Science  25 Feb 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5457, pp. 1377

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  1. NIH Envy

    Congress began looking over President Clinton's $43 billion civilian science budget request last week, with hearings on various agencies. Two reports from the front lines:

    Building upon the generally positive reaction to the record $675 million increase the White House has proposed for her agency in 2001, National Science Foundation (NSF) director Rita Colwell is already out for more.

    Asked last week by a very supportive House Science Committee if there were any “unmet needs” in the foundation's proposed $4.6 billion portfolio, Colwell didn't miss a beat. “I'd like to bring the size of our grants at least to the level of the average [National Institutes of Health] grant,”she said, which at $300,000-plus per year is now about four times larger. Bigger grants would make scientists more efficient, she explained, by reducing the time spent submitting applications and reviewing proposals. Funding this year's request, she added, would allow NSF's average grant size to jump from about $80,000 to $108,000.

    Colwell said she hoped to achieve the goal in 4 years. The cost? “It would take another $4 billion,” she said coolly.

  2. Show and Tell

    Last year's murmured worries that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may not be able to spend its ballooning budget effectively appear to be growing louder this year. Appearing before a House appropriations subcommittee last week, NIH acting director Ruth Kirschstein fielded a bevy of questions about how the agency can ensure that a proposed $1 billion increase will go to high-quality science.

    Challenged by subcommittee chair Representative John Porter (R-IL) to develop “convincing evidence … that this money is being spent wisely,” Kirschstein said that the agency is struggling to develop measures—from grant statistics to quality-of-life measures—that demonstrate good stewardship. “We have ideas but haven't quite gotten there,” she said.

    Few observers, however, expect the doubts to undermine congressional support for another NIH increase this year.