Science Budget — heads up.
The Bush Administration officially presents its FY 2009 budget request to Congress on Monday (February 4). Some details are out already, but the science budget has stayed mostly under wraps. (The NY Times reports that the request for the NIH amounts to level funding — a cut in real terms — at the same 29.5 billion dollar figure the agency received last year.)
The NSF is holding its annual
wake budget workshop/open house on Monday, with the numbers coming at 3:30 p.m. Other agencies to look for include the Office of Science within DOE, NIST, NOAA and several others in Commerce, USGS, and any others that readers can reasonably come up with. As I can cobble together a more or less complete picture, I’ll post what I get. Feel free to throw me stuff as you find it.
A couple of things, though. The President’s budget request is a marker at best, fantasy at worst. As any President’s term and power wanes, the annual budget message to Congress becomes yet more fantastic.
George Bush, with less than a year to go and approval ratings dropping into the undetectable territory may find spending priorities continuing-resolutioned to death — especially for those programs that don’t have the words “Iraq” or “war” in them.
Hence this release from the American Institute of Physics, reporting on a speech given last Wednesday by DOE Undersecretary for Science Raymond Orbach. Orbach promised good news for the physical sciences — a request to substantially boost funding over that enacted for last year. However, as Orbach pointed out — there is a huge gap between what was sought and what came out in the final funding bills.
The realist in me says that will continue: as long as funding for the Iraq war continues to widen its lead as the second most expensive conflict in our history (the bill passed that for the Vietnam war last year, and it now trails only World War II) funding for such “luxuries” as basic science research and especially the education of scientists will end up on the cutting room floor when the final bills are done.
As Orbach pointed out, the number of Ph.D researchers, graduate students and others that his office could support dropped by 4,300 in the final 2008 budget as passed.
This is bad news. Bad for science in this country, and bad for the country itself, for all the usual reasons. The big-picture calls for a Science Debate (which I support) and the parsing of candidate statements about this science/tech/health related issues (to which I plead guilty) are all fine, necessary even.
But the much more mundane process of following individual budget lines through committees is going to have a lot more to do with what happens to American science right now, over the months beginning in the fiscal year that starts next October. Keep eyes and ears open, in other words.
Update: I was just emailing to a blogger friend, and the obvious occurred to me: it could be valuable if bloggers within different disciplines made a point of looking at what the budget request comes to for their fields especially if they can offer up some context over what has happened through the budget cycles of recent Bush requests.
That would provide a baseline to readerships that care about the outcome. To the extent that money flows to vocal constituencies, this would give a starting place for concerned folks who want to talk to the Congress folks and their staffs on whom the devilish details depend. Just a thought…
Images: Peter F. Rothermel “Old Senate Debate 1850″ 1855.
Woman feeding a furnace with money during the German hyperinflation, 1923, “© AdsD der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung” with permission granted for use with the credit listed above.
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