Tthe Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) releasedthe Clinton administration's first "Fixit" budget on Monday, butprecisely what the priorities of the budget will be is still beingdebated.
The Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering andTechnology (better known by the homonym of its acronym,FCCSET, as Fixit) was established by Congress to coordinateresearch and development efforts among federal agenciesinvolved in critical areas of science and technology. FormerPresident Bush's science adviser, Alan Bromley, dusted the planoff just in time for fiscal 1993.
Biotechnology, spread among 12 federal departments andagencies, is bound to benefit from this system. For example,vaccine development goes on in six different departments.
And the volume of research makes this coordination all themore critical. The Biotechnology Research Subcommittee hascataloged more than 200 different programs, said David Gallasdirector of biological and environmental research at theDepartment of Energy (DOE) and chairman of the subcommittee.
Within biotechnology, the Department of Health and HumanServices will receive more than three-quarters of the $4 billionpie, most of which goes to the National Institutes of Health.Next, in descending order, are DOE ($245 million), the NationalScience Foundation ($216 million), and the Department ofAgriculture ($191 million). The total budget is very close towhat Bush budgeted last year.
FCCSET will emphasize health and the environment, reflectingareas where the most waves of research are about to breakinto applications, said Jay Grimes, a microbiologist at DOE andexecutive secretary of the biotechnology subcommittee.
Environmental applications include alternatives to harshchemical pesticides, bioreclamation and bioremediation. As anexample of the potential for coordination, the departments ofthe Interior, Defense, Energy and Agriculture, and theEnvironmental Protection Agency are all interested inenvironmental decontamination and cleanup, including,respectively, mine pollution, radioactively contaminateddefense-related sites and agricultural wastes, and all of these.
But the basic research still must be done to show thatengineered microbes can perform decontamination in the fieldas they can in the laboratory, Grimes said, and that they cansurvive in the field long enough to do the job.
Exactly what else the program will stress, however, is stillbeing debated, Grimes said. But look for expansion ofagricultural biotechnology and of genome programs, bothanimal and plant. The Human Genome Project already has asubstantially increased budget for 1993. Structuralbiotechnology, including rapid macromolecular structuraldetermination, and national synchotron X-ray sources forcrystallography may also be boosted substantially. There is anew synchotron at Stanford University and one underconstruction at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
And at the National Science Foundation, basic research andscale-up for manufacturing are high priorities.
From one perspective, it might appear that biotechnology isgetting the short end of the funding stick. FCCSET also fundsfive other areas, including high-performance computing andcommunications, and materials. FCCSET added 24 percent to thebudget for computing in fiscal 1994, but biotechnology rose byless than 1 percent. And environmental biotechnology willreceive just $200 million and change, total.
A 36-page presidential paper titled "Technology for America'sEconomic Growth," dated Feb. 22, covered biotechnology in onlytwo sentences. "Those of us who care very much aboutbiotechnology probably have some apprehension," said a sourcewho was involved in the biotechnology subcommittee's work.
Others, however, are not worried. For one thing, biotechnologystill receives nearly twice as much money as the nextcontender, science and math education.
On the administration's side, OSTP has not completed thetransition to the new administration. "We need to present abetter argument as to where discreet pockets of opportunity liewithin this program of biotechnology," said Clifford Gabriel, asenior policy analyst at OSTP. "I think we are now in theposition to start thinking along these lines."
-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.