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Web Extra Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005

An austere budget for 2006

Next year's budget proposal to Congress, unrolled on Monday by the Bush administration, "is a budget that sets priorities," said President Bush in a press briefing. And those priorities are "winning the war on terror, protecting our homeland, growing our economy." Nearly identical to last year's priorities (see Geotimes Web Extra, Feb. 4, 2004), these goals frame a "lean budget," Bush said.

The administration, which came to office in 2000 with a huge budget surplus, now is facing record deficits of close to $427 billion this year. Their $2.57 trillion budget for fiscal year 2006 is part of a strategy to lower the deficit by 2009. (Last year's budget request was $2.4 trillion.) The budget, which eliminates or significantly trims 150 government programs, is a "good balance" of both fiscal restraint and a focus on priorities including research and development, said Marcus Peacock of the White House Office of Management and Budget at a press conference. But no doubt, he said, "not everyone will be pleased."

Once again, the overall winners were the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. For science agencies, it was a mixed bag, with global observation systems — including tsunami warning systems — faring well, but with research in energy resources taking some hard hits.

The overall budget "is not flat, but it's pretty close," said John Marburger, the president's science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at a press conference. "It will cause some problems for some" scientific programs, he said. Nonetheless, he said, the president is very committed to scientific research and thus has requested a funding increase for all research and development of 1 percent, to $132.3 billion. Non-security-related research and development, however, has been decreased by 1 percent.

Of course, all of this is up in the air until Congress decides how to allocate funds, and both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns with the president's proposed budget.

Boosts for global science

When asked about efforts to incorporate U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) products into the Homeland Security agenda, Director Charles Groat said that the survey will continue to try but has not had success. From seismic networks to mapping, Groat said, "we've tried to demonstrate the value" of "all this esoteric science."

The results for the fiscal year 2006 budget appear positive for USGS. Groat said that the survey's funding appears to have "done pretty well" in comparison to other science agencies. "Frankly," Groat said, "I really feel pretty good about where we are." Nevertheless, he said the "pain" totals about $18 million in deductions, with much of it focused in the water resources division, as happened in the last round of budgeting for fiscal year 2005. (Observers note that Congress has habitually restored the water research funding in its final appropriations to USGS, which amounts to about $6 million.)

The Bush administration's efforts to up-scale the tsunami warning system, in response to the Sumatra earthquake and ensuing disaster last December, has proven the value of a seismic system that USGS normally may not have asked to upgrade, despite its shortcomings, Groat said. Of the $37.5 million that Bush earmarked, USGS will receive around $5 million to upgrade its global seismic network and the computing power at the National Earthquake Information Center facility in Golden, Colo., among other improvements.

The rest of the funding for tsunami warnings would go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for buoys and other components of the tsunami warning system. Of the $3.6 billion requested for NOAA for fiscal year 2006 — a 6 percent increase over last year's request — $9.5 million would go to expanding the U.S. tsunami warning network (part of a global network), with the goal of expanding it to 32 buoys in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Caribbean basin and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as expanding the network of tide gauges. The rest of NOAA's budget will go toward oceanography, climate and other global observation research, including programs such as the Global Earth Observations System of Systems and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Other large-scale geoscience programs also received budget priority. The National Science Foundation (NSF) program EarthScope — a program to study North American tectonics — received $50.6 million in the budget request, almost a 7 percent increase, which keeps it on schedule. The multi-agency Climate Change Science Program funding was requested at the same amount as last year. But "we think that's probably enough," Marburger said.

Since 2000, the NSF budget has grown almost 43 percent. Even under budget constraints, NSF "has done well," said Director Arden Bement Jr. at a press conference. This year, the administration proposed a modest increase of $132 million, or 2.4 percent, to bring NSF to $5.605 billion. "This modest increase allows us to assume some new responsibilities, meet our ongoing commitments and employ more staff," Bement said, but leaves little room for growth in research and educational programs.

Another major boost came to the Landsat system, which Lynn Scarlett, Department of the Interior (DOI) assistant secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, announced would receive $20 million. Barbara Ryan, USGS associate director for geography, said that "this increase is probably the largest in the 30 years since Landsat was conceived," and she said she sees it as "a real commitment on behalf of the administration and the department [that] land observations are as important as the oceans."

If Congress approves, the funding would secure the ongoing operation of Landsat 5 and 7 through the end of this decade, while a ground system for downloading the data would be improved. The United States' next remote sensing satellite is expected to be launched by 2009.

Not all observation systems, however, faired well. NASA took a hit in its earth and space science programs, mostly because the budget proposal does not include funds for a Hubble Space Telescope rescue program, Marburger said. Additionally, funding for a number of other programs, such as the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter mission, have been "deferred," he said, and the money reallocated. Still, NASA's earth and space science budget is up 25 percent since 2001.

Mixed results for energy, resources and water

The fiscal year 2006 budget for energy and resources programs was truly a hodgepodge. At USGS, funding for the minerals division continues to be the "biggest challenge," Groat said. In 2005, the program received $54 million, which has been cut to $28 million in the Bush administration's 2006 budget. The effects will be "pretty pervasive," Groat said, translating to the loss of around 280 employees from mineral offices across the United States. Groat added that "mineral investigations are a key part of the energy information program," and Patrick Leahy, USGS Associate Director for Geology, said that the international reporting components would be most likely to be reduced, among other products.

Also in the energy arena, the proposed DOI budget counts on opening up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for its first lease sale in 2007, with estimated initial revenues of $2.4 billion. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton reiterated the administration's commitment to developing the sensitive Arctic ecosystem. USGS representatives said that they would be revisiting the economic forecast for oil resources from ANWR this year. Norton also noted that DOI has made strides in the national parks' maintenance backlog (see Geotimes, October 2004), reclaiming abandoned mines, and moving forward on Bush's Healthy Forests initiative for wildfire management.

At $23.4 billion, the Department of Energy's (DOE) budget request represents a 2 percent drop from the funding Congress appropriated last year. Some programs, such as the hydrogen fuel initiative, which is up 16 percent to $240 million, Marburger said, are well-funded, but funding for DOE's oil and gas research program has been eliminated in its entirety. While the budget proposal for DOE's Office of Science is reduced this year by $57 million, Marburger said that more money will actually be available for various projects because construction on a large Oakridge National Lab project is winding down. Research funding, he said, should actually "ramp up dramatically."

The funding request for the National Nuclear Security Administration within DOE is up nearly 3 percent to $9.4 billion, and this year the administration specifically requested money for Yucca Mountain (the proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada), thus attempting to avoid repeating the snafu of last year when the president did not request funding for the project and instead tried to fund it through a loophole (see Geotimes, August 2004). Still, the funding level requested by the administration is not enough, and yesterday, DOE said that legal setbacks and funding worries will push the projected opening date for the repository back from 2010 to at least 2012, according to Greenwire (see Geotimes Web Extra, Dec. 6, 2004).

As with the energy programs, water programs saw both gains and losses in the fiscal year 2006 request. In contrast to last year's budget, funding for water use and availability increased, despite losses elsewhere to water research. DOI's Scarlett said that $30 million would go toward the USGS' Water 2025 program, an increase of over $10 million.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund — a program that helps local communities repair and replace aging wastewater treatment plants — is taking a cut from $1.09 billion to $730 million. The program, which has been a major source of federal support for clean water infrastructure projects for more than a decade, was also cut last year.

EPA's budget request is $7.57 billion for fiscal year 2006, a decrease of $450 million (or 5.6 percent) from last year. Funding requests for EPA's science and technology programs, which provide funding for a range of studies, including the health and environmental effects of air pollution, drinking water quality and global climate change, increase slightly to $761 million.

Naomi Lubick and Megan Sever

Links:
"Homeland security tops Bush budget, again," Geotimes Web Extra, Feb. 4, 2004
"NASA debates Hubble's fate," Geotimes, February 2005
"The Geoscience vote: Managing federal lands," Geotimes, October 2004
"The Geoscience vote: Slippery slope for drilling in Alaska," Geotimes, October 2004
"A loophole threatens Yucca Mountain," Geotimes, August 2004
"Yucca on hold," Geotimes Web Extra, Dec. 6, 2004

2006 Budget links:
The White House Office of Management and Budget
Office of Science and Technology Policy
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Geological Survey
NASA
Department of Energy [PDF only]
Department of the Interior, in brief;note that each organization within DOI has its own budget page, including Bureau of Land Management and Minerals Management Service

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