Web Extra Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Homeland security tops Bush budget, again

As the pundits decry President Bush's latest deficit spending, the geosciences have taken a hit.

Released on Monday, the administration's $2.4 trillion fiscal year 2005 budget request to Congress was all about priorities. As outlined in his State of the Union address, the president's top priorities are enhancing national security, strengthening homeland defense and fostering economic recovery. The budget cuts and increases also reflect a goal toward greater efficiency and productivity, according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Now, geologists are quietly bemoaning the decreases, while at the same time noting the maintenance and gain for some programs within the geologic purview.

The requested budget battered all scientific agencies, with the exception of the Department of Energy. Secretary Spencer Abraham said his department made the biggest budget request in its history, with modest increases in renewable energy research and environmental management (largely for the establishment of a permanent nuclear waste repository). The Department of the Interior (DOI) on the whole received an increase in the president's requested budget, but the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) again faces some large cuts.

EPA has also taken a hit — losing about 7 percent of its actual budget in this year's request. The Washington Post reports that the greatest cuts to EPA funding were for building waste treatment plants and for drinking water infrastructure. Requested funds for science and research at the EPA were reduced by about $100 million, affecting research programs focusing on water quality and climate change issues, among others.

Still, Marcus Peacock, Office of Management and Budget associate director for natural resource, energy and science programs, said at a press conference Monday that the president's budget request for research and development programs is the highest since the Apollo space program in 1968. Although much of the research and development funding will go to defense and homeland security projects, non-defense research and development programs received an increase to the third highest level in the last 25 years (5.7 percent of total discretionary outlays).

"The president's budget is supporting the technical community in the United States," said John Marburger, the president's science advisor and director of OSTP. "The administration is and has been highly favorable to research and development." Scientists, he said, "are getting more done," and scientific productivity is higher than ever. A case in point is the National Science Foundation (NSF), he said, and they will receive a budget increase this year. The president's budget, Marburger and Peacock said, is awarding overall excellence.

Chip Groat, USGS director, says that he does see progress in the president's request itself. "We're being allowed to ask for more, though we got less," he says. Overall, the USGS budget resembles the initial administration request from fiscal year 2003, which represents a loss of approximately $18 million dollars from the money appropriated to the agency for the last fiscal year.

At Monday's budget conference for DOI, Secretary Gale Norton noted that such a shortfall has in the past been made up by Congress during appropriations. Over the past two years, for example, the USGS water resources programs have seen significant losses in the president's requested budgets, but Congress has restored the funding. "We don't see much change in that cycle: It gets taken out every year, then Congress adds it back every year," Groat says.

Increases in the president's requested budget for USGS include $800,000 for the InSAR (interferometric synthetic aperture radar) hazards monitoring of volcanoes in the Hawaiian and the Aleutian islands. Also, the budget reflects an increased allocation to the USGS water program to allow participation in the EPA Water 2025 program, an effort to alleviate a future national water crisis. The biological survey also received some increases to investigate endangered species in the Klamath River basin and Great Lakes freshwater ecosystems.

Groat also notes a small cut in the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and more significant cuts to the USGS minerals and geography and topographic mapping programs. Most notably, the allocation for the minerals resources program of the USGS decreased considerably, losing more than $6 million and an additional $1 million shifted to the new Enterprise Information division of USGS. Enterprise Information is pulling employees from every section of the survey to establish centralized electronic data and other agency-wide measures.

Groat noted in a presentation after the DOI budget conference that inflation and other unexpected costs mean that static budget allocations are actually decreases as well. In an effort to remain "flexible" in hiring practices, he said that USGS will stress contract work, post-doctoral appointments and other non-permanent employment.

That kind of strategy has worked well for NSF in recent years, which will see an increase again this year. "NSF has fared, relatively speaking, pretty well," said Rita Colwell, director of NSF, at the NSF budget conference. "It would be disingenuous to say this is all we had hoped for, but it is pretty good considering the cuts in other programs."

NSF reports an increase of 3 percent this year over last year's allotment. Some of the boost will go toward increasing of the number of graduate education fellowships from 5,000 to 5,500. "Our number one priority is increasing the number of young people" in science, Colwell said: Capturing the young talent is vital to the next generation of discovery.

Indeed, NSF's science education and learning centers fared well, increasing from last year's budget request, as did certain earth science related projects including EarthScope, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and the National Ecological Observatory Network. Overall, NSF's geosciences budget increased by 2.2 percent. Colwell said she is excited about the great deal of work that has been done in observations, and looks forward to seeing a global observatories system. "It's ambitious, but fully doable," she said.

Additionally, Colwell said, NSF supports the president's objective of reducing uncertainty in climate science. Marburger said that climate change initiatives will be funded this year at the same rate as last year, but significant funding will focus more on science, with reallocations of some funds from one agency to another.

Naomi Lubick and Megan Sever


OSTP Budget Information
USGS Budget Information
DOI Budget Information
DOE Budget Information
EPA Budget Information
"Security, defense top Bush budget proposal," Geotimes, Feb. 4, 2003

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