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Science Benefts by $2 Billion In Clinton's 1994 Budget Plan

By Boyce Rensberger
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

In a budget otherwise marked by cuts and caps, American scientists and research engineers emerged comparative winners this week. President Clinton's proposed 1995 spending plan asks the Congress to boost support of research and development, including military R&D, by 2.8 percent -- or nearly $2 billion more than is to be spent this year.

The budget request would reverse the situation of a year ago when the federal science budget was cut. During the last fiscal year the government spent $72.5 billion on all forms of science and engineering. That figure was cut to $71.1 billion for this year. It would rise to $73 billion next year. As in past years, a little less than half those totals would go for civilian purposes.

If approved, the government's largest supporters of civilian research would enjoy even larger boosts -- in percentages. The National Institutes of Health, which supports most biomedical research done by universities, would go up 4.7 percent, rising $508 million to reach $11 billion. (Figures in this story are for direct support of research and do not include amounts budgeted for administration.) The National Science Foundation, which supports most nonmedical research at universities, would get a 9.6 percent raise, pushing its budget for grants to scientists $194 million to reach $2.2 billion.

Jack Gibbons, the White House science advisor, said the budget request reflects the administration's intent to encourage science and technology as "investments" that will ultimately pay off in new products and services that create jobs and benefit the economy.

To that end, the science budget's biggest increase in proportional terms -- 78 percent -- would go to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, raising its funding to $874 million. Much of the increase is to help industry develop new technologies.

Rep. George E. Brown, D-Cal., chairman of the House committee on science, space and technology, noted the increases in dollar amounts but complained that as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, science spending in 1995 would be less than in any year since 1958.

NIH director Harold Varmus said he was pleased with the 4.7 percent increase for his agency but leaders of the biomedical research community had been pushing for nearly twice as much -- an 8.9 percent boost.

"That's what we feel would be needed to eliminate the tremendous backlog of meritorius research proposals that are currently not being funded," said Frank Fitch, a University of Chicago immunologist who is president of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology, an umbrella group representing most of the nation's biomedical scientists.

Fitch said the larger increase would have allowed NIH to fund 30 percent of the grant requests it receives -- a success rate that most researchers say would be acceptable. Currently NIH funds about 24 percent and as a result it cannot fund many high quality research projects.

Further reducing the amount of money NIH has to spend on basic science, -- Fitch said, was "more earmarking than we would like to see."

For example, nearly 40 percent of the increase the president's budget asks for NIH would be focused on certain "priority areas." The largest boost would be a 28 percent increase (to $383 million) for breast cancer research and programs in breast cancer prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. AIDS research would get a 6 percent increase, raising the total to $1.4 billion. Of that increase, according to NIH figures, 90 percent would go to basic science relevant to understanding the disease. The "minority health initiative" would go up 18 percent, to $65 million.

The Clinton budget makes no progress in the administration's stated goal of bringing military and civilian research to dollar parity by 1998. About $2.1 billion of the military science budget, however, is for so-called dual use technologies. This is research that has both military and civilian applictions, such as computer science. Though funded by the Pentagon, much of this research is unclassified work done at universities.