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Supplemental budget gives go ahead to NOvA, boosts science funding and GI Bill b

By Dan Gilchrist

From Brief, July 16, 2008

A $400 million increase in science agencies' funding and a major expansion of GI Bill education benefits were part of a $186.5 billion supplemental war-funding budget bill, H.R. 2642, signed by President Bush on June 30. The bill also allows work to resume on the NOvA high energy physics project, which has significant University of Minnesota participation.

Congressional observers had given the science funding a marginal chance of inclusion in the final supplemental bill, which primarily funds war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but House appropriators were able to reach an agreement with the White House, which had previously opposed any "non-emergency" domestic funding in the bill.

Dozens of leaders from industry and academia, including President Robert H. Bruininks, had urged Congress to live up to promises made in the America COMPETES Act passed last August. That bill authorized significant new funding for academic research through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Ultimately, however, the FY 2008 Budget Congress ultimately passed in December of 2007 did not appropriate concomitant funding increases for these agencies. Worse yet, that omnibus budget bill specifically prohibited DOE from continuing work on the NOvA project. Under the report language accompanying H.R. 2642, DOE Office of Science is instructed to utilize its new funding to eliminate all furloughs and reductions in the work force that are a direct result of budgetary constraints, and to allow for research dollars to go to new neutrino initiatives such as NOvA.

Members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation, particularly Eighth District Rep. James Oberstar, were instrumental in reversing the NOvA prohibition, according to Prof. Marvin Marshak, the University's lead faculty member on the project. The new legislative language will allow work to begin on a new international physics laboratory near the Ash River in far northern Minnesota. The NOvA project will ultimately involve approximately 200 scientists and engineers from 33 institutions in seven countries to help unlock some key questions about the formation of the universe.

H.R. 2642 provides a total of $400 million for science agencies, including $150 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and $62.5 million each for NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NASA. Environmental management activities at DOE received the remaining $62.5 million.

H.R. 2642's science funding is provided on an "emergency basis." That means that it is considered a one-time appropriation that does not increase the spending baseline for future years.

Through the expanded veterans education benefits in H.R. 2642, lawmakers sought to match the "full ride" to college offered to World War II veterans under the original GI Bill. That ambitious goal helps explain the significant increased cost of the benefit?$63.8 billion for over 11 years. The augmented educational benefits will be available to all members of the military, including activated reservists and the National Guard, who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

Depending on length of service, veterans will be eligible to receive payments up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public school plus a regionally adjusted monthly stipend equivalent for housing costs. For a veteran attending a private college, any remaining balance would be divided between the institution and a new federal matching program. The bill will also allow service members to transfer educational benefits they have not used to their spouses and dependents.