The independent news organization of Duke University

Bush flat-lines higher ed funding

Duke administrators were mostly disappointed with the $2.2 trillion budget President George W. Bush proposed earlier this week and what it may hold in store for research funding and higher education.

While officials lauded a proposed 9 percent increase in funding for the National Science Foundation, they expressed concern that funding for other organizations - ranging from the National Institutes of Health to student aid - would remain flat for the proposed 2004 fiscal year budget. Officials also remained concerned that appropriations spending for the 2003 fiscal year had not yet been approved by Congress.

"My reaction was that it's very worrisome for higher education and for science," said Nan Nixon, assistant vice president for federal relations, who is Duke's top lobbyist in Washington. "The good news is increased funding for the National Science Foundation, and also the National Endowment for the Humanities is funded up. But otherwise things look pretty flat, flat or down."

The federal budget's spending on research has a huge ripple effect on funding at many universities, especially at Duke, which is one of the top recipients of grants from both the NIH and the NSF.

James Siedow, vice provost for research, said the NSF increases sounded encouraging, but that he would be disappointed if other agencies did not receive substantial increases.

"I have only just read through a synopsis of the Bush proposals for NSF, NIH and USDA budgets and the preliminary estimates with respect to NIH look worrisome, but I really need to see more of the details," he wrote in an e-mail.

Siedow said the University, in its 2002 fiscal year, spent $112.9 million on sponsored projects, 71 percent of which was supported by federal money - $28.2 million from the NIH, $19.2 million from the NSF and $14.7 million from the Department of Defense.

On the Medical Center side, in the 2002 fiscal year, outside research funds totaled $350.6 million, 61 percent of which was supported by federal money - including $204 million from the NIH, $0.8 million from the NSF and $5.2 million from Defense, said Scott Gibson, the medical school's associate vice dean for finance and resource planning.

Dr. Ross McKinney, vice dean for research at the medical school, said he was not optimistic about the budget's funding for medical research.

"We're very concerned about the relatively limited amount of money that's been put in for NIH increases," he said. "The issue is that with inflation and with the grants already funded, if you don't increase funding by a significant amount, you in fact decrease it."

McKinney said Duke would be vying for a share of the increased funding for bioterrorism research, pointing to a grant proposal from Dr. Barton Haynes, director of the Human Vaccine Institute, to become one of 10 national hubs for bioterrorism research.

Nixon said that surprisingly, given the attention to international affairs, international education - including areas studies centers and foreign language - would not receive much of an increase.

Furthermore, both McKinney and Nixon expressed concern that the Congress has not yet appropriated the 2003 funds for the budget.

"It's already having an effect," McKinney said. "Lots of grants which normally would have been funded are sitting on hold until this year's budget gets finalized."

Nixon added that she thought Congress would approve the funds by President's Day weekend, but that she and President Nan Keohane have lobbied legislators for approval as soon as possible.

Bush announced his budget proposal Monday. Projecting greater than $300 billion in deficit spending - without the possible costs of a war in Iraq-the budget hopes to boost military spending and security improvements, while targeting the slumping economy with massive tax cuts.

Specifically, the president's budget included the follow spending recommendations:

an increase of $1.9 billion over the requested 2003 levels for the federal Pell Grant program to $12.7 billion, which is designed to reduce a shortfall in the program - the maximum grant would remain $4,000 per student.

a proposed 9 percent increase in NSF funding, following a congressional resolution last year that called for a 15 percent boost each year over the next three years. Most of the 2004 funding increases would be aimed at nanotechnology, mathematics and physical sciences.

only a 1.8 percent increase in NIH funding, following what has been almost a doubling of its budget over the past five years. Bioterrorism research would receive most of the extra funds this year; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is responsible for bioterrorism research, would receive a 9 percent increase over the proposed 2003 levels and 72 percent increase over the 2002 levels.

a $27.5 million increase in spending for the National Endowment for the Arts, a 22 percent increase over the 2002 levels, although $25 million of that would go to Bush's "We the People" project to increase understanding of American history and culture. Funding for other projects would primarily remain flat.

$117 million for the National Endowment of the Arts, which is unchanged from the 2002 levels.

requests for $1 billion in research and development funds from the Department of Homeland Security, $800 million of which would fund the department's Science and Technology Directorate, which will work with universities to develop new anti-terrorism technologies.

a 5 percent, or $541 million, decline in the science and technology budget of the Department of Defense, which would eliminate projects earmarked in the 2003 budget. Defense is one of the only appropriation bills to have its 2003 budget passed and in place. The military provides more than 40 percent of the government's research for computer science, and nearly one-third of all federal support for engineering studies. Sixty percent of the military's research is done by universities.

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