Federal R&D spared from general axing Essay

The budget request that President Reagan sent to Congress this week attempts to freeze this coming year’s federal nondefense spending at fiscal year (FY) 1985 levels. But the key adjective is “nondefense.”

Since two thirds of the $52.6 billion in outlays being proposed for support of research and development (R;D) would go toward defense-related programs, the federal R;D budget would actually be allowed to climb 14.7 percent in this austere budget — a real gain of 10 percent when inflation is taken into account. (Outlays are actual sums that would be spent, as opposed to obligations, which are commitments to spend money in the current or future fiscal years.)

Overall funding outlays for basic research would increase by 5 percent in this budget; obligations for engineering and physical science components would climb 7 percent, the same increase slated for the National Science Foundation (NSF). In explaining how the administration targeted its few increases, Presidential Science Adviser George A. Keyworth II says programs were generally judged on their potential for making U.S. products more competitive in international markets, for reducing the deficit and for aiding national defense–specifically, reducing the presence and threat of nuclear weapons.

Keyworth cites the latter, for example, in justifying the administration’s $3.7 billion appropriations request for the Defense Department’s Strategic Defense Initiative (or “Star Wars” program) — a figure 2-1/2 times its current FY ’85 budget allotment. Similarly, he says, increases in biotechnology and in earth sciences and oceanographic studies were motivated by their potential payoff in terms of the nation’s economic competitiveness. At NSF, biotechnology programs benefit with a proposed increase of $9.3 million, up 13.3 percent. NSF research on the earth’s continental lithosphere (crust)–owing to its relevance to energy and minerals exploration–has been targeted for a 62.7 percent increase, to $11.4 million.
To free up some money for research, Keyworth says that the design and construction of many large research projects would be slowed or deferred at least a year. Unable to name those affected, he does say they would not included the Cold Neutron Research Facility for materials-science studies at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), the Superconducting Super Collider (SN: 9/22/84, p. 181) or the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (SN: 9/17/83, p. 190).

Offsetting some of the big increases are a few proposed program terminations. Included among them are:

* The $31 million magnetohydrodynamics program in the Energy Department’s fossil fuels technology program.

* The $19.5 million Sea Grant program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In fact, the Reagan administration has asked that even this year’s FY ’85 budget for the program be rescinded.

* The Center for Fire Research at NBS. Funding of the type of work conducted there was deemed “more property the role of the private sector and state and local governments.” Like Sea Grant, this program was proposed for termination by the administration last year too.

* Small NSF programs titled Ethics and Values in Science and Technology, Productivity Improvement Research, Inter-governmental Science and Technology, Science and Innovation Policy, Policy Sciences, and Regulation and Policy Analyses. These programs were considered too low in priority for funding during a period of constrained budgets.

* NOAA’s $5.6 million aquaculture program, $1.4 million agricultural weather and fruit frost program, and $400,000 ocean thermal energy conversion licensing program.

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