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2002 NSF Budget Request Cuts Research, Protects Genomics Programs

ARLINGTON, Va., April 10 – The National Science Foundation pruned back its research programs but has left two key genomics initiatives to flourish in the 2002 federal budget request the Bush administration submitted to Congress on Monday.

The budget request allocates $4.47 billion for the NSF, a $56 million, or 1.3 percent increase over the agency's 2001 budget. The research funds in the budget decrease a half percent, from $3.343 billion in 2001, to $3.337 billion. 

Despite this research decrease, the NSF’s 2010 project, a ten-year effort to determine the function of the 25,000 genes in the in the Arabidopsis genome, will receive $20 million in funding next year, up from $5 million in 2001. "It's a very high priority for NSF," said NSF Director Rita Colwell.

Another genomics-heavy program, the "Biocomplexity in the Environment" initiative, will also escape the administration's fiscal pruning shears, getting an increase of 5.9 percent, to $58 million. This program includes an interagency Microbial Genome Sequencing Project and the "Tree of Life" evolutionary biology project, in which genomics will play a key role. 

Overall, plant genome research is to remain level at $65 million. The biology directorate, which administers scientific research grants, will receive a slight decrease in funding, from $485 million in 2001 to $483 million for 2002.  

But the big loser in the NSF budget request is the major research equipment account, which at $96 million is down 20.6 percent from 2001. No "new starts" will be allowed in this category. The integrative activities category, which includes a variety of cross-disciplinary efforts, also takes a 17.5 percent hit, for a 2002 request of $80.61 million.

In public, NSF officials have been reluctant to criticize the budget. 

"This is kind of a pause," said Mary Clutter, who heads up the biology directorate. "We got a wonderful increase last year, and it remains in our base. When there's a change of administration, there's usually a pause."

This proposed pause, however, may face a fight in Congress. Bipartisan efforts have been launched in both the House and the Senate to boost the NSF budget by about 15 percent, getting it back on track to double over five years before the appropriations bills are finalized in the fall.

If the NSF receives this funding, officials will restore funding allocations made before the Bush administration took office.

 “We prepared our budget last summer to follow the doubling track," said Clutter. If the larger increase finds its way back into the NSF budget, officials would simply dust off their original plan.

"And it won't need too much dusting," Clutter laughed.

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