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AAAS Forum Starts with Perusal of R&D Numbers: Deficits Costing Biomed R&D

WASHINGTON, DC (GenomeWeb News) – Breaking down the federal government’s research and development spending for the coming year at today’s American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual forum on federal science spending, an AAAS official explained that the flat funding in biomedical research is a grim part of efforts to keep swelling deficits in check.
Kei Koizumi, who heads AAAS’s R&D Budget and Policy Program, kicked off the two-day Forum on Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC, with a swift and sweeping tour of the proposed 2009 federal R&D budget.
As GenomeWeb Daily News reported in February, under the White House’s 2009 budget request, the National Institutes of Health would receive $28.7 billion.
Without adjustments for inflation, and stagnant budgets since 2004, the NIH’s funding for the coming year would “continue the downward slide” of recent years, AAAS said when the budget was proposed, and would actually be down around 13 percent in real value from 2004.
Without offering much judgment, Koizumi this morning presented the context of federal funding that surrounds the environment that many researchers see around them: fewer NIH grants, shrinking grants, and greater competition for the grants that are available.
“The NIH portfolio is an extreme example of trends in federal research,” Koizumi said. “The NIH used to have a success rate of about one out of three, and now it is around one out of five,” he added.
The White House’s federal budget request for fiscal 2009 totals $31 trillion, but revenue shortfalls will leave a shortage of around $500 billion, a “heavy deficit that is causing constraints” in several areas, Koizumi said.
However, total federal R&D spending in the 2009 budget is actually up around 3.4 percent to $147.4 billion from $141.2 billion in actual spending in 2007.
Much of that growth is marked for a 3.7 percent jump at the Department of Defense, most of which will go to new weapons research programs, Koizumi said. Defense spending, which does not include funding for the current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes up around $81.5 billion, while all other non-defense R&D spending is roughly $61 billion. The DOD, Koizumi said, is seeking a 16 percent increase in basic research funding, which again would be pushed mostly by weapons research. 
Within the context of budgets that have been stagnant since 2004, the White House request for NIH next year does include some growth, including a $534 million, or 7.7 percent, rise in funding for the NIH Common Fund, which supports the NIH Roadmap.
Another rare increase for biotechnology and biomedical research funding in the 2009 plan would be at the National Science Foundation, which under the proposal would receive a 10.3 percent increase in biological research funds and 12 percent rise of $126 million in new spending for molecular and cellular biosciences.
The proposed budget may not pass either house of Congress in this form, and it is not due for passage until October. Koizumi said he has already heard talk that Congress might hold off on federal budget appropriations until a new president arrives in the White House who may be more amenable to some increases.
However, White House Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger said in an opening statement this morning that Congress itself can be an impediment to addressing the “large and unhealthy imbalance for competing needs for funds” in R&D fields.
Marburger said that the $4.5 billion in earmarks that were tucked into this year’s federal government spending bill were a huge part of the problem of shrinking research funds.
“Earmarks crowd out hoped-for increases in science funds,” he said. The US system of using Congress to appropriate R&D money, he added, may not be the best way to fund science.
“For the third year in a row,” Marburger said, “President Bush has proposed a budget to fix that imbalance [in science funding]. The best thing Congress could do is to pass the damn budget. Passing the president’s budget is what a Congress is for,” he added. 

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