Web Extra Tuesday, February 4

Security, defense top Bush budget proposal

Although President Bush's $2.2-trillion proposal for the fiscal year 2004 budget highlights climate change and energy research, geoscience took a back seat to administrative priorities in homeland security and national defense. The Department of Defense alone would receive $380 billion, a 4 percent increase, and the new Department of Homeland Security would gain $36 billion, a 64 percent increase from levels for these programs before September 11.

Overall, the budget proposal increases research and development 7 percent over last year's budget request. Research and development funding for homeland security and combating terrorism totals $3.2 billion in the proposed budget. Setting aside the large investment in research centered on defense and antiterrorism, the budget represents a 4 percent increase for federal science and technology.

"We are a nation in a war against terrorism, the economy is recovering slowly, and we are embarked upon the largest single reorganization of the government since World War II," said John Marburger, the president's science advisor, at a press briefing yesterday. "These demands and conditions have sharpened the need to fund only the highest priorities and that goes for science and technology as well as for other domestic programs."

The geosciences, Marburger said, were not a designated priority in this budget. But he highlighted climate change research as one of the administration's cross-cutting programs, as well as investments in energy. "There are some geoscience initiatives or research programs that are related to energy source, but no special priority."

The budget increases funding for the administration's Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) by 355 percent over the fiscal year 2003 proposed budget. "The three priority areas that CCRI is trying to move toward are reducing significant uncertainties that have been identified as priorities in climate science, improving observing systems and improving modeling," said Marcus Peacock, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget. Recently, CCRI combined with the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program to form the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).

Under CCSP, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will receive $213 million, a modest 5 percent boost over the fiscal year 2003 budget request in climate change funding. Echoing Peacock, the NSF budget says: "NSF will support research to reduce uncertainty in critical areas of climate change knowledge and provide timely information to facilitate policy decisions."

The two largest increases in climate change research funding are for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Agriculture. The 15 percent funding increase for NOAA will largely go toward climate observing platforms. The president's budget also provides about $1.2 billion, about the same as in fiscal year 2003, to climate change technology, including the development of programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon sequestration, Marburger said. About 90 percent of the funding will go toward the Department of Energy, with the rest to the Environmental Protection Agency.

On the energy front, Marburger discussed the increased role of hydrogen-based fuels, highlighted in Bush's State of the Union address last week. "The President is impressed with the opportunities that a hydrogen-based economy offers," Marburger said. The FreedomFuel initiative will provide $3.2 billion to develop hydrogen fuel for use in fuel-cell vehicles and electricity generation.

Renewable energies are also getting an increase in funding of $850,000 total in the Department of the Interior (DOI), with $550,000 going toward developing geothermal energy. That represents a 77 percent increase in renewable energy funding, says Lynn Scarlett, assistant secretary of policy, management, and budget at DOI. Another $1 million will go toward developing domestic coalbed methane gas.

Perhaps one of the biggest frustrations with this year's budget proposal is the fact that the fiscal year 2003 appropriations bills have yet to pass through Congress, says Chip Groat, director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). "The big unknown for us is how the budget compares to what we are actually going to get in 2003," he says. "If the Senate's 2.9 percent across-the-board cut comes out in the budget for this current fiscal year, [the request] for 2004 will actually be a gain, but it will be a loss from 2002. Frankly, I don't know what the House and Senate could do given what they're playing with right now that will come out really well for us."

But, Groat says, the 2004 proposed budget offers some good news to USGS by restoring programs it marked for cutting in fiscal year 2003, including the National Water-Quality Assessment program and the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program. In fact, 79 percent of the $28.2-million increase at USGS from the fiscal year 2003 proposed budget to fiscal year 2004 comes from the restoration of the water programs. Most of the remaining increase comes from an $8.4-million boost to biological research, including studying chronic wasting disease and invasive species.

The major losses in this year's budget were in mapping, seismic networks and mineral resources. "We did have some drops in our mineral resource assessments that were asked not to get out of the business but to take a serious look at what our low priorities were there," Groat says. The minerals cut amounts to $8.1 million. The Energy Resource Program, however, received a small increase to support research and development on domestic energy sources in Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.

Groat was disappointed to see the Advanced National Seismic System, already at only 10 percent funding from Congress' 1999 authorization, get cut again — this time by $1.9 million. Groat cites information technology and security issues as the rationale for cutting the program, rather than the program's merits.

The mapping cuts come as a result of new Performance and Management Assessments conducted on select programs this year. For the USGS National Mapping program, the report writes: "It is in transition from a program that collects and distributes such data, to a program that enables others to access, integrate and apply geospatial data. … To speed the transition, the budget proposes to reduce data collection and acquisition efforts by $5 million." Peacock called the reports on 234 specific government programs, including 34 science programs, "the most sweeping assessment" of its kind to date.

Lisa M. Pinsker


Bush's proposed fiscal year 2004 budget
American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program, includes special updates and reports on current and past budgets
Last year's Geotimes budget Web Extra, Bush budget would reshuffle geoscience

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