Center of attention. Spending bill includes money for a visitor center at the Green Bank radio telescope.

Budget Boost for NASA, NSF

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Moved to generosity by the impending elections and a big budget surplus, Congress last Thursday gave both NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) significant hikes for 2001. After traveling a rocky road to reach this point, legislators gave NSF $4.42 billion, a $522 million boost over this year that nearly matched NSF's 17% request. NASA received $14.3 billion, nearly twice the White House's request for a 3% boost--but with hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks added on.

When the House and Senate differ on funding, they usually produce a final budget by splitting the difference. But this year leaders "compromised" on a total for both NSF and NASA that exceeded the earlier levels set by either body.

The Senate had been considering a NASA bill nearly $200 million below the Administration's request, which would have required the space agency to scale back many programs (Science, 22 September, p. 2018). The House version was lower, at a whopping $377 million less than the request and just slightly above the 2000 level. The final bill, however, leaves space science with a $2.5 billion budget--$100 million more than requested and well above the $2.2 billion spent in 2000.

Ed Weiler, NASA's space science chief, cautions that the boost won't give him much wiggle room to cope with inflation in planetary missions, several of which are likely to cost more than promised, although he said he hoped to find money to keep a future Pluto mission on track. The flexibility disappeared because much of the new money will go to funding pork-barrel projects, such as $10.5 million for education centers on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, $4 million for a visitor center at the Green Bank Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, and $2 million for equipment at the South Carolina State Museum's observatory, planetarium, and theater in Columbia.

In contrast to the small increase NASA requested, NSF asked for a record $675 million boost in 2001, or 17%. In June the House voted a rise of just 4%, and last month the Senate approved a 10% hike, so the final 13.3% boost made NSF officials very happy. "I really like Congress's math this year," quips NSF Director Rita Colwell. "I'm thrilled with the outcome." Even so, Congress failed to fully support several key Administration initiatives. The bill provides $215 million of a $327 million request for information technology research, $150 million of the $217 million sought for nanotechnology, and $75 million of the $136 million planned for biocomplexity.

President Bill Clinton is expected shortly to sign the bill, which was bundled with a $24 billion measure to fund the Department of Energy and various water and conservation projects.

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