Already braced for a tight 2006 budget, the National Science Foundation (NSF) got some disappointing news yesterday from a Senate spending panel that voted less money for the agency than even the president's stingy request. The legislators delivered even worse news to backers of a proposed high-energy physics experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The White House had asked for a 2.5% budget boost for NSF, to $5.6 billion, and last month the House of Representatives approved an increase of 3.1% for the fiscal year beginning 1 October (ScienceNOW, 25 May). But the Senate panel's vote approves a mere 1% bump for the agency, to $5.5 billion. The two bills must be reconciled later this summer.
"We live in hope that we'll end up better than we are now. But we know it's a tough year," says NSF Director Arden Bement.
Both houses have given NSF's $4.3 billion research account a tiny bit over the request. And while the House did not specify individual programs, senators have added $6 million to the $94-million plant genome program and $4 million to the $47 million operating budget of the National Radio Astronomy Observatories.
The Senate went further than the House in cutting NSF's $841-million education directorate, although neither went as far as the president, who has proposed reducing it to $737 million. The House set a level of $807 million, while the Senate panel voted for $747 million. The sole bright spot was the Senate's support for a program linking universities and local school districts to improve student achievement. The House endorsed the president's plan to shift the remnants of NSF's math-science partnership program to the Department of Education, while Senate appropriators said it should stay at NSF. But the senators offered just $4 million in new money to what had at one point been a $140-million a year program.
The spending panel delivered its most decisive blow to Brookhaven National Lab's Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP), a high-energy physics experiment to look for effects beyond the Standard Model. Calling increased cost estimates to keep the project going "unacceptable," the Senate panel withheld not only the $42 million requested to start building RSVP in 2006 but also some $14 million already given to RSVP planners but not yet spent. To add insult to injury, the appropriators told NSF that any revised version of the project would have to go back to square one in an approval process that typically takes several years.