[Published originally in the May 2002 edition of Computing Research News, pp. 1, 10.]
President's Budget, House Budget Resolution Help Expose 'Lay of the Land'
By Peter Harsha
With the passage of the House Budget Resolution on March 22--a resolution endorsing a significant increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for FY 2003--Congress has cleared the second hurdle in the year-long race to set the budgets for federal agencies for the upcoming fiscal year. Although the process, begun on February 4 with the release of the President's Budget Request for FY 2003 and detailed in this space last issue (CRN Vol. 14/No. 2, March 2002), is still in its earliest stages, it is not too soon to assess how it is taking shape and determine what that might mean for computing research in the coming year.
Upon its release, the President's budget request earned less-than-glowing reviews from many in the scientific community. In its annual review of the President's research and development budget request, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) noted that while total federal R&D would increase substantially in FY 2003 to a record $112.0 billion, $8.9 billion or 8.6 percent more than FY 2002, the proposed funding increases would go almost entirely to the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Funding levels at other federal research agencies would see only slight increases, remain flat, or decline.
CRA's own review of computing research funding in the President's FY 2003 budget request was equally unenthusiastic, noting only slight increases in overall federal support for the multi-agency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) initiative. Funding for NITRD in FY 2003 would increase only 2.5 percent under the President's plan, with the largest increases--both in total dollars and percentage increase--slated for NIH and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and flat or declining budgets for every other NITRD agency.
CRA's analysis also noted that the President's request falls well short of the funding level recommended by the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). This congressionally chartered, presidentially appointed committee of IT professionals in industry and academia was charged with examining the federal role in supporting basic IT research and development. PITAC noted that the Nation has had a "spectacular" return on the federal investment in IT, but found that the current level of investment was inadequate. They concluded in their 1999 report, Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future, that "the Nation is gravely underinvesting in the long-term, high-risk research that can replenish the reservoir of ideas that will lead to innovations in information technology in generations to come."
As a remedy, PITAC included a series of funding-level recommendations in specific IT research areas for the five-year period 2000-04. While PITAC's findings were generally well received in Congress and in the White House, funding for the NITRD program has never matched the PITAC-recommended levels. This year, the President's request falls more than $610 million short of the PITAC target. (For a complete look at CRA's analysis of computing research in the FY 2003 Budget Request, see the CRA Government Affairs website at: /govaffairs.)
Aside from the overall funding levels contained in the President's request, those in the physical sciences were especially disheartened by what they perceive as a growing imbalance in the way the federal R&D portfolio is managed. Under the President's plan, NIH is slated to receive a 15.7 percent increase of $3.7 billion over FY 2002, bringing the total agency budget to $27.3 billion and completing a five-year effort to double the agency's budget begun in FY 1998. In contrast, NSF would receive $5.0 billion for FY 2003, an increase of 5 percent over FY 2002. However, contained in that 5 percent increase is the planned transfer of a number of science programs from the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to NSF. Excluding those transfers (which are unlikely to happen, given the bipartisan opposition to the transfer in Congress), NSF would see an increase of only 1.4 percent for FY 2003.
This disparity in funding between the physical sciences and the life sciences has raised the ire of both communities, as well as many in Congress who see robust physical sciences as necessary for continuing discovery and innovation in the life sciences. Their vocal concerns have put the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy Director, John Marburger, on the defensive. Rather than argue that the NIH increase represents the last year of a long-term, planned doubling of the budget, Marburger asserts that the imbalance is justified because of the greater "complexity" involved in the life sciences. Speaking at an AAAS meeting Boston in February, Marburger addressed the concerns directly: "Those concerned refer to a balance that must be re-established between the life sciences and the physical sciences. I think on the contrary that the opening of the frontier of complexity creates far more opportunities in the life sciences, and that given the new atomic-level capabilities the life sciences may still be underfunded relative to the physical sciences."
This position does not sit well with many Members of Congress, including the members of the House Science Committee, who have traditionally been strong supporters of the physical sciences and NSF in particular. In late March, the Science Committee released its "Views and Estimates" - recommendations to the House Budget Committee regarding agencies and issues under the committee's jurisdiction - calling for a significant increase of 11.1 percent or $420 million to NSF's core research activities to alleviate some of the imbalance. This recommendation was favorably received by the House Budget Committee, which included the recommended increase in the House Budget Resolution. The resolution provides guidance to the House as it begins the annual appropriations process that will determine the final funding levels for all federal agencies. The House approved the resolution on March 20, 2002.
Given that the "will of the House" as evidenced by the vote for the Budget Resolution appears to be solidly behind an increase in funding for NSF, it is likely the House will act to increase funding for NSF during the appropriations process later this year - though how much depends on many factors including the state of the economy, the progress of the war effort, and heat of the election battle. The Senate is also viewed as widely supportive of NSF and the physical sciences, though at press time they had not yet begun to consider their own budget resolution.
It is not at all clear that Marburger is really committed to the complexity argument as the basis for research and development funding priorities. In a recent interview with National Journal's Technology Daily, Marburger appeared to backpedal.
"I don't want to argue about [complexity]," Marburger said. "I am making these statements to get the science community to think about the basis of their priorities, and I am listening hard to what they have to say. They [physical sciences community] must become engaged. They can't ask for more money without giving good reasons."
CRA Chairman James Foley and board members Ed Lazowska, Jeff Vitter, Randy Bryant, Mary Jane Irwin, and Phil Bernstein have already met Marburger's challenge, having participated in CRA's annual Congressional Visits Day on February 13, 2002. The CRA representatives took the case for federal support of IT R&D to Congress, meeting with their representatives in the Senate and the House, as well as with key staff members on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the House Science Committee.
For budget updates over the next few months, check with CRA's website at /govaffairs.
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