Flat line. Presidential science advisor Jack Marburger (standing) discusses details of the 2006 budget.

Revisiting the Budget

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

Many U.S. science agencies will have to make do with less this year, according to President George W. Bush's 2006 budget request. ScienceNOW reported preliminary facts and figures yesterday. Here are some more in-depth highlights, brought to you by Science reporters who were there.

NIH: The president's budget includes a 42% boost, to $333 million, for a set of cross-NIH initiatives to support translational research, known collectively as the Roadmap. Biodefense research would receive a 3.2% hike, to $18 billion, and another $26 million would be allocated for a new Neuroscience Blueprint involving 15 institutes. But most institutes would get increases averaging about 0.4%. In addition, the average grant size of $347,000 would remain flat, and the proportion of applications funded would continue to plummet, to a projected 21%. NIH is boosting postdoc stipends by 4% and increasing health benefits. But the result is a 2% drop in the number that would be supported.

NSF: A $113 million increase proposed for the agency's $4.2 billion research budget hides a $48 million transfer from the U.S. Coast Guard to take on the annual cost of breaking ice to keep the shipping lanes open in the Antarctic. The 2006 request includes funding for all five of the agency's major new facilities under construction, but it lacks two expected new starts in 2006: a network of ocean observatories and an Alaskan regional research vessel.

NASA: The agency's lunar exploration program, which would be focused on technology more than science, would nearly triple, from $52 million to $135 million, and Mars projects would jump from $681 million to $723 million. The largest increase would go to developing a rocket capable of taking humans beyond Earth orbit; the Constellation project would more than double, to $1.12 billion in 2006. The one exception to that rule is human research: Funding for studying the effects of space on astronauts would fall from $1 billion to $807 million for 2006.

Energy: As part of the 4% cut for the Office of Science, Department of Energy officials want to pull the plug on a $140 million experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, to study the physics of particles that contain the bottom quark. Operations at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider machine, the primary accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, will also be curtailed, with funding for only 1400 hours of experiments compared with a scheduled 3600 hours this year.

FDA: The Food and Drug Administration wants $30 million more to expand a network of state labs that can handle threats to food safety, an area former HHS secretary Tommy Thompson says is vulnerable to terrorism. It also hopes to hire 25 more people to clear up a backlog of reports submitted on potential safety problems with drugs that are already on the market.

Homeland Security: The department requests $227 million for a new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to sniff out attempts to bring bombs into the country. Several federal agencies will contribute staffers to the new office, which President Bush mentioned in last month's State of the Union address.

Defense: Although the Pentagon's basic research account would slump by 13%, officials hope to scale up a pilot scholarship program to attract more U.S. citizens into government defense jobs (ScienceNOW, 8 February 2005).

The $2.5 trillion proposed budget now goes to Congress, which will tinker with the president's priorities and add in its own. That means the fate of these and other research programs, although traditionally nonpartisan, will be shaped by larger forces--from Social Security to tax policy--stirring the political waters.

-–JEFFREY MERVIS
With reporting by Amitabh Avasthi, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Jennifer Couzin, Marie Granmar, Jocelyn Kaiser, Eli Kintisch, Andrew Lawler, and Charles Seife.

Related site
The President's budget request

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