The omens are looking better for science funding as Congress prepares for its final hectic weeks of work on the 2001 federal budget. Senate spending panels this week passed budget bills that would give three key research agencies more money than versions already passed by the House of Representatives. Now, the two bodies must reconcile their differences by 6 October, when Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the year.
Here's how the numbers played out:
- National Science Foundation (NSF), a 10% increase to $4.3 billion. The $400 million boost includes $287 million more for research. While the hike falls short of the Administration's request for a 17% increase, it is better than the 4% increase approved by the House earlier this year. The Senate favored programs such as plant genome research, which won $20 million more than the House request. They also added $16 million for a program to help smaller states boost their research capacities. NSF's priority initiatives in biocomplexity, nanosciences, and information technology would also receive hefty increases.
- NASA, a 1.8% increase to $13.84 billion. That would improve on a House bill that called for a small cut in the space agency's current budget, but it's still short of the Administration's request for a 3% increase. Lawmakers loaded the bill with hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks--funds funneled to specific projects--which would force NASA managers to trim some planned science missions.
- The National Institute of Standards (NIST), a 6.6% cut to $597 million. That's still $175 million more than approved by the House. The Senate also gave an 8% increase to the controversial Advanced Technology Program, which funds technology innovation by industry; the House had proposed killing the program.
In light of mounting budget surpluses, science lobbyists are pushing lawmakers to increase the totals when they meet to finalize these bills and others that would fund such agencies as the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy. Capitol Hill aides say gains are likely for many research programs. "The money is there, it's just a question of who makes the best case for getting it," says one Republican House aide. "It's going to be a mad scramble."