Administration calls for budget increase at science agencies

Despite a tight year for funding, federal spending on research and development will increase in key areas in fiscal 2005, top science officials in the Bush administration said on Monday.

"Federal non-defense R&D spending is going up substantially," said John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "This administration has been highly favorable to R&D both in defense and non-defense fields."

The budget calls for $132 billion in R&D, up 44 percent over four years, with civilian R&D up 26 percent for the same period. Marburger added that 13.5 percent of total discretionary spending is going to R&D efforts, "the highest level since the Apollo [space] program."

Marburger said that Defense Department R&D spending would increase "substantially," by $4.4 billion; that funding for the National Institutes of Health would jump by a "fairly impressive" 2.5 percent; and that the budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) would go up 3 percent, part of the administration's "very substantial support" for NSF over the past four years.

Other programs Marburger touted included: Project BioShield, an initiative to develop and deploy counter measures against bioterrorism; the Education Department's math and science partnerships; and the national nanotechnology initiative.

But Marburger and Marcus Peacock, associate director for natural resource, energy and science programs with the White House Office of Management and Budget, warned that congressional earmarking of R&D funds is having a negative effect on science R&D as a whole.

"R&D earmarks at the Department of Defense have reached $1 billion, something we're very concerned about," Peacock said, adding that the total amount of earmarked funds exceeded $2 billion, up from $296 million in 1996. Marburger said nearly 8 percent of R&D funds to higher education is earmarked, up from 2.5 percent in 1996, a trend that he called "frightening."

However, in a question from the audience, Robert Palmer, a staff member of the House Science Committee, challenged the administration to "show leadership" on unwanted earmarks by refusing to fund the appropriations, which typically are specified in non-binding appropriations reports, not the spending law themselves. "You would catch political hell for it," Palmer said.

Peacock said OMB has considered that approach but noted that former OMB Director Mitchell Daniels instead convened a university consortium to pledge not to accept earmarks. "Obviously, that's not making a dent, and we're concerned," Peacock said.