Clinton Asks Big Increases for Science, Technology Research

The Clinton administration has proposed substantial, and in some respects unprecedented, increases in federal funding for science and technology research in fiscal 1999.

Overall, the budget requests $78.2 billion -- a comparatively modest expansion of about $2 billion, or 3 percent above 1998 levels -- for military and civilian research programs combined.

But many agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, are slate for sizable increases, reflecting administration priorities in medical research, energy efficiency, climate studies and science education.

The NIH would receive an additional $1.15 billion, or 8.4 percent, the largest dollar increase in its history. That would bring its 1999 budget to $14.8 billion to accommodate new initiatives in cancer, diabetes, brain disorders and genetic medicine, among others. Over the next five years, NIH funding would rise nearly 50 percent.

NSF funding would go up 10 percent, to $3.8 billion, to underwrite research on computers, information technology, education and basic research. The Energy Department's research and development programs would increase 11 percent to $7.2 billion, boosting efforts to improve energy efficiency, cut "greenhouse" gas emissions and pay for shared science facilities. Department of Veterans Affairs medical research programs would get a 10 percent raise to $300 million.

The self-proclaimed "centerpiece" of this year's science budget is a category the White House calls the "Research Fund for America," which is basically a new name for collective federal spending on civilian research. Grouping those projects together is intended to emphasize cross-agency interconnections in areas such as vehicle fuel efficiency, which span the departments of Energy, Transportation and Commerce, among others. To provide "long-term stability" for such programs, administration officials said the budget calls for their funding to grow by 32 percent over the next five years.

That is "the largest commitment to key civilian research in the history of the United States of America," Vice President Gore said at a news conference yesterday. The five-year total, over $160 billion, "would have been considered unthinkable only a few short years ago."

No agencies are targeted for drastic R&D cuts. The budget calls for reducing R&smp;D outlays at the Pentagon and Environmental Protection Agency by 1 percent each. NASA would lose 3 percent, including some international space station funding. The departments of Agriculture and Commerce would be largely unchanged.

Among prospective winners are technology research projects related to climate change (collectively up $473 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.

Administration officials acknowledged that the proposed R&D funding levels assume a number of anticipated revenue sources, including tobacco company payments to the government. But agency heads were enthusiastic. The funding initiatives "set the stage for a new century of progress," said NSF chief Neal Lane.