- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006


Defense and space projects account for most increases in the $135 billion federal research-and-development budget in fiscal 2006, worrying scientists who fear that after years of growth the nation is beginning to skimp on technology that fuels marketplace innovation.

The realignment by Congress of research money toward national defense and human space exploration means many universities, institutions and scientists will have to scramble for new sources of money or cut back current or planned projects.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s premier biomedical research agency, saw its budget doubled between 1999 and 2003, but is getting $28.6 billion in fiscal 2006, a slight 0.1 percent drop that marks its first budget cutback since 1970.

The cut, while small, comes at a time when a lot of research simply costs more, even the laboratory mice used in cancer research, said Dr. Harold Varmus, a former NIH director and Nobel Prize winner.

“There is a battle for the future in science and technology. That’s what is going to govern the future of our country. Not increasing investments in those areas sends a signal the country is going to regret,” said Dr. Varmus, who now heads the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The Bush administration counters that federal research-and-development spending remains near an all-time high and is close to 45 percent higher than when the president took office.

That “is a strong statement of the high priority this administration places on innovation, competitiveness, science, technology and research,” said Donald Tighe, a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which advises the president.

Federal research-and-development spending will rise $2.2 billion, or 1.7 percent, in fiscal 2006, to about $135 billion, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Of that increase, 97 percent will go to Department of Defense weapons development and NASA spacecraft programs, AAAS said.

Funding for other federal research and development increases only slightly, and actually falls if adjusted for inflation, AAAS analyst Kei Koizumi said.

“For 2006, for most areas, it’s looking pretty bad. The total is going to be a new record, but it’s going to be big increases in two areas,” Mr. Koizumi said.

The nation’s universities and research institutes fret the emphasis increasingly falls on development, which tends to help industry, instead of the experimentation and exploration associated with basic research.

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