WASHINGTON -- Federally supported biotechnology-relatedresearch is a candidate for a "presidential initiative" inPresident Bush's fiscal year 1993 budget, which he will presentto Congress on Feb. 4.

If the Bush administration launches a biotechnology initiative,it will commit the government to increased funding and bettercoordination of federal biotechnology research activities, saidRalph Brescia, a senior policy analyst for the FederalCoordinating Council on Science, Engineering and Technology(FCCSET).

This will "send a significant signal that biotechnology is animportant part of the scientific and technical thrust of theadministration for the year," Brescia told BioWorld.

The administration has been conducting an inventory of allbiotechnology-related activities throughout the federalgovernment, totaling $3 billion to $4 billion in budget outlays.The "biotechnology research crosscut" will be used to establisha "comprehensive, coordinated biotechnology research plan forthe U.S. government," Brescia said.

The biotechnology research subcommittee of FCCSET, which ispart of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy(OSTP), coordinated the crosscut with assistance from the WhiteHouse Office of Management and Budget . The OMB and OSTPare evaluating the study to decide whether to recommend thatBush launch a biotech initiative.

"A decision on whether to recommend an initiative will bemade sometime between now and the release of the president'sbudget on Feb. 4," Brescia said.

Last year, the administration launched an initiative in high-performance computing and communications (HPCC), a cross-agency research program on computing and networkingtechnologies that has resulted in congressional approval for anincrease in federal spending in this area to $638 million infiscal 1992, a 30 percent gain over fiscal1991.

The HPCC initiative will have significant effects on thesetechnologies during its five-year life span, including boostingthe size of the worldwide supercomputers market by $3 billion,according to the Gartner Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn., marketresearch firm that analyzed the impact of the initiative.

A decision to launch a biotech program will depend, in part, onwhether the amount budgeted for biotechnology in fiscal1993"looks good enough to make it an initiative," said a governmentofficial who has been working on the crosscut.

Although the FCCSET does not have the power to override thebudget priorities of federal department secretaries, it consultedwith the agencies to determine which biotechnology researchprograms should get more money, based in part on where theysaw gaps in funding.

"There were a few agencies that were real big winners, quitefrankly, and others that didn't get a big increase," said theofficial, who requested anonymity.

Although biotechnology research "fared well" in theadministration's budget for fiscal1993, which begins nextOctober, the official warned that the increase in biotechnologyfunding was limited because "this was a bad budget year."

Some presidential initiatives have not fared well with Congressbecause the administration has failed to consult withrepresentatives of industry and academia when formulatingthe initiative. So far, work on the biotechnology crosscut andpotential initiative "has been exclusively within thegovernment, to the best of my knowledge," said Dr. DanielJones, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture'sOffice of Agricultural Biology. "It's an inside job."

Agencies involved in the crosscut are trying to "informally" and"gently let the word out" about the possible initiative so thatprivate sector and academic representatives will seekinformation from OSTP and other federal agencies, said theofficial working on the project. They will then have a chance toreact to the 1993 budget and recommend changes for 1994 andsubsequent years of the initiative, which could extend for threeto five years, the official said.

-- Kris Herbst BioWorld Washington Bureau

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.