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Obama's Budget Boosts Science Funding

By Zoe A. Y. Weinberg, Crimson Staff Writer

In welcome news for universities, President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget proposal released on Monday focuses on promoting and investing in innovation and includes funding increases for science research and continued support for student financial aid.

The budget proposes a modest addition to science research funding. Harvard received over $600 million in federal funding for research in fiscal year 2010, according to the University’s annual fiscal report.

In total, the National Institutes of Health would receive about $32 billion for basic and applied biomedical research, up three percent from 2010.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive a 13 percent boost, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would see a nine percent increase.

In an interview with The Crimson, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody C. Barnes said that the larger increase in funding for NSF indicates the administration’s prioritization of energy technology and training of math and science teachers.

Harvard Director of Federal Relations Suzanne Day said that these modest increases show “a deep commitment to research and biomedical research,” especially considering the financial climate.

According to Day, the NSF has enjoyed a significant amount of bipartisan support for increased funding, which also explains the considerable budgetary increase.

“I think that the president has sent pretty clear signals about investments in the foundations of economic growth,” Day said. “So we expected a strong budget in education and research.”

The funds allocated for the sciences target areas that are most likely to create jobs, White House Office of Public Engagement Associate Director Kalpen S. Modi said on a conference call with reporters yesterday.

Obama’s budget also sustains the Federal Pell Grant Program for college students, keeping the maximum grant amount at $5,550.

The Obama administration has increased the total award by $819 since 2008, Barnes said. Republicans are seeking to cut the maximum Pell Grant by $845.

Barnes said that the maintenance of Pell Grants is one indicator of the president’s emphasis on innovation and education, and that his budget seeks to position the U.S. to “out-build and out-innovate our global competitors.”

Though the value of Pell Grants pales in comparison to the average aid package awarded by Harvard’s financial aid office—around $40,000—the program is important nationally.

“It is clear that there is a lot at stake for students and we are all watching the developments carefully and working hard to make sure key federal financial aid programs are protected,” Director of Financial Aid Sally C. Donahue wrote in an e-mail. “The Pell Grant program is not only critical as a source of grant funding for low income students nationally, but it is also critical as an aspirational program for younger students from low income families who need to know that college is accessible for them.”

Day said that the University usually does not have trouble garnering support in Washington for financial aid. “Aid programs are not places where we have trouble finding friends across the aisle,” she said.

Day said that Harvard’s Office of Federal Relations will work with coalitions, organizations, and peer institutions to remind members of Congress of the importance of investing in education.

“We understand the intense scrutiny for every expenditure at this time and hope, and will work to sustain, the tradition of bipartisan support these programs have enjoyed because of their evergreen contributions to our economy,” said Harvard’s chief lobbyist Kevin Casey.

—Staff writer Zoe A.Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu.

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