WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- President Bush used his pen Thursday to set the National Science Foundation on a path to double its budget within five years.
The president signed the agency's reauthorization bill in the White House's Roosevelt Room, surrounded by House and Senate sponsors of the bill.
The National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 authorizes more than $37 billion in funding through 2007 for the agency's research, grant and facilities construction programs. The agency has been chronically under funded for years, scientists and legislators have said, especially with the country's understandable focus on work at the National Institutes of Health.
The bill would allow more than $1.5 billion over three years in new funding for actual research programs. The NSF's stipend and grant programs for education are in line for almost $400 million in increased spending, while construction of major scientific facilities, such as radio telescopes and supercomputer clusters, would get $144 million.
The bill calls for the National Science Board to assist the NSF's director in picking the projects that represent the best use of available funds. The board and the agency must detail the reasons behind their choices.
"This is landmark legislation," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee, who championed the bill in the House. "From our nation's students, to our economy, and to our security, the fruits of this effort will be enjoyed for many years to come."
Another Science Committee member, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said his experience on the Gemini and Apollo space programs gave him the perspective to be alarmed at the agency's funding predicament.
"America's future prosperity will be at risk and our ability to win the war against terrorism will be compromised if we fail to reclaim our world leadership in educating and inspiring our young people to become scientists, engineers and mathematicians," Bartlett said.
Capitol Hill appropriators have the final say on spending levels. Congress remains caught in an impasse over the 2003 budget, however, said Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. These problems preclude any speculation on eventual NSF funding levels, Young told United Press International at a Capitol Hill briefing.
Scientific leaders have praised the NSF bill's passage; its success on Capitol Hill this year lies in sharp contrast to previous battles over the agency, said Martin Apple, president of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents.
The foundation sometimes survived only by the good graces of appropriators at budget time, he told UPI in an earlier interview.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich first raised the call for increased basic science funding, and the first President Bush also supported increased NSF budgets, Apple said. Even the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology recommended better balance in the nation's science portfolio, Apple said, but congressional wrangling held the idea up until now.
The key stumbling block had been the Office of Management and Budget's opposition to the final two years of funding in the bill. Lawmakers overcame those concerns with performance-based triggers on the spending.