President Bush Reaffirms American Competitiveness Initiative

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Publication date: 
11 February 2008

The FY 2009 budget that President George Bush has sent to Congress requests impressive increases in the budgets of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the core research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Together, total funding for the three agencies would increase 15 percent over this year's total enacted budget.  In contrast, non-security discretionary spending in the FY 2009 request would be less than one percent.               

The Administration has also requested a historic 19 percent increase in planned defense basic research funding.   Under the request, DOD basic research funding would increase by $270 million over last year's request to $1.7 billion.  An OSTP document stated that this is "consistent with the President's commitment to support high value research in the physical sciences.  These investments are made to support national security but, due to the broad effects of basic research, also contribute to ACI innovation goals as well."

Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger and Jim Bates of  the Office of Management and Budget discussed the FY 2009 request at a White House briefing. Marburger began by commenting that the request "sustains the ACI," with Bates then explaining that more generally, the budget gives priority to terrorism, economic growth, and keeping taxes low.  Both spoke of the difficulties posed by earmarks in the recently enacted FY 2008 appropriations bill.

Marburger said that the President is "fully committed" to the American Competitiveness Initiative, and that the request sent to Congress would "put it back on track and fully implemented."  This is the third budget submitted under the ACI, which is intended the double funding for the DOE Office of Science, NSF, and NIST's research programs in ten years.  Congress funded only one-third of the Administration's ACI request last year, and then allocated more than one-half of the new money to earmarks and a grants program that had not been requested.

The difference between "apples and oranges" was how Marburger described congressional appropriations bills containing  earmarks and the Administration's request which are stripped of these earmarks.  "Those two numbers are not comparable," he emphasized, saying that earmarks produce "big error bars" when calculating differences between this year's budget and the Administration's request.  In all, there were almost $2 billion in research earmarks this year.  Approximately $1.1 billion of those earmarks were for defense basic and applied research.  Marburger has long stated that the value of these earmarks must first be subtracted  when doing year-to-year calculations, although he admitted the nature of earmarks is such  that "I don't know how to do it."

Commenting on other budgets, Marburger said that ITER was "a priority" for President Bush, despite the refusal of Congress to provide any funding for the experimental fusion facility this year.  "There may be some danger ahead" for NASA, he warned, because of congressional cuts to this year's budget and earmarks.  And he said that "NIH is on a funding plateau," with no increase being requested in its budget for FY 2009.