An Analysis of the FY2005 Bush Budget
America's present and future strength, prosperity and global preeminence depend directly on fundamental research, and in turn on the federal government's ability to continually refocus our nation's vast scientific resources on the ever-shifting frontiers of understanding. Over 24 federal agencies perform and award grants for basic research. Keeping these agencies resourced and oriented toward the challenges of tomorrow takes Presidential leadership. A growing consensus in the scientific community questions President Bush's stewardship of American science. The following analysis highlights reasons for concern.
1. The Bush Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Doesn't Support Critical R&D Funding
President Bush contends that the fiscal year 2005 research and development budget request is very robust, considering the fiscal pressures under which the Federal government is operating. The fact of the matter is that the fiscal year 2005 budget submission for R&D (excluding weapons development) is the most anemic R&D budget submitted to the Congress by any President in the past 20 years. It is an R&D budget unsuited to the challenges of the time. This fact has not escaped members of the President's own party. For two years running, Sherry Boehlert, the Republican Chairman of the House Science Committee, has called the President's budget for R&D "disappointing" and on February 2, 2004, he said:
"The budget chapter on R&D [in the FY 2005 budget] includes the quotation that 'Science is a horse. Don't worship it. Feed it.' The budget does not reflect that advice. After a few years of spending at the levels proposed in this budget, science would be an emaciated, old, grey mare, unable to produce any new ideas or young scientists."
The Request for Science Funding is Flat - The Administration brags about a 5% increase for R&D spending in 2005, but fails to mention that the increase is largely targeted for weapons development. The most representative measure of R&D funding, and the measure which best captures the economic and broader societal benefits of R&D funding, is the concept of the "Federal S&T budget" (FST), develop by the National Academy of Sciences. FST includes civilian R&D and defense R&D, but not weapons development. Page 61 of the "Analytical Perspectives" document, from the Administration's own package of FY 2005 budget documents, actually shows a decrease of 0.4 percent in proposed FST funding. This is the first time that any President has requested a decrease in the FST since it has been tracked. Further, government-wide funding for basic research would increase by only 0.6% and funding for applied research by only 0.5% - both well below the rate of inflation.
The President's Analysis Uses Highly Selective or Inaccurate Numbers - The Administration claims that R&D as a percent of discretionary spending is relatively high in historic terms, but the elevated levels are due to weapons development, not science. Eighty-seven percent of the R&D funding increase between 2001 and 2005 resulted from increases in weapons development and the completion of the NIH budget doubling that the Congress committed to in the late 1990s. Seventy-two percent of the proposed increases in 2005 over FY 2004 levels result from increments in weapons research in DOD and the fraction grows a bit to 75% if we include new increases proposed for the new Department of Homeland Security. A key measure of society's commitment to innovation - Federal R&D as a percentage of GDP - is near a 50-year low of 0.7 percent. Funding for the physical sciences as a percentage of GDP also continues to plummet, as each year of the Bush administration has added to the 35% cut in the physical sciences over the past 25 years.
The Budget Does Not Deal with the Challenge of Job Creation - The single best government program to provide immediate help to U.S. manufacturers - the Manufacturing Extension Partnership - is severely slashed. The Advanced Technology Program is eliminated. Technology transfer programs at NASA and DOE are cut, and there are no new ideas or initiatives for moving Federal technologies into the private sector, especially small businesses.
The President Takes Credit for Congressional Actions from Prior Years - When it appears to strengthen their case, the Administration brags about increases in various R&D accounts over the past four years, without distinguishing in any way between the President's requests and subsequent Congressional action. In fact, the Administration's R&D priorities have remained virtually unchanged since it submitted its first R&D budget in early 2001 (well before the 9-11 terrorist attacks). Those priorities have been: funding weapons development at the Defense Department: signing on to the rock-solid Congressional commitment to complete the doubling of the NIH budget in FY 2002-03; and increasing homeland security R&D in 2004-2005. All other Federal R&D programs have fared very badly in the President's four budget submissions, but have been rescued year after year by Congressional action. By citing four-year trends, rather than the weak FY 2005 budget submission numbers, the Administration tries to leave the impression that it alone is responsible for R&D increases.
The Administration Hasn't Followed Through On Their Commitments - Two years ago, the President signed an authorization bill doubling National Science Foundation (NSF) funding over five years. The requests for NSF since the signing ceremony have been anemic - they might produce a doubling in about 25 years. In another failed commitment, only weeks after Secretary of Energy Abraham gave a well-received speech at the National Press Club touting DOE's long-term plan for construction of new scientific facilities, funding for DOE facilities was cut severely in the budget submission. Also, given how critical DOD basic and applied research funding is to a number of important fields (math, computing, materials, engineering), DOD officials have supported the idea of targeting a significant increase - up to 3 percent of the DOD budget - for R&D. In the FY 2005 budget request, defense S&T is cut by 16%. Finally, the President signed a bill last year authorizing greatly expanded funding at NSF and NIST for cyber-security R&D and training - a critical element in any strategy to deal with terrorist threats. The FY 2005 budget contains no new funding for this initiative.
2. The Bush Administration Has No Vision for R&D Funding
For four years, the Bush administration has treated the funding of research and development with less care than would hope for more from a country whose future in inextricably tied to technical advances. Except for the obvious, post-2001 addition of homeland security R&D, the Bush administration has not thoughtfully established cross-cutting initiatives in science and technology that can contribute to new challenges and broad societal goals, like the aging of the population or the creation of new jobs and new industries. In fact, the Bush administration has explicitly used its R&D program as means to other ends, such as providing cover for delaying real action on critical societal problems. The hydrogen R&D program is fine investment in technology development in its own right, but it will have no impact on fossil fuel consumption for at least 20 years. The Bush administration has pointed to the potential promise of hydrogen technology as a reason for not dealing more aggressively with our increasingly inefficient vehicle fleet and our growing dependence on foreign sources of oil and gas. Similarly, the billions spent on climate change research may produce good science. In spite of this, the Administration, in the face of every serious scientific assessment performed over the past decade, refuses to engage meaningfully in discussions of global warming. And the enactment of a Congressional initiative on cyber-security R&D is a small fig leaf over the Administration's abject failure to prod federal as well as private interests to deal with cyber-security seriously.
Although un-aroused by the actual discoveries of science, the Administration does seem to get excited about the management of science, and the President's Office of Management & Budget (OMB) has made an attempt to establish some principles for judging research investment. It is entirely understandable that a budget office faced with tough decisions about priorities within a research community wishes to establish a way of judging the merit of various proposals. The criteria proposed by OMB are eminently reasonable: research should be relevant, of high quality, and deliver what was promised. The problem, of course, comes in applying these criteria to actual budget decisions. Too often, these criteria are being used to advanced industry agendas and delay meaningful action on global warming or the regulation of pollution in our water and air.
Finally, there are some genuine lost opportunities. The budget gives the strong impression that the hydrogen research program can substitute for a balanced energy research program. Touting hydrogen as a solution to our energy problems is disingenuous. Most if not all of the projects funded in the hydrogen program deserve to be a part of a coherent energy policy. But the hydrogen research is funded by drastic cuts in other research that has equal if not greater merit. Funding for using waste materials and other biomass, for example, is cut by an amount equal to the increase for hydrogen even though biomass offers what may be the most cost effective source of renewable energy. Funding for many of the critical areas highlighted in the NIH roadmap released last year may not be available without cutting deeply into other research areas. This may make it difficult to pursue the multi-disciplinary projects needed to bring the tools of information science, materials, nanotechnology, and other disciplines to bear on biomedical problems. The breathtaking discoveries of astrophysics made possible by the NASA science budget are threatened by new manned projects that even the administration seems ambivalent about. Critical applied research needed for advances in manufacturing, construction, transportation, and other areas will be starved by the cuts in the Department of Commerce. The search for technologies that can combine productivity with an improved environment will be badly damaged by these cuts and the 8 percent cut in the EPA research budget. And there's no room for expanding research in improving the productivity and accessibility of learning in the face of repeated studies showing shocking underinvestment in the area.Return to Top