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Universities make strides in federal budget

December 6, 1999 By Brian Mattmiller

For the second straight year, Congress has made a strong show of support for higher education by bolstering budgets for basic research, student financial aid and information technology.

Perhaps the largest impact for the campus will be the nearly 15 percent increase in spending for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That agency supplies slightly more than half of the total $320 million in federal research funding UW–Madison receives.

“Congress should be applauded for this very forward-looking budget, which continues to place basic research and financial access to college among the nation’s top priorities,” says UW–Madison Chancellor David Ward.

“There’s general recognition (in Congress) that higher education is where the future is, and that research advances are where we will build our progress for years to come,” says Rhonda Norsetter, special assistant to the chancellor for federal government relations.

A strong national economy helped produce many winners in the fiscal 2000 appropriations bill passed by the 106th Congress, but long-term forces also look good for universities, Norsetter says. Both houses of Congress are currently debating a plan to double research spending over the next decade.

Budget highlights include:

  • NIH funding increased by 14.7 percent, to $17.9 billion; National Science Foundation (NSF) by 6.7 percent, to $3.9 billion; Department of Energy funding by 4.3 percent, to $2.79 billion; and Department of Defense applied research funding by 6.7 percent, to $3.4 billion.

    Collectively, the four agencies fund more than 80 percent of all federally sponsored research at UW–Madison.

  • Pell Grants, the largest federally supported student aid offering, received a 5.6 percent increase in their annual maximum to $3,300. Another staple of student support, the Work Study program, increased by 7.3 percent to $934 million.
  • Some specialized student aid programs had even larger increases. A graduate education program increased 65 percent to $51 million; and a new program called GEAR UP, which links universities with at-risk children in middle-school grades, received an $80 million funding boost for a total of $200 million.
  • An NIH Facilities Bill authorizes $250 million this year and $500 million next year to help universities upgrade their labs and specialized research instruments.
  • Information technology received a more concerted focus this year, Norsetter says. In addition to $325 million for President Clinton’s IT2 Initiative, a bipartisan effort produced “The Networking and Information Technology Research Act.” The act will authorize spending nearly $5 billion over the next five years for IT research.

Norsetter says the budget maintains a loyalty to the peer-reviewed, competitive system of awarding research grants, rather than earmarking funds for specific districts. UW–Madison faculty have traditionally fared extremely well when agencies like NIH and NSF are bolstered because they rely on competition for the best proposals.

“Success in those agencies means a lot to UW–Madison,” Norsetter says. “But even with these increases, the competition is really stiff. Getting funded is still a measure of our competitiveness with our peers around the country.”

Tags: budget, research