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Washington Dispatch

Issue: Fiscal Year 2006 Budget

Congress has completed making appropriations for most key science agencies: NSF, NIST, NASA, and the DOE Office of Science. Action on DOD and NIH is expected to be completed before the end of the calendar year. The results as of press time are summarized below. Note that there is a potential for an additional across the board rescission of 2-3% for all Federal agencies in order to pay for hurricane relief.

  • The National Science Foundation received a modest 3.3 percent increase for its Fiscal Year (FY06) budget, for a total budget of $5.65 billion. However, the majority of the increase included the transfer of the costly polar icebreaker ships from the Coast Guard.
  • The DOE Office of Science suffered a major and unexpected setback during last minute negotiations in the House-Senate Conference. The overall budget increased 1% to $3.63 billion, but virtually all of the increase went to earmarks. Excluding the $130 million in special member projects, the Office of Science budget declined by half a percent, reversing the increases both houses had approved individually. The cuts are expected to fall hardest on university grantees and two nuclear physics laboratories, RHIC and Jefferson Lab. Brookhaven is considering mothballing RHIC for the coming year and laying off 100 or more employees. Jefferson Lab is planning to cut its running time by at least 25 percent, and reducing its staff by as many as 40 people. The light sources and neutron scattering facilities could experience a 10% decrease in staffing levels, 14% in operating hours, and 17% in the number of users.
  • NIST received a 5.3% increase over its FY05 budget.
  • NASA Science received a slight increase of 0.4% over its FY05 budget.

The Administration has moved a step closer to making final its presidential budget request for FY07 which it will release on February 6, 2006. The President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has completed reviewing budget requests it received from the departments and agencies last summer and has passed back to the agencies the White House decisions. Given the extremely tight fiscal climate and political imperatives for reducing both mandatory and discretionary spending, science research funding is expected to be under great pressure.

Issue: Competitiveness

In October, the National Academies released a report entitled, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” which had been requested by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last summer. Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, chaired the august committee that produced the report, which urges policy makers to act rapidly to ensure that the United States is not overtaken in the 21st century battle in global competitiveness. The report makes four principle recommendations:

  • Increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education.
  • Sustain and strengthen the nation's commitment to long-term basic research.
  • Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation.
  • Develop, recruit, and retain top students, scientists, and engineers from both the United States and abroad.

While the report is one of a dozen recently released reports addressing US competitiveness, it is receiving a great deal of attention from Congress and the Administration because of the prominence of the committee, the timing of the release, and the compelling presentations they’ve made. The committee included such notables as Craig Barrett, chairman of the board of Intel Corporation; Robert Gates, president of Texas A&M and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Charles Holliday, chairman of the board of Dupont; Lee Raymond, chairman of the board and CEO of Exxon-Mobil; and Roy Vagelos, retired chairman of the board and CEO of Merck. The committee also included university presidents; current and former directors of national laboratories; and three Noble Prize winners. To view the report, go to http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11463.html

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff