While the costs and scope of University research continue to grow, the federal government’s share of the University of Michigan’s research budget has dropped, according to University research funding reports.
Federal research funding to the University has been increasing at a sluggish pace over the last several years because of decreases in the national research budget, said Lee Katterman, a project manager in the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University.
While giving a report to the University’s Board of Regents earlier this month, Stephen Forrest, the University vice president for research, said the University’s federal funding grew by 1.8 percent during the 2007 fiscal year after a 2.4 percent increase during the 2006 fiscal year and a 6.5 percent increase during the 2005 fiscal year.
Overall, the University’s research budget grew by 3.3 percent to $823 million during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, but Forrest attributed the increase to investments from the private sector.
During the Regents meeting, Forrest said he doesn’t expect an increase in federal funding for the current fiscal year.
Katterman said federal allocations could change over time because of various factors.
“It could change a lot with the new administration, or if a solution is reached in the Middle East,” Katterman said, “But beyond the next few years, it’s difficult to say.”
Forrest said the University has been reaching out to private industry sources to boost its research funding. He said the University would have sought private funding even if federal funding had been more abundant, though.
Unlike federal funding, which comes without special interests, funding from industries often comes with a particular agenda in mind, sometimes creating potential conflicts of interest. Katterman said the University addresses these potential conflicts by having an outside party review the research agreement.
As the University’s support from private investors continues to grow, funding from several government organizations like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy has decreased.
Donald Ralbovsky, a spokesman for the NIH, said the University’s slowing research funding could be traced back to Congress cutting the research budget for the federal agencies that fund the University.
“The NIH budget has been barely at or below the inflation rate,” he said, “This is causing a crunch with regard to NIH funding.”
Kirsten Brost, a spokeswoman for Congressman David Obey (D-Wis.), who heads the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, which allocates federal funding, said the budget for research has decreased because research funding is not a top priority for President Bush.
When Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, the committee tried to increase funding, but Bush vetoed its efforts, Brost said.
This year, Congress cut the $4 billion it had planned to allocate for research by about $1.5 billion dollars. The cut was unexpected because federal research agencies had all proposed requests for increases, said Jeff Sherwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Congress cut this agency’s budget for science,” he said, “That will affect work both at laboratories and at universities.”
In petition for funding for the its 2009 fiscal year, set to go through in about two weeks, the Department of Energy plans to ask for more money than in the past, Sherwood said.
President Bush promised to double federal research for the physical sciences in 2006, but Congress has not allocated any money for that cause yet.
“We’re hoping Congress will budget more money to the bill at their next meeting,” Katterman said.