In a most unusual federal funding cycle, the President released his FY 1997 budget request on March 19--much later than usual, but still before the completion of the FY 1996 budget. Although almost halfway through the current fiscal year, which began on October 1, 1995, several federal research agencies are still without a budget. These include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). All are operating on temporary continuing resolutions as Psychological Science Agenda goes to press.
Not withstanding this unprecedented budget mess, Congress and the President have commenced work on the FY 1997 budget. Although the Republican-controlled Congress pronounced it "dead on arrival," the President's request indicates the priorities of the administration. The good news is that support for research is a priority for both political parties; the bad news is that domestic R&D is found in the so-called discretionary part of the federal budget, which is shrinking.
The following tables contain information on the requests for NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). More information on the FY 1997 R&D budget can be found on the Public Policy web page at http://www.apa.org/ppo/ppo.html.
The FY 1997 request for NSF included a 9.4% increase for Social, Behavioral and Economic Research, from the current $85 million to $93 million. The FY 1997 request also highlighted a new initiative on "Learning and Intelligent Systems," which will involve interdisciplinary research in the Directorates for Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences; Education and Human Resources; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; and Biological Sciences. Although NSF has identified this as an area deserving special attention and support, there were no new funds requested to finance it in FY 1997. Support will come from the regular research directorate programs. When asked at an FY 1997 budget briefing, Neal Lane, PhD, NSF Director, said that it hadn't yet been decided whether new money would be requested for this program in the next budget (FY 1998).
The Human Capitol Initiative, highlighted in previous budget requests, was conspicuously absent from the FY 1997 request. It was mentioned only in a general statement on where the increased funds for SBE would go (if approved) and was included in a list of worthy research areas supported by SBE.
The President's FY 1997 budget proposes a 3.7% increase for NIH. In past years, such a small increase would have been interpreted as lack of support for NIH, but any spending increase in these deficit-conscious times is considered a strong endorsement. NIH has been doubly blessed, as one of the few programs in the Department of Health and Human Services to be funded for the entire 1996 fiscal year.
NIH received a 5% increase for the current FY 1996 budget. Although congressional supporters of NIH would like to repeat this success, the current wisdom is that NIH will do well indeed if it receives a modest increase along the lines proposed by the President. There are several reasons a larger increase is unlikely. The first is that advocates for other federal programs are asking for increases "along the lines that NIH received." NIH's task is made more difficult because it was treated so generously last year. But the more intractable reason is that Congress has chosen to abide by stringent caps for discretionary spending. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have even fewer dollars to spend for FY 1997 than they did for FY 1996.