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Funding: Budget season in Congress; biomed R&D bucks stay flat

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Once again it’s time for Congress to cobble together funding bills for NIH, NSF, and the research arm of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and this time around the picture isn’t looking so good for biologists who rely on government funding to support their work, according to Federation of American Societies of Biology President Paul Kincaid. As of press time, the House of Representatives bill included a 2.6 percent increase in the NIH budget — effectively a decrease as inflation for biomedical research is expected to be 3.6 percent, Kincaid says.

The NIH budget provides the overwhelming bulk of funding for biomedical research, but proposed decreases in the budgets of NSF and the VA’s R&D arm aren’t welcome either, Kincaid adds. The kind of research associated with NSF funding is high-tech science that will boost all kinds of discovery, especially now that it’s clear how much biology can benefit from early-stage physical sciences research, Kincaid says. Furthermore, the proposed $111 million cut in the NSF budget is a far cry from symbolic, he adds. Nor is a five percent reduction in the VA R&D budget anything for the physician-scientists employed at the nation’s VA hospitals to cheer about, Kincaid says.

Overall, R&D spending for defense and homeland security purposes would see a substantial increase in funding with the bills currently under consideration. The House is proposing a whopping 19.3 percent increase in DHS’s R&D portfolio (the Senate version proposes a 17.2 percent increase), and Congress has already approved the DOD’s budget, with R&D funding up 7.1 percent to an all-time high of $70.3 billion. Meanwhile, funding for non-defense, non-homeland security R&D will remain flat, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Rounding things off, the Department of Energy’s R&D budget is slated to drop 8.3 percent to $1.3 billion.

While some budget analysts have justified the marginal increase in the NIH budget as a necessary measure of austerity in a time of ballooning government budget deficits, Kincaid notes that an increase of 2.6 percent for FY 2005 to $28.8 billion — versus the historical average increase of 7.2 percent — represents only a 0.025 percent reduction in the overall deficit.

— John S. MacNeil

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