Washington, DC — The White House is now seeking to place its stamp on federal scientific spending during the Bush administration’s final year in office, according to a memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The budgetary priorities announced for Fiscal Year 2009 display a preference for engineering projects from space exploration to hydrogen fuel development, stress domestic and military security and, with minor exceptions, discourage new public health or environmental initiatives.
The memo, entitled “FY 2009 Administration Research and Development Budget Priorities,” is signed by John Marburger, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Stephen McMillen, then acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and directed to “Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.” Distributed in mid-August, the memo lays down guidance for preparing the proposed budget that the President will unveil next February, including —
- Increased funding for “physical sciences and engineering” research contained in President Bush’s “American Competitive Initiative” as well as heightened investment in defense research, homeland security efforts and the “President’s space exploration vision”;
- Emphasis on “high-leverage basic research to spur technological innovation…and job growth” as well as other “high-payoff activities” such as nanotechnology and genetic medicine; and
- A commitment to monitoring “global climate variability” and developing “advanced energy technologies that cost-effectively reduce greenhouses gases.”
“The White House has a guns and butter science strategy of funneling funding to whatever it perceives as enhancing security or preserving wealth,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that these increases will force other research cuts as competition heightens for scarcer dollars in a budget consumed by hemorrhaging spending on the Iraq war. “Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is closing its libraries and losing the capacity to assess long term public health threats from pesticides, hormone disrupters and myriads of new chemicals entering the stream of commerce every year.”
The White House memo mentions “scientific integrity…and [the need] to have clear principles, guidelines and/or policies on issues such as scientific openness, scientific misconduct, conflict of interest, protection of privacy, and the appropriate treatment of human subjects.” Yet, it provides no specifics on what, if any, leadership the White House will provide agencies facing mounting criticism on precisely those issues.
“One of the legacies of the Bush administration is a dubious new standard for political manipulation of science, even down to the field level,” Ruch added, pointing to an array of scandals and resignations involving political appointees either altering or suppressing inconvenient scientific findings and recommendations. “No one will think back on this administration as ushering in a golden age of science.”