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Federal research programs see slight funding increases for 2000

Congress has adjourned for the year, leaving some funding uncertainties, but most federally funded university research programs will enjoy only modest funding increases and some will see slight reductions in fiscal year 2000.

As was the case in fiscal 1999, the singular exception will be biomedical research programs funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They received the largest increase (nearly 15 percent) given any research activity across the federal research budget.

In contrast, budgets for university research programs in the physical sciences and engineering supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense continue to lag well behind the rate of growth achieved by the life sciences supported by NIH. These programs were targeted for neither deep cuts nor accelerated increases. Instead, most emerged with percentage increases above inflation at roughly the levels requested by the administration.

The final appropriations deal included a 0.38 percent across the board cut for all federal programs. Agencies will have discretion to cut programs more deeply, but no single program will receive more than a 15 percent decrease. Agencies will specify these reductions in their fiscal 2001 budgets that will be submitted to Congress early in February.

The NIH enjoyed a significant increase of $2.3 billion or 14.7 percent. In just two years, Congress increased NIH research programs by more than $4 billion, a sum greater than the total budget of the National Science Foundation. However, to accomplish this year's increase, Congress and NIH negotiated an agreement to withhold $3 billion until the very end of the fiscal year (September 2000). NIH assured Congress that such a delay is manageable.

The National Human Genome Research Institute, funded in part through NIH, secured a 25 percent increase. The cap on reimbursement of NIH-supported investigator salaries was raised to $136,700. Finally, Congress delayed any legislative action that would alter the current federal ban on human embryo research.

The Department of Energy appropriations bill continues the funding to MIT's Bates Linear Accelerator. Overall nuclear physics, which includes Bates, received $352 million, an increase of $16.9 million (5 percent). High-energy physics received $707.9 million, a token increase of $11.4 million (1.6 percent). Only basic energy sciences received a decrease; that area was trimmed by $26 million (3 percent). Fusion energy science received $250 million, an increase of $27.4 million (12 percent) over the 1999 level.


NSF receives a total of $3.91 billion, an increase of $240 million (7 percent). The bill specifically provides approximately $2.966 billion for research and related activities, which is a $200 million (7 percent) increase from the 1999 level.

NASA's R&D programs were again squeezed. They received a total of $13.65 billion, a $25 million decrease. The appropriation specifically for science, aeronautics and technology is $5.6 billion, a $13 million decrease. This budget also includes $2.2 billion specifically for space science.

The Department of Defense research programs received the largest overall increases in several years. Total funding for defense basic research was increased 5.8 percent to $1.176 million. Applied research received a 6.7 percent increase to $3.402 million. Only the Air Force applied-research account was cut, by a modest 0.1 percent.

Student aid funding received strong support. The Department of Edu-cation's Pell Grant program was increased to $7.7 billion providing a $175 increase in the maximum award to $3,300. The federal work-study program was funded at the President's request of $934 million, an increase of 7.4 percent. The Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) received an increase of 0.3 percent to $621 million.

Graduate education programs were funded at stable levels. The Graduate Assistants in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program is funded at the 1999 level of $31 million. The Javitz Fellowships program received $10 million for fiscal 2000 and $10 million in fiscal 2001. In addition, the tax exemption for employer-provided education assistance was extended for undergraduate education until December 2001.

Additional details are available from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The fiscal 2001 budget is expected to go to Congress on February 7. Preliminary schedules show a completion of the appropriations process by the end of July, before the national political conventions occur in August.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 8, 1999.

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