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The Executive Officer’s Column

A Price for U.S. Science

The White House sent Congress its $2.57-trillion proposed spending plan for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 in February—the first step in an seven-month (ideally) public negotiation with Congress, ending with a new budget when FY06 begins on October 1, 2005. The budget includes $840.3 billion for discretionary (i.e., non-entitlement) programs. Funding for basic and applied science (R&D) in areas ranging from biomedicine, health, and social science to science education is rather lean, especially in the context of significant increases for Department of Homeland Security R&D spending, according to the federal budget analysis of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see

Overall, the FY06 plan includes a 2.1% increase (less than inflation at 2.5%) in discretionary spending over last year, thereby reducing non-security discretionary spending and anchoring overall discretionary spending growth.

To achieve even this spartan budget, given other Administration priorities and a projected deficit of $390 billion (excluding funds for war in Iraq and Afghanistan), the President has had to designate 150 federal programs for the chopping block, including, as but one example, the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The budget also sets flat funding for other programs (e.g., the National Endowment for the Humanities). The cost of the FY06 budget to the future of American science is likely to be steep. The AAAS analysis concludes that even after a “tough 2005 budget, we expected a tight 2006 budget, but it’s striking how much the budget retreats from federal investments in science and technology in important areas.”

This proposed budget includes a 2.4%-increase (i.e., $132 million over FY05 to a $5.6-billion total) for the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF is the nation’s primary source of federal funding for non-biomedical basic research in many scientific areas, including approximately 41% of the total for sociology (see the January 2005 Footnotes, p. 5). But because FY05 saw a decrease in NSF’s final budget, this key R&D agency will remain virtually flat for two years in a row (and about $8 billion behind Congress’ budget-doubling target) if the President’s budget prevails. See for details.

Another significant source of sociology research support is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Its budget has doubled over the five years prior to FY05, but it was recommended to receive less than a 1% increase, most of it for bioterrorism research that does not include the social and behavioral sciences.

Details at this stage about individual program funding levels are not available, and Footnotes’ space constraints don’t permit analysis of the many programs that support our research through grants, training, or other mechanisms (e.g., at U.S. Census, National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Labor Statistics). So I concentrate here on just a few highlights from this budget season. Suffice it to say that research support appears to be in a dry spell, with potentially serious long-term costs to science and America’s future.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), headed by presidential science advisor John Marburger, and staff of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) state that the proposed budget maintains advances and progress and puts U.S. basic research at $26.6 billion, an historic high (see OSTP’s two-page talking points at But the science community is fully aware that despite such assurances, an austere FY06 won’t bring the “large increases” (Marburger’s phrase) or even the minimal level of increases necessary to sustain U.S. science at the forefront of knowledge development and application. Congress’ commitment to doubling the NIH budget and its two-year-old authorization for a doubling of NSF’s budget are not likely to be fulfilled. Many science organizations also maintain that the government’s development of priorities in funding based on discovery opportunities did not play a role in OMB/OSTP budget development.

NSF Director Arden Bement noted that “this modest increase allows [NSF] to assume some new responsibilities, meet [its] ongoing commitments, and employ more staff, with little room for growth in research and education programs.” Efforts to reverse NSF’s decreasing success rate for applications, now at about 20%, but down from one-third a few years ago, will undoubtedly be further delayed.

On the social science home front, $199 million is slated for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate, a 1% increase over last year. However, there are still opportunities for expanding resources to SBE scientists by such things as leveraging funds from other disciplines for the NSF-wide Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) priority area and for cyber-infrastructure needs shared across sciences that could support improvements in SBE computational and communications needs. In fact, HSD is slated for an increase from $38.3 million in FY05 to $39.5 million in FY06. The social and behavioral sciences’ share of these funds has grown from $21.6 million (FY04) to $31.4 million in FY06. Other SBE priorities include increasing underrepresented groups’ participation in SBE sciences and exploring social dimensions of drug abuse and drug violence.

A proposed transfer of responsibility to the Department of Education of a large piece of NSF’s education directorate, bringing it from FY05’s $841 million to $747 million, has brought the K-12 science and math education communities and other educational researchers into the trenches, to defend NSF-style, high-quality, peer-reviewed research programs and an NSF role in the national Interagency Education Research Initiative.

As always, “the President proposes, and Congress disposes,” because only Congress can authorize expenditures of federal dollars. So the ball is in Congress’ court to kick around but to do so within a field constrained by the Administration’s efforts to minimize earmarking of research dollars and aim toward the President’s priorities. House Science Committee Republicans and Democrats agreed recently that they did not like the President’s R&D budget proposal nor the negative trends in the Administration’s analyses. We’ll be watching and working.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer