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Budget Blues–President Freezes or Cuts Several Science Programs
By Patricia Kobor
Advocates for scientific research found little to cheer about in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 budget sent forward by the Administration on February 4, 2008. President Bush’s proposal takes a particularly tough stand on domestic, non-security discretionary spending, which is provided through the annual appropriations process, calling for an increase of less than 1 percent, to $393 billion, in FY 2009. The proposal would then freeze spending at that level for the next four years.
The Administration’s request would provide $29.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY 2009, which represents the sixth consecutive year that the NIH budget has failed to keep pace with biomedical inflation. In the five years through 2008, a series of nominal increases and cuts has amounted to flat funding for NIH, and NIH has lost approximately 11 percent in purchasing power due to inflation. If the President’s FY 2009 request becomes law, NIH will have lost one-seventh of its purchasing power over the last 6 years due to inflation.
To add to the concern over NIH’s flat budget, the Administration proposes to take $52 million from the $1 billion budget for the Office of the Director of NIH (which includes the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, the Office of Research on Women’s Health, and other offices) and apply that money to provide slight increases to all of the NIH’s research centers. Overall, the NIH budget would remain the same as in FY 2008.
As a member of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding, a large coalition of science and health advocacy groups, APA supports $31.1 billion for NIH, an increase of $1.9 billion over the FY 2008 funding level.
The President requested $5.7 billion in FY 2009 for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 7 percent reduction from FY 2008. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which houses many public health programs, would be cut by $995 million compared with fiscal 2008, to $5.9 billion. The administration would provide small increases in spending for community health centers – a Bush priority – and programs to fight AIDS and HIV.
Overall, funding for the Veterans Health Administration (VA) would rise in the budget request, from $39.4 billion in the FY 2008 enacted levels to $41.6 billion. Of that total, most of the difference is accounted for by an increase in the VA’s medical services account, which would receive $36.5 billion–$1.8 billion more than in 2008.
But even with the proposed increases, some Democrats said the VA medical budget could fall short of projected needs. Medical and prosthetic research would be decreased from $480 million in FY 2008 to $442 million.
In the area of education funding, President Bush’s budget would boost traditional Pell grant funding by 18.5 percent, to $16.9 billion. But the Administration offsets the increase by proposing the elimination of other popular programs such as Perkins loans, Tech Prep, which funds high school math and science courses for students planning to go into technical programs after graduation, and Supplemental Education Opportunity grants. Research programs within the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences would receive an increase of $7.5 million to support a new research initiative on the identification and evaluation of school reform models, which would boost FY 2009 funding to $167.2 million. No increases were proposed for the $70.5 million budget at the National Center on Special Education Research or for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research’s $105.7 million budget.
The President’s budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would grow 2.9% to $17.6 billion in 2009, but the entire increase would go to space exploration, leaving research programs, including life sciences and aeronautics research, in serious decline once again. Cuts to the aeronautics portfolio, including human factors research on air traffic safety, would continue with a 13 percent reduction. In the last few years, the aeronautics budget has gone from about 15% of the agency’s total budget to a record low of 4%.
The National Institute of Justice, which is the research and evaluation arm within the Department of Justice, would receive $37 million in the President’s budget. While this is equal to the institute’s FY 2008 funding level, it represents a dramatic 32 percent decrease from the FY 2007 level of $54.3 million.
As for the brighter spots: the Administration continues to support a strong increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF)–16 percent for the Research and Related Accounts. Within that increase, however, the Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) would receive a much lower increase of 8.5 percent. The Science and Technology Account at the Department of Defense would fall from its 2008 level, although funding for Basic Research would rise by four percent to $1.7 billion for FY 2009.
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