Science  30 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5428, pp. 647

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  1. Waiting and Worrying

    Preliminary signs are that biomedical research again will be the big winner in the 2000 budget, while other disciplines fight to keep from losing ground.

    Last week, the House appropriations subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education scheduled a vote on a bill to raise the budget of the National Institutes of Health by 8.6% in 2000, to $16.95 billion, according to congressional aides. But the meeting was canceled after battles over tax cuts and domestic programs made it impossible to reach agreement. So Representative John Porter (R-IL), the subcommittee chair, put the plan on indefinite hold. The counterpart subcommittee in the Senate, chaired by Arlen Specter (R-PA), hasn't even set a date for a vote.

    On Monday the House did take its first step toward funding the National Science Foundation (NSF). But the news wasn't good: The Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs spending panel recommended a 1.5% cut in NSF's current $3.74 billion budget, which the Administration had wanted to raise by 5.8%. The panel deferred all but $35 million of a $146 million information technology initiative, including $35 million for a teraflops computer. However, it did approve $35 million of a proposed $50 million biocomplexity effort.

    NSF director Rita Colwell didn't try to mask her disappointment. “We're able and ready to do 21st century science and engineering—but we can't do it on a 20th century budget,” she said in a prepared statement. At the same time, NSF official Joel Widder says it could have been “a lot worse” had the committee not used an accounting gimmick: Appropriators declared $5.4 billion for veterans' health care and disaster relief “emergency” funding, so that it wouldn't count against the amount the panel can spend.

    NASA received even worse news from the same panel, which cut $1.325 billion from its $13.67 billion budget. “These cuts would gut space exploration,” says NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. “NASA has always stepped up to budgetary challenges, but this time [we] plan to fight.” The full House was kinder to defense- related research, voting a 5.9% boost, to $8.25 billion, in the science and technology portion of the defense budget. That reverses the Administration's proposed cuts and tops the modest 1.1% increase in the Senate.

  2. Pardon Ahead?

    Supporters of Ahn Jae-ku, a jailed 65-year-old Korean mathematician, are hoping that the longtime human rights activist will be freed next month as part of ceremonies for the country's annual Liberation Day on 15 August. Ahn was fired in 1976 from Kyoungbuk University for criticizing the then- military government and was arrested and convicted in 1979 for “antistate” activities. After his release in 1988, he was rearrested in 1994 for forming a discussion group that was alleged to be working on behalf of North Korea. Last year his life sentence was reduced to 20 years.

    Ahn's son, Sae Min, says that President Kim Dae Jung, himself a former political prisoner, “made a promise to many people” during an award ceremony last month in Philadelphia. “That's why I think he'll be freed.” Last week the human rights committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences sent a letter to Kim urging Ahn's release.

  3. The Big Sweep

    In a surprising promotion, anthropologist Richard Leakey has been elevated from director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) to head of the civil service, the highest nonpolitical job in the Kenyan administration. Leakey has been an outspoken critic of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, but in announcing the appointment Moi said Leakey has his full support to “change the culture of corruption and inefficiency in our public service.” Leakey told Science he plans to push for “policies rooted in conservation.” Biologist Nehemiah Rotich, head of the East African Wildlife Society and acting director of KWS, is rumored to be a top candidate to succeed Leakey.

  4. Manhattan Bound?

    The rumors that Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, may move to New York City to take charge of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) have been bolstered by a claimed starting date: 1 February 2000. According to researchers at a recent Gordon Conference, that's when Varmus would succeed Paul Marks, who announced his plans to retire in 2000 last year. Varmus was out of town, as was Marks, and neither could be reached for comment. Says an MSKCC press officer: “It's a nice rumor; I just hope it's true.”