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The Budget’s Mixed News

President Bush’s 2007 budget boosts the physical sciences, but cuts money for cancer research and other biomedical programs.
March 9, 2006

The proposed federal budget for 2007, released by President Bush earlier this week, calls for a significant increase in funding for physical sciences and technology. But it also proposes that overall funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) remain flat, with more dollars going for bioterrorism countermeasures and pandemic preparation, but cuts for research into such major diseases as cancer and diabetes.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush announced his American Competitiveness Initiative, which proposes $5.9 billion in 2007 for physical science and technology research, science education programs, and tax credits for research and development funding. Specifically, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will benefit from the plan.

Within the NSF, the National Nanotechnology Initiative could see an 8.6 percent increase over 2006, for a total of $373 million, and the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development agency is earmarked for a proposed 11.5 percent boost, to $904 million. Meanwhile, NIST saw an overall budgetary increase to $472 million, from $397 million in 2006. The money will go toward toward efforts such as fuel-cell fabrication and a better understanding of quantum information science.

This sort of governmental support is long overdue, says John Hopfield, president of the American Physical Society. “There’s been a dismal history of inadequate investment in physics, computer science, and the non-biology side of R&D in this country for the last 20 years,” he says.

According to Hopfield, the initiative is a response to two recent publications, one by the National Academies, another by the Innovation Task Force, describing the United States’ threatened global lead in innovation and technology. “If you look at the trends,” he says, “it’s pretty grim.”

Regarding the life sciences, however, the president’s budget was generally bad news. NIH funding will remain at $28.6 billion, with cuts in 18 of the 19 NIH institutes. If Congress accepts this budget plan, it would be the fourth consecutive year in which NIH dollars have failed to keep pace with biomedical inflation.

The largest proposed NIH cuts are in the National Cancer Institute, with a $40 million decrease in funding, to $4.75 billion, and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, which could lose $21 million, putting its 2007 allocation at $2.90 billion.

The cutting in research funding could be particularly painful for some fields. The proposed budget would cut $11 million from the NIH’s diabetes institute, at a time when the number of people with Type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing.

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