ScienceScope

Science  14 Dec 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5550, pp. 2265
  1. Budget Strings

    Science has learned that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is slated to get an increase of 4% to 5% in the president's upcoming budget request for 2003. That's pretty good during a war, observers say. But the money comes with some strings attached.

    The biggest flap surrounds the White House's plan to transfer $121 million from four other agencies (Science, 7 December, p. 2066). Supporters of three Smithsonian Institution centers are howling the loudest about a shift of $35 million. But three other programs also take a hit: $19 million from the Environmental Protection Agency's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program of environmental grants and graduate fellowships; $10 million from hydrology programs at the U.S. Geological Survey, and $57 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sea Grant program. The White House also wants to add $60 million to a math and science education partnerships program that will debut in 2002 with $160 million. But NSF may be forced to trim other programs.

  2. International Ire

    European, Japanese, and Canadian officials blasted NASA last week for unilaterally scaling back plans for the international space station. At a 6 December NASA advisory group meeting in Washington, D.C., the partners rejected a U.S. money-saving move to trim the station's crew from six to three. “Totally unacceptable,” said J. Feustel-Büechl of the European Space Agency. The Europeans plan to write a protest letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Meanwhile, NASA-Administrator-to-Be Sean O'Keefe said at his 7 December Senate confirmation hearing that it is his “fondest hope” to expand the station's crew. But soaring costs in the station and other programs are forcing NASA to “ride the crest of a wave we don't fully control.”

  3. Looking Up

    The European Union's (E.U.'s) Council of Research Ministers, meeting in Brussels on 10 December, has approved a $15.6 billion science budget for 2002–06—a 17% overall increase over the previous 4-year period. The Sixth Framework Program will include support for three new research areas: health-related research in genomics and biotech ($1.9 billion), nanotechnology ($1.2 billion), and food safety ($609 million). Andrea Dahman, spokesperson for E.U. research commissioner Philippe Busquin, expects the plan to win final approval soon from the European Parliament and the E.U.'s finance ministers. “We don't expect any major hiccups,” she says.

  4. World-Class Headache

    British academics have improved the quality of their research over the last 5 years, according to a new national review released this week. But the gains may cause headaches for government funders, who will be expected to reward the most improved labs with cash.

    The Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) uses expert panels to grade university departments on their work; it then uses the results to divvy up more than $1 billion in annual infrastructure funding. Higher scoring labs win more cash. This year, 64% of the reviewed work was rated of national or international excellence, up from 43% in the last review. The jump “demonstrates the value of awarding research funds selectively to reward quality,” says HEFCE chief Howard Newby.

    But the council now must consider whether it can feed a bigger class of ribbon winners from a fixed funding pie. It planned to meet this week to discuss options, which could include tinkering with the reward formula and asking the government for up to $240 million in new funds.

  5. Olsen, Tarter on the Move

    NASA's chief scientist is slated to become a top aide at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). President George W. Bush will soon nominate neuroscientist Kathie Olsen (below) to be OSTP's associate director for science. If confirmed by the Senate, she will be one of two top assistants to OSTP chief John Marburger. Olsen has been NASA's top scientist since 1999 and spent more than a decade at the National Science Foundation.

    CREDIT: NASA

    Bruce Tarter, for 7 years director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, announced last week that he will step aside once a replacement is found. Tarter is credited with steering Livermore, a mainstay of the nation's nuclear weapons complex, through the end of the Cold War, forging new roles in supercomputing and environmental research. But his tenure was marred by massive cost overruns in the National Ignition Facility, a giant laser, and last year he was denied a pay raise.

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