- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004


Scientists and leaders of high-tech industries are warning the Bush administration that federal spending on the kind of research that creates jobs is falling behind.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a new coalition of scientific societies and industries are among groups that have recently warned that basic science is being short-changed in government spending.

Tax cuts, a projected $500 billion deficit this year and increases in defense and Medicare costs are being blamed for squeezing research out of the federal budget.

Except for the Defense and Homeland Security departments and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, government agencies with research and development programs will have declining budgets over the next five years, according to White House projections.

Meanwhile, potential competitors such as Russia, India and China are pouring money into basic research, said the newly formed Task Force on the Future of American Innovation.

“The United States is at a tipping point where it stands to lose its long-standing technological edge to competitors,” the coalition said in a report released last month.

John Marburger, the president’s top science adviser, said Thursday that the United States’ technological lead over other countries is “so overwhelming” that talk of the country losing its competitive edge is premature.

“I don’t think that the United States is in any imminent danger of losing its edge,” Mr. Marburger told reporters. “We spend much more on research, on any level of research, than any other nation. We are overwhelmingly leaders in virtually every area of technology and science.”

As far as research and development being taken offshore or being seized by foreign-owned companies, Mr. Marburger said the administration will watch any such trend and “try to understand it.”

While Mr. Marburger was talking, some employees of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the only government agency established for the specific purpose of turning science into business and jobs, were opening layoff notices.

About 100 laid-off workers, along with an undisclosed number of others who accepted job buyouts or took early retirement, were victims of a $27 million cut in NIST’s budget. Originally known as the National Bureau of Standards, the agency was established in 1901, “at the dawn of the age of technology,” according to the agency’s official history.

President Bush actually recommended a $24 million increase in funding for NIST’s laboratories in the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg and Boulder, Colo., for the current fiscal year. However, Congress turned down Mr. Bush’s request and cut another $26 million from last year’s budget, a $50 million downward swing.

In a report released Tuesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, warned that if private research and development spending follows the manufacturing and service facilities offshore, the country’s competitiveness will be weakened.

“The innovation structure that served us well in the face of less formidable competition is no longer sufficient in the face of new fierce global competition,” Mr. Lieberman said.

A recent analysis by the AAAS warned that science funding over the next five years is projected to receive steep cuts in several agencies:

• Energy Department programs will see dramatic decreases, such as energy research and development down 21 percent by fiscal 2009, fossil energy R&D; down 22 percent and energy conservation down 26 percent.

• Agriculture Department intramural research will decline by 19 percent and extramural research grants will see a 28 percent cut.

• At the Commerce Department, the Bush administration would eliminate the Advanced Technology Program, as well as cut the budgets of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the NIST by 10.5 percent and 17.3 percent respectively by fiscal 2009.

The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation was formed by scientific societies, universities, businesses like IBM, Hewlett Packard, Texas Instruments and Intel and trade associations like the National Association of Manufacturers.

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