During his news conference to announce the president's 1992 budget reguest for research and development, White House science adviser D. Allan Bromley was asked: So what programs were cut?
Bromley couldn't name a single item whacked by the White House.
Actually, there were some cuts. But the Bush administration clearly likes science and technology. Basically, they think R&D is good for society, national security and the economy.
Overall, the administration proposed increasing civilian R&D spending to $76 billion, an increase of 13 percent. Basic science research went up 8 percent, to $13 billion. Most of the R&D money, however, is budgeted for defense, and most of the defense money is targeted at specific weapon systems.
Bromley defended the increase in targeted defense research, saying that in times of lessened tensions, the defense budget should continue to stress the development of technologically advanced weapons and systems.
However, proposed funding for the Pentagon's primary generic research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), dipped 20 percent to $1.2 billion. Two Capitol Hill favorites -- high-definition television and X-ray technology -- were cut or reduced, according to congressional sources. Congress typically boosts funding for DARPA.
Gingerly drawing a line between "industrial policy" and "technology policy," the budget supports programs designed to strengthen the nation's technological capabilities without favoring specific industries. Among the biggest winners -- gaining 30 percent to $638 million -- is a four-part, multi-agency plan to spur research in supercomputing and networking.
Among other things, the so-called high performance computing program envisions building a high-speed "data superhighway" that would allow researchers around the country to exchange data 1,000 times faster than today.
Funding for global climate change research would again increase, this time 24 percent to $1.2 billion. Fusion energy got a boost of 23 percent to $337 million. The Human Genome Project, designed to decode and decipher all human genes, would go up 26 percent to $169 million.
"Smart" highways, intended to ease traffic jams by directing drivers to less congested roads, got a big boost. The Transportation Department landed $60 million for researching ways to equip autos with computers, receivers and transmitters so that they can electronically exchange information about crowded roads and suggest alternative routes to drivers. That's $37 million more than this year.
The concept has won the endorsement of one industry-government group -- the National Advisory Committee on Semiconductors. In a report due later this month, the panel is expected to praise intelligent highways as a vehicle for shoring up the nation's computer chip industry. The rationale: Smart cars would use a lot of chips, and the demand would help revive an industry facing increasing competition from overseas.
The controversial Superconducting Super Collider -- a device to accelerate subatomic particles and smash them together to learn what matter is made of -- got a large increase to $534 million, a 120 percent jump. The Energy Department last week announced the latest cost estimate and schedule for the Superconducting Super Collider: $8.249 billion, with completion by the end of fiscal 1999.
The total cost estimate "is a very good hard figure," said Energy Deputy Secretary W. Henson Moore. "There's no smoke and mirrors in here."
When the Energy Department first asked for money in 1988, the super collider's cost was estimated at $5.3 billion; the following year it was raised to $5.9 billion. Last year, the department projected $7.8 billion with completion in 1998. But upgraded scientific design and enhanced contingency funds, Moore said, drove the cost up.
"Obviously," Moore warned, "if we do not receive the funding we need, the cost is going to go up," the schedule will be delayed and potential foreign investment may be jeopardized.
In other agencies, support for "small science" usually done by an investigator assisted by a couple of graduate students went up. Both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the two agencies that fund the bulk of the country's basic research, were offered increased budgets.
"I must have the easiest job in Washington today," said Frederick Bernthal, the acting NSF director. "This is an extraordinarily good budget for us."
NSF got an 18 percent increase, from $2.3 billion to $2.7 billion. Bernthal said that if Congress agrees with the president's request for NSF, which it usually reduces, the foundation's budget will double by 1994, as measured from 1987.
NIH, which supports most biomedical research in the country, received a 7 percent bump for its basic science, which should fund an additional 600 grants for investigators. AIDS research got a more modest 5 percent increase. Overall, the NIH proposal went from $8.2 billion to $8.7 billion.
"It's everything that the science community could have asked for, especially in these times," said Robert Park, executive director of the American Physical Society. "It's a great budget, but it's only a request."
Science must compete for funds against other agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Administration and the divisions within the Health and Human Services Department that pay for Medicare and Medicaid.
Staff writers Curt Suplee and Evelyn Richards contributed to this report.