The administration's 2010 budget request for science and technology would shift funds from the Pentagon towards civilian science and climate-research programs, add money for technologies that may generate commercial jobs at home and boost funding for multinational science projects.
The budget blueprint generated plenty of praise from D.C.-based science associations, such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The group applauded President Obama for seeking an additional $931 million, a 3.1 percent increase, to boost the research budget for the National Institutes of Health to $31.3 billion.
But other advocates are skeptical or opposed. The cancellation of President George W. Bush's Mars-landing Constellation program and its rocket-development projects spurred protests from Orlando's Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., and a distinctly unenthusiastic response from the Aerospace Industries Association and Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., the retiring chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.
According to the budget request, the Pentagon is slated to get $77.5 billion for research and development, down 4.4 percent from 2010. Research and development at the Department of Homeland Security would drop 9 percent to $1 billion. In contrast, non-defense research and development would rise 5.9 percent, or $3.7 billion, to $66 billion.
Much of the extra money for the civil projects will go to climate-research programs. The U.S. Global Change Research Program is slated to see a 20.7 percent funding increase, to $2.56 billion. This total includes an extra $214 million for NASA's climate-monitoring programs. Overall, NASA transferred $6 billion in funding from lower-priority programs to higher-priority programs, including $2 billion for climate programs, Lori Garver, NASA's deputy administrator, announced in a budget briefing held at the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The extra money will help accelerate the launch of climate-monitoring satellites to be operated by the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The satellites should help scientists track global temperatures, which have been the subject of intense debate amid government efforts to restrict carbon emissions in the developed world. "President Obama is committed to bringing good science to good government," NOAA's chief, Jane Lubchenco, told the AAAS audience.
Climate-research projects gained funding even as other prominent science projects were effectively frozen. For example, the administration requested slightly less this year for the National Nanotechnology Initiative, whose many programs fund the development of new materials and extremely small devices. If enacted by Congress, the $1.8 billion budget would yield a 0.3 percent decrease for the initiative. The Networking and Information Technology initiative is also slated to drop 0.2 percent to $4.3 billion. Total funding for "STEM education" -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- is slated to rise only 0.9 percent to $3.7 billion. Of those STEM funds, an extra $400 million is being requested to improve math and science education for K-12 students.
The administration tried to reinvigorate international science programs, John Holdren, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, told the audience at the AAAS. For example, the administration sought money to preserve the International Space Station, which is due to be destroyed in 2016. Numerous countries, including Russia, built portions of the station and contribute funding and astronauts to keep it operating. If approved, the budget request will help keep the station operating until 2020. The station will pay a key role in NASA's technology-development plans, and its preservation was the first priority for NASA, said Garver.
Administration officials stressed efforts to help convert scientific advances into commercial products. These efforts will cost roughly $1 billion, and include the deployment of broadband communications technology and the creation of "Regional Innovation Clusters" intended to spur local business development, said Aneesh Chopra, the administration's chief technology officer. The White House has also asked Congress to make permanent the tax break for commercial research and development, and sought $1.14 billion, or a 30 percent increase, to accelerate the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Advocates hope the system will spur the development of new air-passenger services and reduce airlines' operating costs. The system did not receive any funding in last year's stimulus bill, much to the disappointment of advocates.
NASA's programs have also been rearranged to help develop technology for the burgeoning commercial space industry, said Garver. This move was welcomed by some libertarian-minded space enthusiasts, who say the cancellation of the rocket programs will ensure government funding for the nascent space-tourism industry, which may be paid to get U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. "We're putting the science back into rocket science," Holdren said, adding that he hoped to see companies put astronauts into space by 2016.
Critics say that past product-development projects failed in the 1990s and will likely fail again. "What we see in this administration [is funding for] favored projects -- wind energy, biofuels and battery-powered cars -- and I'm not sure that throwing more money at these things will accomplish much," said Ben Lieberman, the senior policy analyst for energy and environment at the Heritage Foundation. "The federal money chases down those ideas that the private capital has shied away from.... They're chasing the also-ran ideas," he said.
"We're fortunate to have in President Obama a leader who gets it," said Holdren. "We're going to be excited and inspired by what comes out of the agencies."
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