Two Perspectives: the Bush Administration and S&T Funding

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Publication date: 
28 April 2004

"Science policy entails more than setting budgets, but that is a major bottom line of the policy process."- OSTP Director John Marburger

Last week's 29th Annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy opened with two divergent views of the Bush Administration's funding of science and technology. The keynote speaker was John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He was followed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SC). While the speakers agreed on the importance of science and technology to the nation, they had different perspectives on the Administration's funding of science and technology. Selections from their addresses on funding issues follow. Several other issues were discussed; the full text of their remarks (with a series of charts that Marburger referred to in his presentation) can be accessed at

In viewing the recent funding of federal science and technology, the often-repeated phrase is relevant: "The President proposes, and the Congress disposes." As Marburger stated, "I do want to acknowledge that Congress has treated science well in its appropriations . . . ."


"President Bush has made it abundantly clear that his budget priorities have been to protect the nation, secure the homeland, and revitalize the economy. His budget proposals to Congress are in line with vigorous actions in each category. Increases in expenditures for homeland security, in particular have dominated changes in the discretionary budget during this Administration, and we have seen the emergence of a significant new science and technology agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The current budget proposal for the DHS Science and Technology function is $1.2 billion, with an estimated total of $3.6 billion in homeland security related R&D in all agencies. The science and engineering communities exerted a significant influence on the structure of the new department, particularly through the National Research Council report 'Making the Nation Safer.'

"Each of the three overarching Presidential priorities has strong science and technology components. The President has sought, and Congress has appropriated, substantial increases in Research and Development budgets not only for homeland security, but also for defense and for key areas of science and technology related to long term economic strength."

"R&D expenditures in this Administration are up 44% over the past four years to a record $132 billion proposed for 2005 compared to $91 billion in FY 2001, and the non-defense share is up 26%. The President's FY2005 Federal R&D budget request is the greatest share of GDP in over 10 years, and its share of the domestic discretionary budget, at 13.5% is the highest level in 37 years. Non-defense R&D funding is the highest percentage of GDP since 1982. Total U.S. R&D expenditures, including the private sector was at 2.65% of GDP in 2002, the most recent year for which I have data. I suspect it is above that today. Its historical high was 2.87% in 1964 as NASA was ramping up for the Apollo program."

"The FY 2005 request commits 5.7% of total discretionary outlays to non-defense R&D, the third highest level in the past 25 years.

"While the President has proposed to reduce the overall growth in non-defense, non-homeland security spending to 0.5% this year to address overall budget pressures, his budget expresses a commitment to "non-security" science with a considerably higher growth rate at 2.5%."

"During the current Administration, funding for basic research has increased 26% to an all-time high of $26.8 billion in the FY 2005 budget request."

"What Congress will do with the Presidential requests for science . . . is at this point an open question. I do want to acknowledge that Congress has treated science well in its appropriations, and the good figures for science during this Administration represent a strong consensus between the Legislative and Executive branches that science is important to our nation's future.

"As I emphasized in 2002, priorities for these large expenditures respond to two important phenomena that have shaped the course of society and are affecting the relationship of society to science, namely the rapid growth of technology, particularly information technology, as the basis for a global economy, and the emergence of terrorism as a destabilizing movement of global consequence." Later, in a section entitled "Priority Highlights," Marburger cited the following:

Health Sciences "Funding during these four years to NIH has increased more than 40%, to $28.6 billion. In response to this unprecedented National commitment, NIH as a whole has adopted an important new roadmap for transforming new knowledge from its research programs into tangible benefits for society. Emerging interdisciplinary issues such as nutrition and aging together with revolutionary capabilities for understanding the molecular origins of disease, health, and biological function will continue to drive change within NIH.

National Science Foundation " In four years the NSF budget has increased 30% over FY 2001 to $5.7 billion. Much of this funding has gone to enhance the physical sciences and mathematics programs, where advances often provide the foundation for achievements in other areas, as well as increases to the social sciences and to the NSF education programs.

"NASA has increased 13%, largely for exploration science that will spur new discoveries, enhance technology development, and excite the next generation of scientists and engineers."

"DOE Science and technology programs have increased 10%, in such important areas as basic physical science and advanced computing. As the agency sponsoring the largest share of physical science, DOE's Office of Science is increasingly viewed as a high leverage area for investment. DOE has engaged in years of intense planning, culminating recently in a multi-year facilities roadmap that assigns specific priorities to a spectrum of new projects.

Energy and Environment "This Administration is investing heavily in technologies for producing and using energy in environmentally friendly ways, from shorter term demonstration projects for carbon-free power plants, to the very long term promise of nuclear fusion for clean, scalable power generation. In the intermediate term, technologies associated with the use of hydrogen as a medium for energy transport and storage are receiving a great deal of attention, not only in the U.S. but internationally. The President's Hydrogen Fuel initiative is a $1.2 billion, five-year program aimed at developing the fuel cell and hydrogen infrastructure technologies needed to make pollution-free hydrogen fuel cell cars widely available by 2020."


"Regrettably, rather than strengthening this [government - science] partnership, I fear that the Bush Administration has allowed it to erode in two critical ways. First, the Administration is abdicating its responsibility to provide scientists with the funding cutting-edge research demands. As you know, the federal government has seen its R&D investments steadily decline as a share of the U.S. economy, bringing the federal investment down to levels not seen since the mid-60s. Public-sector investments in advanced research have declined sharply, relative to our economic growth rate, and barely kept pace with inflation. This year, federal funding for research is set to increase 4.7 percent. However, the entire increase would go to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security for the development of weapons systems and counterterrorism technology. Make no mistake, these are necessary investments that will make our nation safer. But the remaining federal R&D budget that supports research into health, environmental, biological, and other sciences, will all see funding reduced.

"In my home state of South Dakota, for instance, the Earth Research Observation System is facing the possibility of deep cuts in staff due to cuts to their budget. Their work helps us become more responsible stewards of the environment, while increasing the yields of farmers all over the world. And yet, this work is endangered due to draconian budget cuts."

"But we should be honest with ourselves. Outside the scientific community, there is no hue and cry for more government funding of R&D . There is no widespread public outrage when the Administration disregards the unequivocal judgment of the scientific community. And it's unlikely that the science gap growing between the United States and other developed nations will become a major issue in the upcoming Presidential campaign.

"This represents a failure on our part. We have not done enough to show the American people the connection between the work underway in your laboratories and the problems that affect their lives. This must change. The stakes simply could not be higher. What future challenge will we fail to meet because America's scientists were not given the tools they need to discover new answers to old questions? When rumors of a Nazi bomb program reached President Roosevelt, he said simply, 'Whatever the enemy may be planning, American science will be equal to the challenge.' Will future presidents be able to speak with such confidence?"

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