Obama asks for science boost; Republicans look for cuts
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 7:39 PM
Of the differences between President Obama's budget priorities and those of Republicans in Congress, perhaps none is as stark as funding for science research and technology development.
In the president's 2012 budget proposal, unveiled Monday, federal science emerges as a clear winner, with substantial increases sought for clean energy development, next-generation wireless networks and climate-change research.
Overall, the president proposes $66.8 billion for nondefense research and development, 6.5 percent more than 2010 funding and 12.5 percent more than Republicans outlined in their cost-cutting 2011 budget bill, which now awaits a vote in the House of Representatives.
The new director of the National Science Foundation was practically giddy about Obama's bid to boost the agency's budget 13 percent over 2010 funding.
"On Valentine's Day, the president has shown us his love," said Subra Suresh, an engineer who became NSF's director in October. "We're hoping Congress will do the same."
With Republicans eager to cut spending, the likelihood of Suresh getting his wish remains uncertain.
"I don't like to cut science," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee. "But as long as the president fails to address the recommendations of his deficit-reduction commission and doesn't deal with [Medicare and Social Security] entitlements, there is going to be tremendous pressure on these programs."
Norman Augustine, the former chief executive of Lockheed Martin and a promoter of science and technology, said Republican lawmakers need to distinguish vital long-term programs from short-term ones. "A meat ax across the board is abdicating their responsibility."
John Holdren, the president's science adviser, positioned the science boost as vital for the nation's future. The president sees "science, technology and innovation as absolutely essential to reaching the goals we need to reach," Holdren said. "That's why this [science] budget contains more than many would have thought possible under the extraordinary fiscal challenges we face."
Holdren noted that federal dollars account for just 30 percent of all research-and- development funding in the United States; private companies and, to a much lesser extent, nonprofit groups, fund the other 70 percent. That's why Obama is seeking to permanently extend a tax credit for business-funded research and development, Holdren said. Wolf said he supported the permanent tax credit.
The president's science initiatives also include a new, $90 million education research agency, ARPA-ED, which is modeled on the Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); a doubling of the Department of Energy's "energy innovation" research facilities from three to six; and a boost of 20 percent, or $446 million, for cross-agency "global change" research focused on climate and the environment.
Wolf said he believes climate-change research is important, but he noted "areas of overlap" across federal agencies - particularly NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - that his subcommittee is looking to cut.
Holdren sought to head off criticism by touting cuts to "lower priority" research programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency and, especially, Department of Defense, which would receive $4 billion less for research in 2012 than it did in 2010.
Predictably, scientific leaders lauded the extra funding that Obama's budget would send to national laboratories and universities.
"We need to be competitive in a world that is changing rapidly," said Martin Apple, president of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. "The [president's] 2012 proposal does more to get us back in the game than does" the Republican proposal.