- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (UPI) — Defense spending accounts for more than half of President George W. Bush's proposed budget for research and development in fiscal year 2004, administration figures released Monday reveal.

Of nearly $123 billion proposed for R&D;, almost $63 billion would go to defense, according to the figures.

Included in the defense spending would be money to support research efforts to counter chemical, biological and nuclear threats. The efforts would focus on sensor technology, first-responder protective gear and determining the vulnerabilities of the nation's infrastructure.

Marcus Peacock, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget's natural resources program, said at a briefing that although the budget focuses on the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, other agencies also would receive funding boosts.

For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation would receive 5 percent and 10 percent budget increases, respectively, under Bush's proposal.

Peacock, noting increases for several programs from the 2003 budget, said, "the focus is on performance," not changing dollar amounts from year to year. The administration has taken a different approach in determining allocation of money and is looking for more bang for taxpayer bucks, he commented.

John Marburger, III, director of the White House office of science and technology policy, agreed, saying: "We try to filter through and see where the priorities should be."

He added: "I think this budget is good for science."

At the briefing, Marburger and Peacock described proposed R&D; spending increases in other areas:

— The Department of Energy would receive a 3-percent increase, including the FreedomFUEL and FreedomCAR initiatives intended to ensure a child born today will drive a hydrogen-fueled car. The administration also proposed funding three new centers for nanotechnology research, besides the one that now exists.

— The National Science Foundation would receive new funding for "Ice Cube," a proposed neutrino observatory at the South Pole.

— NASA would receive funds for new missions, including a search for life on Jupiter's moon Europa and the giant planet's other satellites.

When asked whether Saturday's space shuttle tragedy would affect NASA's budget, Marburger replied it was too early to tell.

Regarding FreedomFUEL and FreedomCAR, Pietro Nivola, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the administration's initiative strikes him as a good idea, although its success will depend on what happens to conventional fuel prices in the future.

"As long as oil prices remain affordable, no one will want to get into an entirely new and expensive technology," Nivola told United Press International.

"It's certainly a bold initiative," he added. Despite the uncertainties of future oil prices, "it looks to me like it makes sense."

Anna Aurilio, legislative director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said the administration's proposal for energy department R&D; was disappointing. The "truly clean" technologies, such as solar and wind power, are getting cut, she said.

The proposed budget calls for a significant increase in spending for climate change research — from $40 million in 2003 to $182 million next year. Much of the focus will be on improving climate models and building a climate observing system.

"It's good to increase our knowledge base but we know the climate is changing," Aurilio told UPI. "We know things we can do right now" to address global warming, (but the administration is) stalling on climate change by saying we need to do more research," she said.

Of the proposal to boost nanotechnology research, Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., said "it's a good thing (but it ) doesn't result in molecular manufacturing," a goal of nanotechnology that would lead to major medical and scientific research advances.

Some researchers are worried nanotechnology will become the territory of the military, Peterson told UPI. If the military develops the technology, it might be difficult to extract and translate it into civilian uses.

"It's hard to imagine a disease nanotechnology couldn't get at," Peterson said of the technology's potential. "It won't be cheap and it won't be fast," she noted. Although models exist to create nanomachines, the money remains lacking, she said.

Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D; Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said he was not surprised by the administration's proposals for R&D.;

"This is flat funding for most of the domestic programs including research and development," Koizumi told UPI.

One factor that will complicate the proposed budget, Koizumi noted, is the 2003 budget never was approved by Congress. A further complication has been created by the new Homeland Security department.

Regarding the approach of applying performance standards to calculate new numbers for this year's budget, Koizumi said the criteria seem reasonable. The missing link, however, is how ratings translate into budget figures. "Those are political," he said.

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