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Bush signs off on billions for science, tech

But he warns Congress that the law, which authorizes $33.6 billion for federal research and education programs, makes some "excessive" allowances.

President Bush on Thursday signed into law the America Competes Act, which authorizes $33.6 billion from federal coffers for government-sponsored research, education and teacher-training programs in the science and tech arena over the next few years.

The move promptly drew an avalanche of accolades from high-tech companies, who cheered the action as a way of helping the United States stay competitive in science, technology and engineering. But it may not be time to pop the corks yet.

After all, it's still up to the respective congressional appropriations committees to go through the formal process of doling out funding, which the president must ultimately approve. Some Republican critics have already voted against the bill on account of its hefty price tag, and even as he signed the bill, the president indicated he shares those concerns.

"The bill creates over 30 new programs that are mostly duplicative or counterproductive--including a new Department of Energy agency to fund late-stage technology development more appropriately left to the private sector--and also provides excessive authorization for existing programs," the White House said in a statement after the bill signing Thursday. "Accordingly, the President will request funding in his 2009 budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the ACI (American Competitiveness Initiative), but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in the bill."

Bush did, however, applaud Congress for proposing funding for next year at the levels he stipulated for the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department's Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The bill, which overwhelmingly cleared both chambers of Congress just before they departed for their August recess, is aimed at boosting investment in key areas where critics say the United States is lagging behind other countries. It would do things like create new grants and programs for teacher training; bankroll semiannual school events aimed at stimulating interest in science, technology, math and engineering; and, yes, create that Department of Energy research arm dedicated to investigating "long-term and high-risk" alternative energy technologies, which the president apparently finds "counterproductive."