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Congress Tries to Chip Away at Bush s Budget Cuts in Science

WASHINGTON, DC, July 5 - As Congress hunkers down for the final stretch of budget negotiations, appropriations committees may yet squeeze a bit more money for science out of a tight federal budget.

In a report accompanying the FY 2002 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, H.R. 2311, approved by the House of Representatives on June 28, the House Appropriations Committee recommended a budget of $446 million for the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER), a major player in the Human Genome Project. Although this figure is $55.4 million less than the office had received for 2001, it is $2.9 million more than President George W. Bush had initially requested.

The House Appropriations Committee is "very supportive of most of the research conducted by the [DOE's] Office of Science," it said in the report, "but funding constraints preclude significant increases this year."

About half of the extra money would go toward completing the construction of the Laboratory for Comparative Functional Genomics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The boost would allow researchers to occupy the new facility by May 2003, rather than the following year as anticipated. The Committee noted that in comparison to the cost of maintaining and paying utilities for the existing facilities, early occupancy of the new lab would save the government about $800,000.

The committee's recommendations for other DOE genomics programs, however, did not differ from Bush's budget request. The Joint Genome Institute would receive $57.2 million and the Microbial Cell Project, which includes the Genomes to Life initiative, would get $19.5 million. Across the board, DOE faces a 3.6 percent cut from its FY 2001 budget of $19.7 billion.

Most science agencies other than the National Institutes of Health, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the DOE, were faced with cuts in their research budgets when Bush submitted his 2002 budget proposal earlier this year. The NSF saw a reduction of about half a percent in research funding in the president's budget proposal. 

But that doesn't mean Bush's proposals are the end of the story. In April, while the House toed the president's line on research funding, the Senate added an extra $1.44 billion for science to its budget resolution. This would include an extra $674 million for the NSF, a 15.3 percent increase over 2001 that would put the NSF budget on track to double within five years.

And the Senate's willingness to defy Bush is likely to strengthen, given the shift in power toward the Democrats, following the defection of Senator Jim Jeffords in May from the GOP. Most Democrats have been critical of the Bush administration's tax cuts and the resulting budget hits to science and other programs.

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