Congress Restores NASA, NSF Funding

8 October 1999 5:00 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The budgetary roller coaster ride for many U.S. scientists ended yesterday when President Bill Clinton said he would sign a bill that gives the National Science Foundation (NSF) a significant boost for 2000 and grants NASA's science program less than it asked for but more than either the Senate or the House had been willing to provide. The victory, however, comes with a steep price tag for the space agency: millions of dollars in pork-barrel spending.

House and Senate members who met on 7 October set aside $13.65 billion for NASA and $3.91 billion for NSF for the budget year that began 1 October, both figures near what Clinton wanted. "We're really happy with the numbers," says an NSF spokesman. "The conferees made a statement that investment in science and technology is important."

In a complicated maneuver, lawmakers, led by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Alan Mollahan (D-WV), added $70 million in earmarks--unrequested spending--including $15 million for a solar terrestrial observatory to be built and operated by two Maryland institutions, Johns Hopkins University and the Applied Physics Laboratory. An additional $75 million will be spread across science, aeronautics, and technology programs, although it remained unclear at ScienceNOW's deadline which programs will benefit from that money. The bill also reduces NASA's Discovery program of cheaper and faster space probes by $24 million, which NASA officials say could delay announcement of the next two missions.

NASA life and microgravity sciences won a boost of $21 million above the $264 million requested, while earth science will receive only a $4 million cut to its $1.46 billion request, a far cry from the threatened $285 million House reduction. Overall, space science will receive $2.1 billion, more than was allotted in the House and Senate bills (Science, 24 September, p. 2045).

For NSF, the conferees voted a 6.6% increase, to $3.91 billion. That amount overrides a flat budget approved by the House (Science, 6 August, p. 813) and falls only $9 million short of the agency's requested hike of $250 million. NSF may have cemented its leading role in the proposed $366 million information technology initiative by receiving all but $5 million of its $110 million request for research and the full $36 million it requested for a terascale computer. The conferees ratified the Senate's $10 million boost to a $50 million plant genome program and its support for a $50 million biocomplexity initiative. They also removed Senate language that would have shifted $25 million in logistical support for Arctic research--a boost of $3 million over the request--from NSF to the independent Arctic Research Commission (Science, 1 October, p. 24).

With reporting by Jeffrey Mervis.

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