"The budget is not flat, but pretty close," OSTP Director John Marburger said yesterday at a White House briefing on the FY 2006 research and development budget request. The request is somewhat like viewing a glass that is half-empty/half-full. Characterizing the overall request and its components very much depends upon the perspective employed, with the caveat, as Marburger said, that "the devil is sometimes in the detail."
Federal program expenditures can be categorized as discretionary and non-discretionary. Non-discretionary spending is mandated by law, and includes programs such as Social Security. Unless the underlying law is changed, as is now being proposed for Social Security, spending is largely automatic. Discretionary spending varies, and depends on the will of the Congress as expressed through the appropriations bills. R&D funding falls into this category, so that the annual budgets for NSF or DOE, for instance, will vary.
Large federal deficits and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a very tight budget environment. The Administration wants to reduce the federal deficit by one-half by 2009. Toward this end, the Bush Administration has proposed cutting the overall level of discretionary non-defense/homeland security spending by almost 1% in FY 2006. That proposed cut is a perspective through which to view the R&D budget request.
Under the Administration's proposal, total federal R&D funding would increase by 1% or $733 million, which Marburger said "maintains that strength, we are not going backward." Under the Administration's proposal, non-defense R&D spending would increase 0.75% over this year's budget.
Marburger briefly described those budgets which would increase next year, including an 8% increase in NIST's core research activities, a 2.4% increase for NSF, a 2.4% increase for NASA, a 1% increase for NIH, and an increase in S&T funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Total funding for DOE's Office of Science would decline, as would Defense 6.1 and 6.2 program spending. USGS funding would be flat. The Advanced Technology Program would be eliminated. Future issues of FYI will examine physics and astronomy budget requests more closely.
There are several ways to assess the FY 2006 R&D request. The Office of Management and Budget has a series of tables in a document entitled "Analytical Perspectives" that review all federal R&D spending. It shows an overall FY 2006 increase of +1% over the current year. Basic research would decline -1%. Applied research would remain approximately level. Development funding would increase +2%, while Facilities and Equipment spending would fall -4%.
A different categorization is the Federal Science and Technology Budget which OMB says "highlights the creation of new knowledge and technologies more consistently and accurately than the traditional R&D data collection. The FS&T budget emphasizes research, does not count funding for defense development, testing and evaluation, and totals less than half of Federal R&D spending." Under the Administration's FY 2006 request, this funding would decline -1%.
The two senior members of the House Science Committee issued statements in reaction to the Administration's request. Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said, "As everyone knows, this is a very tight budget, with an overall cut to non-defense domestic discretionary spending. Given that context, the science programs fared relatively well. I was especially pleased to see the significant increase proposed for the laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. That said, I would certainly like to see more robust increases in the science budget, particularly for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy Office of Science. And I am especially troubled by the proposed cuts in the education programs at NSF. . . . As for NASA, the budget appears to be reasonable and balanced overall. But we must review the details of the budget and also think carefully about how NASA should fare relative to other science agencies."
The Ranking Minority Member of the Science Committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN) was more critical, saying, "This budget ignores our future economic needs and will cause irreparable harm to our country's ability to compete in the increasingly sophisticated and competitive global market place. In the current fiscal crisis we must prioritize. However, when we fail to put job creation, life-saving technologies and students' studies near the top of our list we send the wrong message to the world. The priorities in this budget are not merely harmful, they push this country on a downward slide to losing our global science and technological edge. Make no mistake, this is a race. Having a lead in science and technology will not last for the U.S. if we allow ourselves to slow down or, as this budget suggests, stop running. If we stop running at the top speed we can manage, we will lose."