Science  26 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5701, pp. 1453

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  1. A Bare-Bones Budget for Science

    Congress left town this week after belatedly finishing its work on the 2005 federal budget. The $388 billion bill, which covers most of the government's domestic discretionary spending, is a turkey for most U.S. scientists. Details were still being worked out as Science went to press, however. Unless noted otherwise, the numbers below don't include an across-the-board cut of nearly 1% imposed to make the package more palatable to fiscal conservatives.

    National Institutes of Health: In the second year of a sharp slowdown after a 5-year budget doubling, NIH received a 2% increase to $28.1 billion, according to figures in flux at press time. The roughly $586 million raise—which would reflect the across-the-board cut—falls short of the president's request of $729 million more. Funds available for programs will be even lower because of a 2.3% to 2.5% “tap” to fund other Public Health Service programs and an up to $150 million set-aside for the Global Aids Fund. Biomedical research watchers anticipate severe trims to grant success rates in 2005. The good news: The final bill drops House language barring funds for two psychology research grants opposed by conservatives.

    National Science Foundation: For the first time in nearly 20 years, NSF's research account will fail to grow. Freezing the $4.25 billion account is part of a deal that shrinks the agency's total budget by nearly 2%, to $5.5 billion. That drop of more than $100 million compares with the president's request for a $167 million increase.

    NSF's plans for building major research facilities will be reined in. The bill also accepts the president's request to slash the math-science partnerships program linking university scientists with local school districts. Overall, the budget “is not good news,” says one senior NSF official.

    NASA: The space agency appears to have scored a victory with a $15.9 billion budget that's $344 million shy of the president's request but far more than either the House or a Senate panel had recommended. But agency officials say NASA could still find itself more than $800 million in the hole. One reason is nearly $400 million in earmarks. Another is the loss of at least $120 million from the across-the-board cut. Then there is the rising price of returning the space shuttle to flight and the urgent need to begin funding a repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. “Most grim” is how one agency official put the news.

  2. Wisconsin Proposes Stem Cell Boost

    Wisconsin is making a bid to keep up with California as a stem cell research mecca. Governor James Doyle last week proposed that the state invest up to $750 million in stem cell and related studies over the next several years, including more than $500 million in new facilities and research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    The plan's biggest plum is a $375 million public-private interdisciplinary research institute to be known as the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Based at the university, it will combine stem cell research with research on other areas, such as bioinformatics and computer science.

    Carl Gulbrandsen, director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, says the funding plan—portions of which must still be approved by the legislature—has been in the works for the past 6 months. But the recent passage of California's $3 billion stem cell research initiative “really helped to jell it.” Antiabortion groups say they will ask the legislature to make sure the funds aren't used for “unethical” research.

    Gulbrandsen says WiCell, created to permit University of Wisconsin researchers to do stem cell work that doesn't involve federal funds, will continue as a private entity. But prominent WiCell researcher James Thomson will have a “central role” in the larger plans.

  3. Hungary Again Eyes Cuts to Science Budget

    In what is shaping up to be a yearly ritual, the Hungarian government is taking an ax to its science budget. It has proposed a 15% spending cut for its $33 million basic research agency, OTKA, on top of a 10% government-wide spending reduction. The government dealt a similar financial blow to the agency's 2004 budget (Science, 19 March, p. 1745), but a letter-writing campaign to the prime minister helped win back $1.5 million for postdoctoral stipends and Internet resources for universities.

    This time, researchers are rallying Parliament to their side: An amendment to a spending bill passed late last month by the Education and Science Committee would restore most of OTKA's funds. But the rescue amendment faces several hurdles, says OTKA president Gábor Makara, who warns that this year's cut would be disastrous for research and training.