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<< Back to March 2003 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the March 2003 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 15/No. 2, pp. 1, 14.]

President Proposes Increases to IT R&D, Physical Sciences
Start of Budget Cycle Is Anything but Typical

By Peter Harsha

Traditionally, the first Monday in February marks the release of the President's budget and the beginning of the process of setting federal funding levels that will occupy Congress and the Administration until fall. This year's announcement includes proposed increases to federal information technology research and development programs and a further bolstering of the physical sciences. The budget's release comes at a time when Congress still has not completed last year's work on the FY 2003 budget and the impact of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia on America's space program is still unknown. Even for seasoned veterans of the budget prognostication game, the uncertainty that surrounds the start of this year's budget process makes forecasts about its possible outcome difficult.

Congress finds itself still at work on FY 2003 funding, despite the start of FY 2003 on October 1, 2002, because its focus on creating a new Department of Homeland Security delayed consideration of all but two annual appropriations bills until late September 2002. Then uncertainty between the White House and the House Republican leadership over a final, overall funding level for the remaining 11 appropriations bills further delayed their consideration until late October, when all involved decided to hold off until after the mid-term election. The unexpected success of Republicans in picking up control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House further clouded the calculus. Republican leaders during the lame-duck session felt no pressure to accede to Democrat priorities in the funding bills and stalled consideration until the new, Republican-controlled 108th Congress convened in January.

As this goes to press on February 4, 2003, there is still no resolution to the appropriations situation. Federal agencies have been operating under a "continuing resolution" since October 1--allowing them to continue to run, but prohibiting new project starts and capping funding at the FY 02 rate. At this point it is unclear whether the President's Office of Management and Budget even wants to see Congress finish the FY 03 appropriations bills, perhaps preferring to keep the continuing resolution in place until work on the FY 04 appropriations is finished. For researchers, this strategy could have a serious impact on their ability to secure funding in the coming year, especially for those scheduled to start new projects. CRA, along with our affiliates and the rest of the scientific community, will continue to urge congressional leaders to finish their work on FY 03 as soon as possible.

In late January, the Senate did pass its version of an "omnibus" FY 2003 appropriations bill--a single bill containing all 11 unfinished appropriations bills. Though across-the-board cuts were made to funding levels that were tentatively set when the individual appropriations bills were marked up in committee, the final funding figures contained in the omnibus bill should be encouraging to computing researchers and the science community in general. Perhaps most importantly, funding for the National Science Foundation would increase over 8 percent to $5.2 billion in FY 03, including an increase to $526 million for NSF's Computing and Information Science and Engineering directorate. The increase to CISE represents a 15.8 percent increase over the FY 02 level, an increase of more than $82 million.

House and Senate conferees will meet in mid-February to discuss the omnibus bill and attempt to craft a compromise bill that would pass both chambers later in February or early March. The outcome likely will not vary too significantly from the Senate-passed version, especially in funding for R&D. It should be noted that the final numbers for IT R&D overall are significantly higher than the 3 percent increase over FY 02 proposed by the President in his last budget in February 2002.

Part of the reason House and Senate appropriators may have felt comfortable proposing such large increases to IT-related research at NSF--indeed, to research all over NSF--was the overwhelming passage of the Investing in America's Future Act late last year. The act authorizes the doubling of NSF research over five years. Not surprisingly, the funding increase proposed for NSF in both House and Senate versions of the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies appropriations bill is at least 15 percent, the rate of increase required to double funding in five years.

The President's plan for FY 04 is a little less generous. Under the President's proposal, the Networking and Information Technology R&D program would grow 6 percent--twice the rate of increase he proposed for FY 03, but a far cry from the large increases included in the omnibus legislation.

The President's budget calls for $2.2 billion in federal support for IT R&D at seven different federal agencies: NSF would remain the lead agency at $724 million; the Department of Defense, $461 million; Health and Human Services/NIH, $441 million; Department of Energy, $317 million; NASA, $195 million; Commerce, $39 million; and the Environmental Protection Agency, $2 million.

What is not yet known is how the Administration will address funding issues at NASA, post-Columbia. The incident, which killed seven astronauts, leaves the U.S. space program perilously short of space shuttles (three left) to service the International Space Station. It seems likely that the President and many members of Congress will push for additional funding for NASA to build whatever vehicle is needed to keep the ISS serviced. However, what is not clear is where the extra funding would come from or what programs might face cuts in order to make the difference.

These details, as well as an in-depth analysis of the President's budget proposal, will be posted on the CRA Government Affairs (/govaffairs) website as soon as they are available.

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