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Congressman: Scientists Must Branch Out in Push for More Funding

WASHINGTON, May 3 - Scientists need to change their strategy to secure more funding in an era of constrained Federal Government spending, said House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY).

Speaking at a colloquium on science and technology policy held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boehlert noted that spending growth in the coming years will be held down to approximately the rate of inflation, leading to fierce competition among interest groups for a piece of the pie.

Traditionally, scientists have been able to successfully plead their case by going to science aficionados in Congress, Boehlert said. But to secure more funding for science programs in this thrifty era, Boehlert advised that scientists now must justify the increases in political terms, not only in Washington but also by talking to newer representatives about how the science enterprise benefits their districts.

"You've got to get individual members in their districts back home," said Boehlert, "Most members aren't focused on science."

Making a case for increases should also involve specific analysis of research needs and economic resources, he said. The Bush Administration has promised to stick to the five-year plan to double NIH funding from its 1998 level of $13.6 billion to $27.2 billion by 2003, but scientists must still justify this increase with presentation of clear research needs, not by "just throwing the word 'doubling' around as if it casts some kind of a magic spell," Boehlert said.

Boehlert, a political moderate and longtime friend of science, became House Science Committee Chairman in January. He insisted in the address that the Bush Administration does not have animosity or disregard for science, but noted that, "with the major exception of the National Institutes of Health, the current budget leaves a lot to be desired" when it comes to research funds.

President George W. Bush has proposed a $2.8 billion increase in the National Institutes of Health's budget for fiscal 2002, but the Bush proposal cuts the Department of Energy's budget by 3.6 percent to $19 billion, from $19.7 billion in fiscal year 2001--a cut that senior DOE officials have said would threaten the progress of the Department's genomics programs. Bush has also proposed trimming the United States Department of Agriculture's budget and instituting a small 2.3 percent increase in the National Science Foundation's spending package.

"The numbers in this year's budget were driven by factors outside science policy," in particular campaign promises made by President Bush, Boehlert said. "These numbers are going to get better. Most likely a little better this year, and much better after that," he said.

A compromise between the House and Senate budget resolutions being voted on in coming weeks includes a five percent increase in discretionary spending, one percent more than was requested by the president. Boehlert said he would be working with colleagues in the appropriations committees to see that some of that increase is captured for science. 

Mary Good of Venture Capital Investors, who chairs the AAAS board of directors, piggybacked on Boehlert's comments by emphasizing that arguments for more funding have to carefully take into account the $2.8 billion funding increase the NIH has received under the Bush budget proposal.

"One does not want to get into the argument that NIH is getting too much money," Good said. "The argument is that the others are getting too little. Only NIH is relatively flat with respect to the GDP. Everything else is dropping fast. We've got to couch our arguments in those kinds of ways."      
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