Record Raise for Biomedicine

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--All's well that ends well. This year's bumpy budget-making journey ended in a relatively smooth landing late last month with a record raise for U.S. biomedical science and increases for many other basic research budgets. Science education advocates came away disappointed, however.

In April, President George W. Bush alarmed some science lobbyists with a spending plan for 2002 that called for trimming many nonbiomedical research budgets. But lawmakers rejected most of those cuts, instead increasing spending on everything from geological research to space science (see table). They added even more funds for military science and bioterrorism-related research in the wake of the 11 September terrorist assaults and subsequent anthrax attacks.

The final numbers are still being tallied, but analysts say overall government R&D spending will rise by more than 10%, to some $103 billion, in the 2002 fiscal year that began 1 October. "It was like holiday shopping--they went on a late spending spree," says one congressional budget aide.

Although Congress had already passed some spending bills affecting science agencies (Science, 16 November 2001, p. 1430), it wasn't until the week before Christmas that it approved budgets for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Departments of Education and Defense. Here are highlights from those budgets and from other agencies that support research:

Biomedical science. For the fourth year in a row, NIH was the biggest winner, with a record $3 billion, 15% raise, to $23.2 billion. The 2002 number is $200 million more than the White House requested and keeps the world's largest biomedical research funder on track for a budget doubling in 5 years, to $27 billion next year. NIH's two dozen major institutes--including those focused on cancer, heart disease, and diabetes research--will each grow by 12% to 15%, producing nearly 900 new extramural grants across the agency. A new, congressionally mandated institute for biomedical imaging will start life with a $112 million budget.

Military research. The $318 billion defense bill boosts the military's own basic research spending by 5%, to $1.4 billion--more than $100 million above the president's request. Basic science funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will grow by nearly 4%, to $519 million. The raises are good news for universities, which depend on the Pentagon for up to half of their math, engineering, and computer science research funding.

Bioterrorism security. At the last minute, lawmakers removed language from the defense spending bill that would have tightened security requirements for researchers working with potential bioweapons. The American Society for Microbiology and other groups had scrambled to help Congress craft workable regulations on employee screening and registering of pathogens, and some of those measures were attached to the Senate's version of the spending bill. After House leaders objected to using an appropriations bill to pass the new rules, however, the two bodies agreed to finalize separate bioterrorism security legislation early next year.

Science education. The science education community got its heart broken by congressional appropriators. On 18 December, science education lobbyists celebrated a highly publicized reform of federal funding for elementary and secondary education. Among many other provisions, the new law authorizes the Department of Education to spend up to $450 million a year on partnerships between universities and local school districts to improve math and science. Later that day, however, the committee that actually hands out the money approved a paltry $12.5 million for the program. "We're still recovering from the shock," says a disheartened Jodi Peterson of the National Science Teachers Association.

With reporting by Jeffrey Mervis.

Posted in Policy