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Congress approves bill authorizing a doubling of NSF spending. (From the Hill).

After a compromise developed in response to White House objections, Congress passed the National Science Foundation (NSF) doubling bill (H.R. 4664), which authorizes NSF programs for the next five years. The bill specifies funding that would rise to $9.8 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2007, compared with the agency's current FY 2002 budget of $4.8 billion. The president was expected to sign the bill.

The bill's passage represents a milestone in a long-term effort by the scientific community and NSF's congressional supporters to increase the agency's budget. Although total federal funding of scientific research has risen dramatically in recent years, the increase has been driven largely by support for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, leaving funding for many other areas stagnant. NSF's mission is to strengthen the nation's capabilities in all scientific disciplines.

"Improved science and math education, scientific innovation, and new technology hold the key to our nation's future economic success, as well as to our national security," said House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). "We turn to NSF to solve some of our most pressing problems; we can't turn from NSF when we decide where to invest federal funds."

Although the House passed its original version of the bill in June and the Senate finished its version in October, objections by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delayed final passage until the very end of the session. OMB argued that five years was too long for an authorization bill, and that doubling the agency's budget would be arbitrary and inconsistent with President Bush's efforts to lower spending and institute management reforms.

Eventually, congressional negotiators and OMB officials agreed to a compromise that removed the word "doubling" from the bill's title and made the final two years of the authorization contingent on NSF's progress toward meeting a set of management goals.

The agreement solidified an additional set of compromises that had already been worked out between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The final legislation does not include a Senate provision that would have combined a math and science partnership at the Department of Education with a similar program at NSF. Critics of this provision argued that the Education Department program, which distributes funding based on formula grants, is designed to have a broader reach than the NSF program and should remain separate.

Also dropped from the final bill was Senate language expanding eligibility to participate in NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). NSF had expressed concern that expanding the program would dilute the funds available to participants.

Several programs focusing on education are authorized in the bill, including the math and science partnerships program; an effort to encourage the hiring of "master teachers"; a program to encourage girls to study math and science; the "Tech Talent" program, which would provide grants to universities that increase the number of science, math, and engineering majors they graduate; and the Robert Noyce scholarship program, which would provide financial support to science, math, and engineering majors who pledge to spend two to four years teaching math and science in a secondary or elementary school.

The bill authorizes the creation of plant genome research centers and research partnerships to conduct basic research focused on plants that are important to the developing world. The legislation also includes specific funding levels for research programs in information technology and nanotechnology.
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Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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