriations Committee focused their questioning on what OSTP is doing to increase diversity in the nation's scientific community. Marburger cited a multiyear effort to better attract and retain U.S. students in science and engineering careers by increasing graduate-student fellowship and training stipends from $25,000 to $30,000. Additionally, Energy has a specific program to reach out to historically black colleges.

Marburger said the National Science and Technology Council, which is the administration's interagency group that focuses on government-wide R&D priorities, this year created a task force on science and technology workforce issues.