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Dr. John Marburger, Director of OSTP, discusses the Research and Development budget

The Budget & Science
With John Marburger
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director
Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2002; 11 a.m. EST

On Monday President Bush sent Congress a $2.13 trillion budget for 2003, including a more than 13 percent increase in defense spending. Citing the war and recession as reasons for greater government efficiency, Bush's proposed budget would also cut government programs his administration has found to be "ineffective."

John H. Marburger, science adviser to the President and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, was online to discuss President Bush's budget as it relates to scientific research and development.

A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Harrisonburg, Va.: How much decision making and/or consultation did new NASA head Sean O'Keefe have in the science budget for 2003?

John Marburger: Sean O'Keefe was Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the entire period when the FY03 budget planning was in progress. I presume he participated fully in the discussions leading up to the budget decisions. After he was nominated by President Bush to be NASA administrator, he withdrew from the process.

Rosslyn, Va.: Besides NASA and NIH, what sorts of science projects does President Bush want to push?

John Marburger: President Bush is determined to win the war against terrorism, and he is supporting research and development related to this effort, much of it through HHS and DOD. President Bush also wants to see the nation maintain its world leadership in science and technology.

He is supporting increased investment in networking and information technology, nanotechnology, and the science infrastructure, primarily through the National Science Foundation. For example, the Spallation Neutron Source, a major tool for studying materials now under construction at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is fully funded in the FY03 budget.

Washington, D.C.: Hello, Although the NASA budget is destined for a slight budget increase, much of what I and other astronomers support has been cut from that budget request. Specifically, the projected Pluto mission was deleted, among other missions of planetary exploration.

I should point out that we have no idea what Pluto really looks like, just a few fuzzy images from the Hubble space telescope, and that a mission to Pluto needs to be planned way in advance due to the great distances involved. Why does the administration feel planetary exploration of our solar system is unimportant? Isn't exploration, the desire to know what's out there, one of the driving forces of American civilization?

John Marburger: NASA remains deeply committed to science-driven exploration of the solar system. Unfortunately, NASA's Outer Planets Program cannot be implemented as planned because some mission cost and schedule estimates have nearly doubled.

The President's FY02 budget already cancelled the Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission because of increasing costs. The FY03 budget cancels the Outer Planets program for the same reason. Funding is redirected to a reformulated program that will address the problems that are leading to these unacceptable cost overruns. I hope we can get these programs back on track and continue a program of science based planetary exploration.

Arlington, Va.: What are the biggest differences in this budget as opposed to President Clinton's when it comes to science funding?

John Marburger: The biggest difference in the FY03 budget compared to previous years is the budget for science and technology related to the war against terrorism. President Bush has proposed substantial new funds for DOD and HHS for needed work in bioterrorism, and technology for detection, tracking, and response to weapons and materials that might be exploited by terrorists either abroad or in our homeland.

Otherwise, there is much continuity in the science budget because the opportunities for discovery and for the development of new applications in science and technology do not change dramatically from year to year.

Austin, Tex.: Could you explain the reasoning behind the administrations apparent desire to outsource space shuttle jobs? How does NASA feel about this?

John Marburger: This administration believes that the federal government should not be performing functions that can be appropriately performed in the private sector. The NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, supports this view.

Washington, D.C.: What is the bugdet for the space program?

John Marburger: The overall budget for NASA is $15 billion, which does include funding in non-space areas such as aeronautics. NASA's budget for R&D in FY03 would be $10 billion, a 5% increase over FY02. Within this figure, space science is increased by 13% to $3.4 billion in FY93. This includes funds for exploration of Mars and missions to asteroids.

Somewhere, USA: Will the White House be putting a small amount of money to explore and find out more about Mars?

John Marburger: I have several energy related questions, if you are able to answer:Yes, the FY03 budget does have increased funds for science, including Mars exploration.

San Francisco, Calif.: Thank you for being here today. I have several energy related questions, if you are able to answer:

  1. Are we (the US) going to participate in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project?
  2. What projects do we have underway to eventually replace hydrocarbons in the long term, and how would you characterize the level of funding for these projects?
  3. Do you feel we have a good energy plan for around 25 years from now when oil supplies are forecast to become tight as envisioned in the "road to the olduvai gorge" scenario, and most current nuclear power plants are set to be decommissioned?
Thank you.

John Marburger:

  1. The U.S. Government is currently reviewing its position on ITER. The Secretary of Energy has indicated that this review will be completed within the next few months.
  2. It will be a very long time before we can replace hydrocarbons in our energy economy. In the short run, the President is proposing increases for renewable energy research within the Department of Energy (up 6% to $408 million). For the intermediate future, the Vice President's energy plan emphasizes the importance of nuclear fission energy (DOE's nuclear energy budget increases by 3% to $251 million in FY03.) The long term energy picture includes nuclear fusion, whose DOE budget goes up 4% to $257 million in the FY03 budget. These figures should be compared with the average 2% available in the budget excluding defense and homeland security expenditures.
  3. See my answer to #2. The President has proposed, and the House of Representatives has passed a National Energy Strategy that addresses this issue. I believe this is a good plan, and I hope the Senate will act favorably on it during the current session.

Washington, D.C.: How will this affect the military FFRDCs (CNA, IDA, LMI, RAND, Aerospace, etc)?

John Marburger: I presume the question refers to the FY03 budget proposal. Since the military R&D budget request is up 11% to $54.5 billion, the military FFRDC's should remain strong. That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.