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GOP Staffers Say Congress Will Seek Bigger Science Budget Despite Hurdles

WASHINGTON, April 12 – A representative of the House of Representatives Science Committee said Thursday the Republican-led committee would push to increase the science spending package in President George W. Bush’s 2002 proposed budget, but indicated that other pressures might dampen the effort.

“We think the science and technology numbers are too low -- the science number we're particularly concerned about is at NSF,” David Goldston, the House Science Committee’s staff director, said at the Washington Science Policy Alliance Forum on Research and Development.

“We’ll work with both the administration and our Appropriations colleagues to change that,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Republican majority in the committee, Goldston said that he does not agree with remarks made in the press that Bush’s budget proposals indicate an anti-science bias. 

“There's a real tendency to over-interpret, that is actually dangerous and can backfire,” warned Goldston.

While Bush has repeatedly asserted that research is a high priority for his administration, increasing numbers of lobbyists and editorials in the scientific press have disputed that claim, noting his proposals to reduce the budgets for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and US Department of Agriculture. The scientific community has also voiced its concern regarding Bush’s apparent reluctance to appoint a director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

However, Marcus Peacock, associate director for Natural Resources, Energy and Science at the Office of Management and Budget, attributed the delayed appointment of the director of the OSTP to the reluctance of eminent scientists to put themselves through the complicated approval process.

“It is amazing, the process people have to go through,” Peacock said. “It is difficult to find the caliber of people you need in that position who are willing to go through that process.”

Yet, despite promises to support a larger spending package for science in the 2002 budget, Goldston said campaign pledges and the tax cut might limit the amount of money that would be left over for science. The House has already come out in support of Bush’s proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

Goldston said the situation for science might improve in the 2003 budget, after Bush has made good on campaign pledges and settled the tax-cut issue. 

Goldston added that scientists would also need to make a better case for more funding than has been made so far to date.

“The basic level of analysis we have has never really gotten beyond 'more is better', 'doubling sounds kind of nice', 'one agency growing quicker than the other doesn't really seem very fair,'" he said.

Last week, the Senate passed a budget resolution that would give science $1.44 billion more than Bush’s proposed budget, indicating strong bipartisan support for a larger spending package for the sciences. 

The House and Senate will spend the next few months reconciling their separate budget resolutions, which will be the basis for appropriations bills to be considered by the president in the fall.

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