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From Washington: budget FY 1991: the numbers tell the R&D story


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This is the time of year when talk turns to fiscal budgets. In Washington, however, such banter typically involves astronomical sums of money.When President Bush released his proposed budget for FY 1991 last January, the reaction from the scientific community was mixed. Many observed that seldom have research and development (R&D) projects been given as prominent a place in a federal budget. Other industry watchers, while less enthusiastic, had to agree that in many respects R&D fared better under this year's budget than last year's.However, understanding the details of the budget is far more important than reviewing its broad outlines. For that reason, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) calls members of the scientific community to Washington each spring to dissect, denounce and defend the government's R&D funding plans for the next fiscal year.The Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy conference centered around the analytical findings of the AAAS's Research and Development FY 1991 report. The three-day conference was peppered with high-ranking White House officials who either defined the specific branches of the government's R&D interests or discussed the possible implications the budget poses for future projects.There is an overall 7 percent budget increase for R&D, with a 12 percent increase in nondefense R&D programs and an 8 percent increase in basic research. In the area of computer science and engineering, DARPA, NSF, and the ONR remain the largest sources of government funds for R&D.Federal support in computer science is divided into two basic categories: defense and civilian. More than 60 percent of total federal R&D expenditures in computer science and engineering are supported by the defense sector. Moreover, federal R&D activities are conducted in government and nonuniversity labs as well as in universities. The majority of the funding for computer science research supports activities outside of universities.D. Allan Bromley, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), explains the thinking behind the President's budget: To prioritize funding requests, the Office of Management and Budget follows three basic guidelines. They include 1. Programs that address national needs and national security concerns,
  • 2. Basic research projects, particularly university-based, individual and small group research, and
  • 3. Adequate funding for the nation's scientific infrastructure and facilities.
  • Bromley points out that one of the primary avenues OSTP will emphasize this year is high-performance computing—a dynamic technology for industrial, research and national security applications. Of first concern will be the development of hardware to enhance mainframes and address the parallelism needed to make TERAOP computers perform trillions of operations per second. The next phase will be software development, followed by the construction of a fiber optic network.Bromley, who also serves as assistant to the President for Science and Technology, calls the FY 1991 budget an excellent one for R&D. However, he is quick to add there are problems with those numbers. (One of the most serious involves the funding rate for grants at the NSF and National Institute of Health (NIH). Despite a decade of funding increases, the money available for new, young investigators is very tight. Indeed, the scientist community is partly to blame, he says.“We argued for multiyear grants and contracts to cut down on the amount of paperwork required to do research,” recalls the OSTP director. “Both NSF and NIH have responded to those requests, and in the process they built substantial ‘outyear mortgages&rsquo’ for themselves.”

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