21-22 April AAAS forum to discuss Pentagon R&D spending, other policy issues

04/08/05

FY 2006 US budget analysis to be posted in advance of the meeting

Washington, DC-- Pentagon spending on research and development won't keep up with inflation for the first time in a decade, and other federal research programs will suffer real cuts under President Bush's proposed 2006 budget, according to an analysis to be presented at the 30th annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.

After several years of stagnating R&D budgets for most non-defense agencies, the Pentagon now seems poised to join the trend, according to the analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).The Defense Department's spending on basic science and early technology development would be particularly hard hit.

Science-related spending proposals for the Pentagon and other federal agencies will be analyzed in a comprehensive AAAS report to be posted online 12 April in advance of the upcoming forum.

While overall, the Pentagon would continue to grab the lion's share of the nation's R&D investment --about 53 percent-- much of that money goes to defense laboratories and industrial contractors who focus on developing specific weapons systems. The proposed budget would impose steep cuts on Pentagon science and technology spending, money that traditionally has helped nurture such disciplines as computer science, mathematics and oceanography.

For all agencies, the total federal R&D portfolio of $132.3 billion would grow just 0.1 percent or $84 million, far short of the 2.0 percent increases needed to keep up with inflation, according to the AAAS analysis..

NASA would continue to receive additional resources, but nearly all other non-defense agencies would see their R&D funding decline. The Energy Department's Office of Science would see its funding fall 4.5 percent to $3.2 billion. Environmental R&D would decline across the board, including a 4.8 percent drop for the U.S. Geological Survey and 11.2 percent for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the National Institutes of Health R&D budget would rise 0.5 percent to $27.9 billion, it would fail to keep pace with economy-wide inflation for the first time in 24 years.

The 21-22 April forum, the premier meeting in the United States on science and technology policy issues, is expected to draw more than 500 participants. It will be held at the Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel (480 L'Enfant Plaza, SW; L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop).

In addition to an opening plenary session on the policy context for the 2006 R&D budget, the forum will include sessions on scientific communication; efforts to change the face of the science and technology workforce; the role of R&D in global economies; science and global health disasters such as AIDS and the continuing impact of the Chernobyl nuclear accident; and a closing plenary on the collision between science and society over such issues as evolution and stem cells. Speakers at the closing plenary will include Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, on the evolution battle, and physicist Lawrence M. Krauss of Case Western Reserve University, on clashes over religious dogma and science.

John H. Marburger, III, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will deliver a keynote address at 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, 21 April, to start the forum. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) will deliver a special William D. Carey Lecture later that day.

Robert Klein, the prime mover behind the successful California initiative to establish a $3 billion state program for embryonic stem cell research, will be among the speakers at the opening plenary session. That session also will hear an overview of the federal budget situation from David W. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, and an up-to-date analysis of the Bush budget proposal by Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS.

The Pentagon's investment in science and technology research would be cut by 21 percent, according to Koizumi. That would be a substantial hit affecting basic research grants such as those funded under the University Research Initiatives program and the Defense Research Sciences program.

Advocates have argued that science and technology funding should account for at least 3 percent of the defense budget. The last four budgets have met that goal, including 3.39 percent for S&T in the current 2005 budget. Under the Bush proposal for 2006, however, the figure would slip to 2.54 percent.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has long been an important sponsor of fundamental research, has acknowledged, in response to a query from Senate Armed Services Committee staff, that it has been shifting its priorities from basic research at universities on topics such as computer science to more narrowly defined projects promising greater immediate payoffs. The AAAS budget analysis will include a chapter that documents the Pentagon's declining support for computer science research.

Congress has added billions to Defense Department science and technology requests in the past, and could do so again this year. Members of key congressional committees already have expressed concern about the Administration's proposals overall for spending related to science and technology development.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Committee on Science, said recently that while the administration's budget proposal for R&D "can legitimately be seen either as a glass half full or a glass half empty, no one could describe it as a glass that is filled enough to satisfy the nation's thirst for scientific advancement."

While he praised a propose 12 percent increase for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boehlert said cuts in education programs at the National Science Foundation were "misguided."

Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have issued a "Dear Colleague" letter seeking support for increased funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The office is the largest federal funding source for basic research in the physical sciences.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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