President Releases 1998 Budget

Science and Research Claim Modest Increases

Hold your applause, but don't cry, either. The President's FY 1998 budget, as announced by John H. Gibbons, PhD, Science Advisor to the President, would increase total federal research and development funding by more than $1.6 billion over 1997 levels, to about $75 billion, an overall 2% increase. The 1998 increases are proposed within the context of a budget that reaches balance in the year 2002.

Although the modest increases proposed are less than researchers are accustomed to seeing, it appears that the Administration worked to protect research programs from the more drastic cuts that many observers feared would be inevitable in the context of reaching a balanced budget.

Basic research across agencies in the 1998 budget would increase by $418 million, or 3%, to $15.3 billion total. This includes an increase of 4% for research at the National Science Foundation and a 5% increase in the 6.1 (basic research) budget at the U.S. Department of Defense. In the out years (the 1998 budget includes projections for the years 1999-2002), basic research would increase by nearly 5% overall through the year 2002. (Applied research, development, equipment, and facilities programs throughout the federal government account for the remainder of the $75 billion.)

Regarding programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the budget for the space-science program would receive an additional $1 billion over the next 5 years. The budget freezes the International Space Station program at $2.1 billion, and increases by 4% the Mission to Planet Earth program (to $1.42 billion). NASA scientists had been particularly concerned about the out-year projections, fearing a precipitous drop in research funding. The Administration worked with NASA Administrator Dan Goldin to cushion cuts so that NASA could operate in a stable planning environment. The NASA budget would go from $13.5 billion in 1998, to $13.2 billion in 2000, and remain at that level through 2002.

President Clinton proposed an overall 2.6% increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but a whopping 9% increase for substance abuse research at the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Priority research areas mentioned within the budget are biology of brain disorders, new approaches to pathogenesis, new preventative strategies against disease, genetics of medicine, advanced instrumentation and computers in medicine and research, and research on new avenues for therapeutics development. HIV/AIDS research was reported within a single line in the budget, increasing by 2.6%, or $40 million, over the 1997 level.

NIH can likely expect a larger increase than the President proposed, given that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NIH funding, has pledged to produce a 1998 funding bill with a 7.5% increase for NIH. Sen. Specterís counterpart on the House side, Rep. John E. Porter (R-IL), is widely credited for winning the 6% and 7% NIH funding increases of FYs 1996 and 1997, and has pledged to make another strong effort this year.

APA Executive Director for Science, Bill Howell, PhD, commented, 'We are concerned that some research programs do not appear to be keeping up with inflation, especially in the out years. Erosion of scienceís buying power could be serious, but when other areas of the budget are facing large cuts, research appears to be faring well. Besides, even though the span of the budget is technically 5 years, the reality is that Congress only spends 1 year at a time, so itís more fruitful to focus on 1998 than on the out-year projections.'

Although significant, the Presidentís budget is only the first voice heard in a long debate on the 1998 budget. The House and Senate will produce individual budgets and will then resolve the differences. Although the budget does not have the force of law, it does set limits to which Congress must adhere. In the summer, the 13 individual spending bills must pass both the House and Senate and be signed into law before September 30, 1997. Other matters affecting the budget, such as tax cuts or changes to entitlement programs, will affect the amount of money available for discretionary spending.

The U.S. budget for FY 1998 is $1.3 trillion. Only about 32% of that total is 'discretionary'; that is, available for Congress to spend (unlike federal outlays for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare).

Watch the Public Policy Office web page [] for more detailed reports on the budget and science funding.

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