Web Extra  Tuesday February 5, 2002

Bush budget would reshuffle geoscience

President Bush’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2003, released today, deals a heavy blow to water programs at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  The budget provides the USGS with $904 million, a 5 percent overall cut from last year. Almost half of that cut – $22 million – comes out of the Survey’s two water quality programs, the National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) and the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program (Toxics).

The Toxics program will receive no money for the next fiscal year. Instead, the budget calls to cut the $13.9 million program to $10 million that will go to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the development of a competitive-grants process for researching water quality issues. The NAWQA program will remain but with a $5.8 million reduction, bringing its budget to $57.3 million – more than half of the total allocated funds for water research at the USGS. 

In a press conference yesterday, Marcus Peacock, Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), says the Toxics transfer to NSF is intended to promote “a merit-based competitive review.” The idea, he says, is to create “better science.” He says that if NSF creates a competitive environment for water research, the funding could still end up back at the USGS, or it could end up elsewhere. Historically, however, USGS scientists have been able to apply for NSF grant money under limited circumstances.  So, it remains unclear whether any transferred funds would come back for water research at USGS.

John Marburger, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, echoed Peacock, explaining that the Toxics program was one of many science programs OMB treated the same way – “programs that supported science that was somewhat outside the agency mission, or else similar to the kinds of programs NSF has done such a good job in managing over the years.”

The budget also transfers to NSF the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $57 million Sea Grant program and the Environmental Protection Agency’s $9 million Environmental Education program. Early budget leaks had discussed these transfers along with a move of three Smithsonian Institution research facilities. The Smithsonian transfer generated the most controversy, including a masthead editorial in the New York Times. That transfer was not included in the final budget request.

Overall, NSF received a 5 percent increase in its budget. In the geosciences, the NSF budget increased 13.4 percent to a total of $691.1 million. Without the three program transfers, however, the increase in geosciences is a more modest 1.2 percent.

NSF reports that they will honor existing research projects within Toxics, Sea Grant, and the Environmental Education program to facilitate smooth transitions.

The Office of Management and Budget is citing NSF as a model organization, largely because it sends out nearly all of its money as grants in a peer-reviewed, openly competitive process. “And that’s proven to give good results year after year,” Marburger says.

Lisa M. Pinsker

Visit the Office of Science and Technology Policy for complete science budget details and keep posted at the American Geological Institute's Government Affairs site.

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