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Federal Funding of Civilian Research Could Drop 33%

By Kathy Sawyer
The Washington Post

Government funding for U.S. civilian research will decrease by as much as 33 percent between now and 2002 - with the biggest cuts in commercial technologies, energy resources and the environment - if the 104th Congress stays the course it set before its August recess, a leading science organization reports.

Spending for basic research would increase over the seven-year period, but spending for applied research would be drastically reduced, according to the analysis released Monday by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which promotes the benefits of both kinds of research.

Basic research is defined as pure scientific inquiry with no specific goal in mind. Applied research is science with a specific goal, such as development of a new technology. The balance between the two has been the subject of a tug of war between Democrats and Republicans for years.

"Scientists and engineers are struggling to interpret the new paradigm created by the most significant across-the-board funding cuts to the R&D enterprise in the post-World War II era," according to the analysis.

While reducing total nondefense R&D spending, the Republican-led Congress would increase spending in basic civilian research, particularly in health-related activities and in defense R&D.

For fiscal 1996, bills already approved by the House of Representatives would cut nondefense R&D to $31.5 billion - a 5.2 percent drop from the 1995 total (after the incoming Republican majority cut it back) - and would target programs such as the Advanced Technology Program at the Commerce department that many Republicans regard as "corporate welfare" conducted at taxpayer expense and best left to industry, the report states.

The report notes the budget presented by President Clinton in February proposed cuts (in inflation-adjusted terms) in key areas of civilian R&D. But Congress has gone further and targeted some of Clinton's favorite programs for reductions, beginning with the rescissions in the already-enacted 1995 budget, the report says.

After Congress reconvenes next week, joint conference committees will meet to reconcile differences between House appropriation bills and their Senate counterparts, some of which the Senate has yet to act on.

William Hoagland, staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, said the AAAS figures appear accurate. Some cuts are inevitable in the current budget climate, he said, and policy-makers might need to think more about what the "right level" of R&D funding should be. "We're all trying to foster an economy that will grow in the future," he said. He declined to predict what the Senate will do to various R&D budgets, except to say, "We'll probably be very hard on the Commerce Dept."

Following the mandate of a Republican budget resolution aimed at taming the federal deficit by 2002, the House proposed to cut R&D by 33 percent over that seven-year period compared to estimated 1995 spending levels (after the rescissions), AAAS officials said. Taking inflation into account, that would translate into a loss of $5.7 billion over the seven years. Except for the National Institutes of Health, almost all major civilian R&D agencies are confronting what the AAAS report terms "unprecedented cuts," in some cases one-fourth or one-third of their total R&D budgets.

Under funding bills already approved by the House, commerce-related research and development (R&D) - the category designated for the biggest increases in President Clinton's budget - would be halved, and R&D related to natural resources and the environment would be down nearly 20 percent, the report warns.

The following agencies would feel the brunt of the cuts, according to the report. (The cuts referred to apply to 1996 R&D accounts only):

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (part of the Commerce Dept.). Most affected by a proposed 17.5 percent cut would be NOAA's global change and coastal ocean science work, along with studies of fisheries and weather forecasting.

The Department of Interior, facing a 21.9 percent cut. Its Bureau of Mines, which conducts research on environmental restoration and mine safety issues, would be eliminated.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which would suffer the largest dollar amount ($716.5 million) cut. The House targeted a program to study environmental changes on earth from orbiting satellites for a 22 percent cut.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which would be cut by 17.3 percent.