US Science Budget

from ScienceNow

The president had requested a $506 million boost for the $6 billion foundation--an increase of 8.7%--and both House and Senate panels had added to that total. Instead, the omnibus provides a total increase of only $117 million (after a $33 million rescission is applied to selected programs). NSF research directorates will receive 1.2% more, or $56 million, while its education programs would go up by 4%, or an additional $27 million. A pot of money for several new and continuing large facilities would receive a total of $24 million less than the $244 million that NSF had sought. "It's not good news," says NSF Director Arden Bement.

Despite the tight allocation, a few activities were singled out for special treatment. NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research--a $100 million effort to help have-not states--gets $8 million more than NSF had requested. The legislation also asked NSF's astronomy division to reconsider its planned cuts to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and to fully fund repair projects for NSF's collection of ground-based telescopes.

Bement says those two directives "will pinch" other programs and that the cuts in the new construction account will "stretch out" the schedules of some projects. He says that NSF "has no intention" of shutting down Arecibo but would like its backers to find other means of support. (Toward that end, another part of the bill directs NASA to ask the National Academies to examine the fate of the observatory.) One silver lining in the fiscal clouds is a $35 million boost, nearly the full request, to the $246 million NSF spends on salaries and operations, which includes its system of merit review. "I consider that to be a victory," says Bement, "and a sign that Congress realizes its importance."

For NASA the news is mixed. Although Congress approved its request for $17.3 billion, or 3.1% more than in 2007, the House and Senate conference rejected a Senate plan to add $1 billion to the space agency in order to cover rising costs in the space shuttle program. Those costs, combined with increases in the new Constellation rocket program and in several science projects, threaten to eat away at NASA's science and aeronautics endeavors. To cope with the rapidly increasing price tags, Congress wants NASA to work with the National Academies to come up with independent cost estimates before lawmakers approve future projects.

NASA science would receive $5.577 billion, a boost from 2007's $5.466 billion, including a $24 million boost for research and analysis of spacecraft data. But agency officials say that millions of dollars in pork projects--many of which are not directly related to the agency's mission--will limit their ability to address pressing needs, as will directives for funding specific programs. For example, legislators told the agency to spend $40 million to address the lack of future Earth science missions, $60 million for the Space Interferometry Mission--$38.4 million more than planned--and $5 million to determine the next outer-planet destination. Mars missions, meanwhile, received the full $625 million requested.

In the exploration effort, Congress told NASA to spend $42 million next year developing a robotic lunar lander, a mission that NASA had deleted from its planning because of cost constraints in the construction of the new rocket. It also allocated $13.5 million more for microgravity life and physical sciences.

Energy Department
The bill set the budget at DOE's Office of Science at $4.055 billion--$342 million short of the requested amount--and the shortfall comes mainly out of two programs: fusion sciences and high-energy physics. Congress realized some savings by allotting nothing for U.S. participation in the international fusion reactor experiment, ITER, which is set to begin construction next year in Cadarache, France (ScienceNOW, 21 November 2006). Although appropriators expressly forbid DOE to shuffle money from other programs to satisfy its planned $149 million contribution in 2008, Marburger predicts that the prohibition will not stand. "I can't see DOE not living up to its obligations," he says. "The department will have to use its money to stay in the project, so [the language] really just amounts to another earmark."

High-energy physics takes a bruising, too, receiving $88 million less than the requested $782 million. Congress nixed funding for the NOvA neutrino experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, which would be the lab's centerpiece experiment once the aging Tevatron collider shuts down. It cuts funding for research and development on the proposed International Linear Collider from $60 million to $15 million and for superconducting accelerator research from $24 million to $5 million. Because Fermilab researchers have already spent nearly $20 million on those projects in FY '08, work on them could immediately stop.

DOE's largest program, Basic Energy Sciences (BES), gets $1.282 billion, $217 million less than requested. That could translate into less beam time at the x-ray sources and other facilities BES runs for research in materials science, structural biology, chemistry, and other areas. In contrast, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program gets $354 million, $14 million more that requested, and the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program receives $549 million, $17 million more than the White House asked for, for more work in nuclear medicine.