|POLITICAL SCENE||April 1998|
A Smoking Gun for Science? The President's Budget Request
In contrast to previous years, science is a priority in the President's budget request for fiscal year (FY) 1999, with big increases planned for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other science agencies through a "Research Fund for America." This good news is clouded, however, by concern over the funding mechanism for these increases; many in Congress are criticizing the President for relying on revenues from a tobacco settlement that does not yet exist.
For the geosciences, the overall good news is tempered by several specific reductions. The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Geologic Division was cut even as the bureau's other three divisions enjoyed significant increases. Much work lies ahead for us to ensure that the geosciences do not get left behind as national priorities are set for science spending.
One budgetary surprise is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's decision to rename its Mission to Planet Earth program as the Office of Earth Science. The surprise ends there, however, as the name change is accompanied by nearly flat funding.
U.S. Geological Survey
Overall, the USGS fared well, with a proposed 6.3 percent increase for FY 1999 — including several new initiatives for a disaster information network, watershed restoration, and habitat conservation. Despite this year's increase, however, science in the Department of the Interior is still down 20 percent in constant dollars since FY 1994. Although three of the four divisions saw their budgets go up substantially, the Geologic Division -- slated for a $1.4 million cut -- continues to lag behind. The geologic mapping, coastal studies, mineral resources, and energy resources programs would all be reduced under the President's proposal.
The Water Resources Division would receive a $19.3-million increase. Of that amount, the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program would receive a $6-million increase. Another $7 million is requested for the administration's Kalamazoo initiative, which was rejected by appropriators last year. The National Mapping Division is slated to get a $16-million increase to establish an integrated disaster-information network, although the bulk of those new funds would be passed through to other agencies. Additional funding for real-time disaster monitoring - - including funds for the Geologic Division -- was considered by the administration but not included in the final budget.
National Science Foundation
NSF is one of the big winners in the President's budget, slated for an 11-percent increase over FY 1998. The Geosciences Directorate would receive an 11.5-percent increase over FY 1998, a marked change from last year when the directorate received a smaller increase than NSF as a whole — barely enough to cover inflation. Within the directorate, the Earth Sciences Division would see a 12.2-percent increase; Ocean Sciences 11.8 percent; and Atmospheric Sciences 10.7 percent.
Department of Energy
In January, the Department of Energy (DOE) leaked the news that the White House Office of Management and Budget was planning to cut the Fossil Energy R&D budget in half. The resulting outcry from stakeholders of that program had the intended effect -- when the budget was released in February, the administration requested a 5.8-percent increase for the program. Elsewhere in DOE, the geosciences program within Basic Energy Sciences is slated for a 12- percent increase to $25 million. Most of the increase is for carbon dioxide terrestrial sequestration studies as part of the administration-wide global change initiative.
Research Fund for America
The big increases for science and technology in the President's request are all wrapped into the Research Fund for America, first mentioned in Clinton's State of the Union address and formally unveiled by Vice President Gore a week later. One of three such special "funds" in the President's budget request, the Research Fund is not a separate program itself. It includes most, but not all, federal nondefense R&D, totaling $31.1 billion, nearly 8 percent above the FY 1998 funding levels for these programs. The trouble is that under spending caps established in last summer's historic balanced budget agreement, only $27.1 billion of that amount can come from the normal appropriations process. The rest must come from new sources, hence the link to revenues anticipated from the highly uncertain tobacco settlement. Lacking such a settlement or other new sources of revenue (new taxes?), the President's budget actually provides a $1.8 billion cut to these programs. But even that number is not real, because individual subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee can fund these research programs at the expense of other domestic programs.
It is no wonder that the term "smoke and mirrors" has been applied to this budget request, but the fact remains that the administration has assigned science a high priority. Congress has already shown its support for science in the last budget cycle when it provided more than the President requested for a number of science agencies, including NSF. For FY 1999, the ball is again in their court.
AGI Director of Government Affairs
For more information on how geoscience fared in the President's FY 1999 budget request, visit the Government Affairs Program page at AGI's web site: www.agiweb.org. Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program firstname.lastname@example.org