Proposed budget for NASA science programs raises concern on Capitol Hill

Harsh realities face the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the President's fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget. Overall, the NASA science account received a modest 1.5 percent ($76.3 million) increase over the administration's FY 2006 request. Due to previous underestimates of the cost of maintaining space exploration activities, NASA has been forced to reprogram at least $3 billion. Because the overall budget has remained nearly flat, this reprogramming has forced cuts in other areas, such as scientific research.

In the budget request, the Solar System Research Account which funds astrobiology research received $273 million, $97 million less (down 26 percent) than the FY 2006 request. The Human Systems Research and Technology account declined 56 percent from the FY 2006 request to $274 million. One bright point is a proposed $136 million increase from the FY 2006 request for the Earth-Sun Systematic Missions account for earth-orbiting satellites. Overall, the programs would receive $301 million for activities that include Landsat ($71 million increase to $98.1), Glory (flat funding at $52 million), and the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System ($69 million increase to $70.1).

Members of the House Science Committee expressed concern about the numerous proposed funding cuts to NASA science programs during a 16 February 2006 NASA budget hearing. Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) summed up these concerns during his opening statement saying, "This budget is bad for space science, worse for Earth science." He also stressed the importance of NASA scientific research programs saying, "science isn't just good for scientists and its rewards are not just psychic. Science programs...push forward the technical frontiers. And Earth science programs help us figure out what policy choices we should be making on the most important planet in the universe: Earth."

The cuts to NASA's science programs come at the same time the President is promoting his American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). ACI would double funding in coming years for research at the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Representative Mark Udall (D-CO), chairman of the subcommittee on space and aeronautics, was "puzzled that the same administration that announced its American Competitiveness Initiative with such fanfare would turn around and cut research funding important to our universities' educational and research missions...Coupled with the cuts to NASA's long-term technology programs, the effective elimination of the life and microgravity science programs is a troubling indicator of an agency being forced to eat its seed corn to address near-term funding issues."

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin has defended the President's budget request saying the "budget for space and Earth Science has seen significant budget increases for over a decade, far surpassing any growth in NASA's top-line budgets during those years. For FY 2007-11, we cannot afford such growth for science within the context of a top-line budget that is growing at essentially the rate of inflation. Thus, NASA's science budget will grow by 1.5 percent in FY 2007 and 1 percent thereafter between 2008 and 2011."

EPA FY 07 budget request down, again

Following a multi-year trend, the administration's fiscal year 2007 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows few signs of life. In all, the president has request $7.3 billion for EPA. This amount is below the $7.5 billion the president request last year and below the $7.8 billion that Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year (FY 2006).

While the bottom line for EPA continues to slide, some research programs would see small funding increases in 2007. For instance, within the Office of Research and Development the administration has identified five priority programs: 1) Clean Air and Global Climate Change; 2) Clean and Safe Water; 3) Land Preservation and Restoration; 4) Healthy Communities and Ecosystems; and 5) Compliance and Environmental Stewardship.

Toward these goals, the administration would provide $215 million for the Clean Air and Global Change program, a $5 million increase over the FY 2005 appropriation. The Clean and Safe Water research program would jump to roughly $171 million, approximately $50 million more than the FY 06 mark. Although an identified priority area, the Land Preservation and Restoration program would fall to $12 million, down from the current mark of $15 million and the FY 2005 level of $48 million. Healthy Communities and Ecosystems would receive a bump from $334 million to $348 million. Finally, the Compliance and Environmental Stewardship program would fall from $51 million to $42 million.

Global competition a "reality," says new report

On 23 February the National Science Board issued its biennial report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. At a Capitol Hill briefing that coincided with the release, board members asserted that international competition in science and technology has gone from "potential" to "reality."

>From 1990 to 2003, international spending on research and development (R&D) grew from $377 billion to $810 billion. Much of that growth appears to have occurred in Asian nations. In 2003 the United States spent approximately $292 billion on national R&D.

The report also notes that US doctorates in science and engineering rose in 2003 for the first time in five years. Foreign student visas and graduate enrollment in science and engineering fields have also begun to climb again.

However, board members expressed concern over the United States' continued lackluster performance in math and science at the K-12 level. This concern prompted the NSB to release a companion report, America's Pressing Challenge: Building a Stronger Foundation, which focuses on education policy.

The report points to studies that show American students are not excelling in math and science as compared to students in many developed nations. It also says that a number of math and science teachers lack certification and/or relevant experience, and many leave the profession early for more lucrative lines of work. One study suggests that more than a third of new teachers leave within three years and half within five years.

To combat this high rate of burnout, the board suggests raising compensation to teachers to a level on par with other science and engineering workers and enhancing professional development opportunities.

Victory for science in Ohio, but threats remain around the country

Science supporters received a Valentine's Day present from the Ohio Board of Education. On 14 February 2006, the board overwhelmingly voted to remove a 2002 policy that encouraged public school students to "critically analyze" evolutionary theory. The defeat is a huge blow to anti-evolutionists who had often used the voluntary policy, which did not specifically mention intelligent design, as a model for other states looking to "teach the controversy."

The board that voted down the policy was also the same group that became the first in the nation to "scrutinize evolution" in their public education system. Members of the board that voted to remove the policy had been encouraged by the recent Dover, Pennsylvania federal court decision that ruled the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classrooms unconstitutional.

Critical analysis of evolution is at the center of another evolution debate, this time in South Carolina. On 13 February, the state Education Oversight Committee (EOC) voted to remove four lines that discussed evolution from their state science standards. The language had been approved by the state Board of Education. After removing the language, the EOC proposed a compromise that would require critical analysis of evolutionary theory in science classrooms.

To read more about previous EOC hearings, please refer to the 30 January 2006 AIBS Public Policy Report available at:

In other news, anti-evolution bills continue to be introduced around the country, including H.C.R. 1043 in Oklahoma that would require students to critically analyze evolution and H.B 1531 in Maryland that would create the "Teachers Academic Freedom Act." A similar "Academic Freedom" bill in Mississippi, S.B. 2427 passed the state Senate on 6 February and must now be considered by the state House.

Graduate student opportunity: ASM-AIBS Public Policy Internship

The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of a graduate student public policy internship. For more information and application instructions, please see the full announcement in the Classifieds section of the AIBS website at

New in BioScience: "The cost of doing business: should the United States create incentives for STEM labor?"

In the forthcoming March issue of BioScience, Jill Andres reports on the growing momentum for new science, engineering, technology and mathematics education and workforce incentives. The article will be available at Following is a brief excerpt from "The Cost of Doing Business: Should the United States Create Incentives for STEM Labor?"

"Academics, business leaders, and policymakers have all issued the warning: The United States is facing an imminent workforce shortage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that threatens the country's economic competitiveness in the global marketplace. Some nonprofit research groups and members of the science community, however, are chary of adding their voices to the chorus because past predictions concerning the STEM workforce have proved erroneous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), STEM employment will grow three times faster than employment in other fields, with the total number of STEM jobs increasing by 47 percent between 2000 and 2010. If STEM employment does grow as expected, can US universities produce enough skilled graduates to meet the demand? Many fear the answer is no: From 1994 through 2003, reports the Government Accountability Office, the number of STEM degrees earned failed to keep pace-by 22 percent-with the national average increase in all degrees earned, a possible early indicator of future STEM labor shortages."


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