Congress cut the budget requests for most science agencies for the fiscal year that began on 1 October, but it preserved big science projects from the ax
The 102nd Congress plowed through a massive stack of legislation in the final hours before the elected representatives dashed out of Washington on 6 October to face the voters. In the cloud of dust that trailed behind them, they left some important, though mixed, decisions for science. The good news is that basic research was not completely trampled, though it was bruised here and there. It could have been worse, considering the pressure on Congress this fall to deliver short-term economic band-aids. The bad news, however, is that Congress focused its generosity mainly on big, glossy research projects, leaving small science to fend for itself. The result: Investigator-initiated research, which some regard as the heart and soul of U.S. science, will be eroded by inflation in the next year.
To make matters worse for basic researchers, Congress also seemed intent on steering research toward goals that are more "applied" than "basic," as an aid to economic competitiveness. And, in spite of the pressure to cut budgets, Congress showed no sign of curbing its taste for pork-barrel projects (Science, 2 October, p. 22).
Most of these trends were evident in the budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF, after winning significant funding increases for the past few years, was singled out for one of the largest increases of any agency in the Administration's fiscal year 1993 budget request - a whopping 18%. But after Congress was through, NSF emerged with $2.733 billion, only about 6% more than last year. Within this total, the amount for research and related activities is $1.859 billion - $13 million less than last year, and $338 million less than the Administration sought - while the share set aside for education went up by 5% to $488 million. Joel Widder of NSF's congressional office says it isn't clear yet which programs will feel the pain, but NSF will make sacrifices.
Some NSF projects are protected from cuts, however, by order of Congress. These include: $43 million for the Laser Interferometry Gravitational Wave...