Novemberテつ*24, 2004

US Congress passes FY05 budgets

Research advocates troubled over cuts and meager increases for science and medicine | By Ted Agres

A post-election "lame duck" Congress returned to Washington last week and approved an omnibus funding measure for fiscal year (FY) 2005, which began October 1. By holding overall discretionary domestic spending to last year's levels, the measure gives Spartan increases-and even some cuts-to scientific and medical research.

The $388.4-billion omnibus appropriations bill (HR 4818) approved November 20 combines the remaining nine of 13 spending measures that had not been passed before Congress adjourned in October. The measure consolidates budgets for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and most federal agencies other than the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security. The House is expected to approve a technical correction to the package today (November 24), clearing the way for President Bush's signature.

Under the compromise legislation, NIH will receive about $28.4 billion, a 2% increase of $563 million over last year. This will give most institutes and centers increases of 1.6% to 2.4%, failing to keep pace with the biomedical research and development price index, projected at 3.5%. In September, the House had approved $28.5 billion, a 2.6% increase of $727 million over FY 2004's funding, matching the administration's request. The Senate that same month authorized boosting NIH's appropriation by 4% to $28.9 billion, a $1.1 billion increase over last year and some $373 million more than the House and Administration's number. The NIH budget is included in one of the 9 budget bills that were not acted on earlier.

Howard Garrison, director of public affairs for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, was sanguine about NIH's modest increase. "It was certainly far less than what we had hoped for, but we appreciate the fact that we were recognized with what little discretionary funding was available," he told The Scientist. "We're going to have to go back and make our case with greater skill next year."

The omnibus also gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) $4.5 billion, an increase of $129 million, or 3.0%, over last year. An earlier Senate bill would have boosted CDC funding to $4.8 billion, a 5% increase of $228.4 million over last year, $345 million more than the White House request, and $33 million more than the earlier House level.

NIH's final budget increase, while meager compared to 15% average annual increases during the 1998-2003 budget doubling period, seems generous compared to NSF's cut of $106.7 million or 1.9%, which reduces its budget to $5.5 billion this year. "It stinks," declared Adrienne Sponberg, director of public policy at American Institute of Biological Sciences.

A nonbinding resolution signed into law in December 2002 called for NSF to receive substantial annual increases to double its budget by FY 2007. Earlier this year, more than a third of the House members expressed continuing support for substantially boosting NSF's funding. "If in response to that, a 2% decrease is the best we can do, I hate to think what's coming next year for the FY06 budget," Sponberg told The Scientist.

Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Standards, and Technology, said he was "concerned and astonished" that congressional appropriators decided to cut NSF's funding in the omnibus budget, which he said he signed "under protest."

"I regret that we are using an omnibus bill to finish the appropriations process for FY 2005," Ehlers said in a statement. "It is not a good procedure, under any circumstances, when we are required to vote on a bill with insufficient time for review."

Links for this article
T. Agres, "Congress punts the budget" The Scientist, October 12, 2004.テつ*
T. Agres, "Meddling in peer review?" The Scientist, September 15, 2004.テつ*
T. Agres, "Incremental advances for life science funding," The Scientist, September 16, 2003.テつ*
"Ehlers expresses concern over National Science Foundation funding," Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers press release, November 22, 2004. ng.htmlテつ*