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The US Senate voted August 11 to cut $82 million (five percent) from Department of Defense research programs at universities for next year, rather than the $900 million cut made by the House of Representatives. The issue will be resolved by a conference committee.
Congressional observers are cautiously optimistic that the cut will be about $100 million, although Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) did tell the Defense Appropriations Committee earlier that a portion of President Clinton's request for $270 million in Rwanda relief funds may have to come from university research funds.
Sen. Inouye, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told the Senate during debate August 5 that the bill provides $1.7 billion for university research in fiscal year 1995 (October 1, 1994-September 30, 1995). "That amount is a minor decrease of about $100 million to the request," he said. "It is far less than the $900 million reduction recommended by the House. We reject that House cut, because it could interrupt important, defense-related research and unduly harm our national university community."
He said that federally funded research and development centers, which include MIT Lincoln Laboratory, will have a total budget of $1.3 billion, a reduction by the Senate and the House of $52 million (four percent) from the amount requested by the President.
The senator mentioned in earlier subcommittee sessions that his subcommittee had received many letters from university leaders opposing the House cut of more than half the Department of Defense university research budget.
The $900 million cut voted by the House prompted editorials from several papers. The New York Times wrote "the cuts would stagger academic science and engineering. The Pentagon provides more than 80 percent of the federal research funds for electrical engineering, more than 70 percent for materials and metallurgy, and more than 55 percent for computer sciences."
The Washington Post commented, "The once comfortable relationship between research universities and Congress has turned a little dysfunctional lately." The Los Angeles Times editorial, "Always Let a Thousand Scientific Flowers Bloom," said "good research depends on stable, long-term sources of support."
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Unless Congress reverses the decision of a House Appropriations Subcommittee, the nation's investment in a program with a record of unparalleled success will be cut in half."
A version of this article appeared in the August 17, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 2).