For US Readers of Taxacom: US Govt. Science Budgets
James H. Beach
jbeach at NSF.GOV
Mon May 6 11:40:24 CDT 1996
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Dr. James H. Beach Tel: 703 306-1470
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The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 72: May 3, 1996
Perspective: AAAS Calculations on Projected Cuts in R&D Spending
The recent analysis by the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS) of the Clinton Administration's future project
for federal nondefense R&D funding is certain to draw much
attention this year (see FYI #71.) Last year, there was great
concern about a Republican budget blueprint to make future R&D
cuts. The questions arise: how did we get here, when support for
research and development is strong on both ends of Pennsylvania
Avenue, and can anything be done to prevent these reductions?
The cuts which research and development are facing over the next
seven years are not unique, and are probably significantly less
than many other areas of federal spending. They have come into
focus as a result of agreement that the federal government's budget
should balance by the year 2002.
In reaching this balance, the hands of government leaders are tied
by a number of factors. One, there does not seem to be any desire
to increase federal taxes. While this sentiment could very well
change, the new push to reduce the gasoline tax is an indication of
the unwillingness to raise taxes. Two, there is no way to avoid
paying interest on the national debt, which has become an
ever-increasing part of the federal budget. Three, there is not
enough political muscle to enact entitlement program reform. The
resounding defeat of the administration's health care reform
package, and as Rep. Vernon Ehlers' (R-MI) recently put it, the
crucifixion of Republicans over their efforts to reform Medicare
are clear signs that entitlement reform is some ways off.
With these constraints, and a goal to balance the budget by 2002,
the only remaining area that can be cut is discretionary spending
-- that part of the budget which is controlled by annual
appropriations. There is general agreement that, except for
efforts at the margin, defense spending cannot be cut further.
That leaves domestic discretionary spending, which is the source of
federal R&D spending.
Making this even more difficult is the continuing percentage of the
federal budget consumed by entitlement spending. Ehlers, at a
recent AAAS R&D colloquium, said that at the rate entitlement
spending is growing, there will be nothing left in the federal
budget for domestic discretionary programs early in the next
In the coming squeeze, Ehlers warned, "there will be no sacred
cows." Similar warnings were given by Senator Pete Domenici
(R-NM), who said that "the pie is shrinking so dramatically."
Echoing these remarks was a senior Office of Management and Budget
official who said at a recent PCAST meeting that "It's going to be
a tough haul over the next couple of years." NSF Director Neal
Lane agreed, declaring, "For a while, we are going to have to make
some tough decisions."
There are, of course, a number of ways to avoid these reductions.
There may yet be significant entitlement reform. Political leaders
could agree to increase federal revenues. Most likely of all, the
willingness to make the deep cuts in domestic discretionary
spending, which Domenici estimated to be $46 billion in one of the
later years of the seven year plan, might not be there. Domenici
said no one on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue would be prepared
to make cuts of this magnitude.
Nevertheless, science budgets are often charted over several years,
particularly for big ticket existing projects and new starts. The
relentless downward spiral in the domestic discretionary slice of
the federal pie from which this money will come has to be of
What should be the response of the science community to these
indicators? Rep. George Brown (R-CA) offers both a recommendation
and a warning: "The only way the numbers are going to improve above
the President's projections is if the R&D community and the public
give Members and the President a reason to change them. As of now,
the community is making inadequate efforts to educate the public
and politicians about the stakes of these programs and making only
weak efforts to get involved in the process of setting budget
priorities. Spending public money and setting national priorities
is an inherently political and increasingly partisan process. We
can all regret this situation, but we still have to cope with it.
The scientific community needs to step up to the challenge or live
with the consequences."
Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi at aip.org
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