Science advocates in the United States are disappointed at a new spending bill that will give the National Science Foundation (NSF) far less cash than was recommended in a law passed just a year ago.

The omnibus appropriations bill, which sets 2004 funding levels for much of the government, provides a 5% increase to the NSF's total budget of about $5.3 billion. That is far less than was recommended in a bill signed by President George Bush last December, which suggested doubling the agency's budget by 2007, by awarding 15% increases each year (see Nature 420, 257; 200210.1038/420257a).

“Those of us who had worked on the authorizing bill would have liked to see at least a double-digit increase,” says Samuel Rankin, chair of the Coalition for National Science Funding, one of the original advocates of the 2002 legislation.

Congressional staff who worked on the 2002 bill are also disgruntled at the smaller increase set out in the 2004 budget, but say that the plan to double the NSF budget was only a suggestion. “It's not like when the [2002] bill passed we thought it would be a linear progression,” says David Goldston, chief of staff at the House Committee on Science, which helped to draft the legislation. He points out that many specific initiatives supported by the committee were funded in the 2004 budget bill.

The NSF was not the only research agency to receive lacklustre funding in the 2004 budget, which was passed by the House on 8 December and is expected to be passed by the Senate early next year. The National Institutes of Health will receive an increase of just 3.2%, to about $27 billion. Janet Shoemaker, head of public affairs at the American Society for Microbiology in Washington DC, says she doubts that the president's budget proposal for 2005, to be released in February, will be much more generous.

In the 2004 bill, NASA's budget was held at $15 billion, but money for research was trimmed by 0.4%, partly because of budget pressure arising from the loss of the shuttle Columbia in February. The research budget of the National Institute of Standards and Technology also fell by 4%, to $506 million. The Department of Energy's Office of Science fared better, winning a 3.8% increase to $3.2 billion. Much of that money will go towards research on nuclear fusion, computing and biology.