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Most budget increases go to defense.

Most Budget Increases Go to Defense

If the President has his way, federal spending for research and development (R&D) would increase 16 percent--or almost $9 billion--in fiscal year (FY) 1987. In any year, that would be a healthy increase. In this year, dominated by budget parings to comply with the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act (known for its authors, Gramm, Rudman and Hollings), the President's proposed R&D increase appears bountiful. Not only would it provide money for a number of new initiatives, but it also would substantially increase spending on a number of existing programs. However, what administration officials don't mention in their briefings on the proposed budget, unveiled last week, is that 95 percent of the FY '87 R&D increase would to to programs funded by the Department of Defense (DOD)--23 percent of it just for increases on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or "Star Wars" program.

For the most part, these gains in military R&D would not come at the expense of nondefense R&D projects. With the notable exception of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the President's proposal would increase or maintain most R&D funding in nondefense areas.

Defense: SDI remains the highlight of the DOD R&D budget. For FY '87, the President proposes increasing program spending by 74 percent -- to $4.8 billion. The focus will be development of sensors, laser weapons (SN: 2/15/86, p. 106), high-speed missiles, battle-management computers and systems design, according to john P. McTague, the President's acting science adviser.

Though far more modest in scale, funding for the aerospace plane is also slated to skyrocket. The President has asked Congress to more than triple spending on the joint DOD/NASA venture--to $200 million in 1987 -- in the hope of having a research vehicle by the mid 1990s that can not only fly at up to 25 times the speed of sound but also attain low-earth orbit. Besides carrying troops to any point on the globe within three hours, the plane might serve as an inexpensive alternative to the space shuttle for ferrying payloads into space, McTague says.

Physics and engineering: Again this year, a number of notable increases are proposed for physical sciences and engineering disciplines. For example, the Energy Department would be allowed to begin construction of two new facilities--the continuous electron-beam accelerator at Newport News, Va., and the 1-2 giga-electron-volt synchrotron at Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) Laboratory. At the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in Gaithersburg, Md., construction would begin on a facility to conduct materials science experiments using "cold" (slow) neutrons. And NASA would being instrument development for the international Solar-Terrestrial Physics program.

Improved physics instruments and facilities would also be emphasized at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Its budget calls for planning a gravitational-wave detector system, for improving the Cornell (University) Electron Storage Ring and for constructing the Indiana University Cooler Ring and Michigan State University Superconducting Cyclotron. In addition, the proposed NSF budget would increase funding for mathematics by 16 percent, chemistry by 13 percent, computer science by 11 percent and physics and materials science by 7 percent each. The agency's engineering directorate would increase spending 14 percent, with the largest increase -- 31 percent -- for cross-disciplinary programs.

Geosciences: NSF plans to double its spending on global geosciences through a series of interrelated research projects. At NASA, the Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX) would begin a three-year survey of ocean-surface topography from space, looking for clues to general-circulation patterns. Elsewhere in the proposed budget, geosciences would fare less well. At the U.S. Geological Survey, for instance, substantial cuts are proposed for the earthquake-hazards reduction program, the landslide-hazards assessment and studies program, and the investigation of the deep magmahydrothermal system. Moreover, a survey of the Gorda Ridge (off the California coast) would be deferred, two of the 11 geomagnetic observatories would be shut down and the number of planned magnetic resurveys halved. And the Interior Department would eliminate its mineral institutes to save $8 million.

Biosciences: In recent years, funding of federally sponsored biomedical research at NIH has climbed steadily. Not this year. McTague describes the $233 million cut requested for NIH -- the largest single-agency R&D reduction--as a "leveling off" in its budget. In fact, McTague notes, the NIH figure is somewhat misleading in that it represents in part "the fact that AIDS research [formerly in the NIH budget] has been put under the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] for administration." If AIDS money were put back into NIH, he says, the agency's budget would show little decline in 1987.

But the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in Bethesda, Md., disagrees. The Reagan administration is really proposing reductions of more than $500 million, it says, if one takes into account that Congress authorized $5.49 billion, for NIH's FY '86 R&D. The new budget documents list only $4.9 billion for FY '86--a figure that represents the projected effects of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings reductions and an additional budget cut (a recision) being requested by the administration.

"Ouch!" was the initial reaction of Thomas J. Kennedy, a physician and analyst with the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., when asked about the proposed budget cut. He notes that the 6,100 grants available to researchers outside of NIH, known as "competing grants," would be reduced to 5,104 in FY '87. "That's a lot of good investigators out of business," he says. FASEB agrees. In an official statement, the 28,000-member association of mainly university researchers says: "The NIH budget as it stands is unacceptable."

Funding for AIDS, designed HHS's highest public-health priority, would increase $20 million in FY '87, to $213 million, the new budget documents say. However, that's assuming that both the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cut of $10 million and administration recision of another $41 million go through for FY '86. If not, the proposed FY '87 figure would actually represent a drop in AIDS funding of $31 million.

Social science increases of 5 percent at NSF would restore funding that would be lost in the 4.3 percent across-the-board Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts due to occur on March 1, 1986. The agency's behavioral science funding would climb 7 percent, and biological programs about 9 percent.

Energy and environment: Major reductions would occur in most established nondefense R&D areas within the Energy Department. For example, support for magnetic fusion research would fall 8.9 percent, nuclear energy 11.8 percent, solar and renewable-energy research 47.1 percent, fossil-fuel programs 56.2 percent and energy conservation 58.3 percent. Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's acid rain program would increase 13 percent (to $55 million) under the new budget, and support for its radon studion would climb 65 percent ($6.6 million). At the same time, engineering programs to evaluate pollution-control technologies would suffer an $11 million (19 percent) drop. And EPA would extract further savings by shutting down several small research labs.

Other major budget proposals include:

* a request of $4 million for NSF to develop new Minority Centers of Excellence -- a program aimed at increasing the participation of minorities in science and engineering.

* a 23 percent ($106.5 million) increase in NSF support for biotechnology research, in part to fund the creation of two multidisciplinary research centers and 10 to 15 mini-centers.

* a 47 percent increase in NSF funding for computational science, a program that encourages scientists in all disciplines to make greater and better use of computers.

* renewed plans to try to eliminate the Commerce Department's Sea Grant program, and its fire-research and building-science research at NBS

* a nearly 24 percent drop in the Department of Transportation's R&D budget, attributable mainly to reductions in just one project -- a long-range program to largely automate the civilian air-traffic control system.
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Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 15, 1986
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