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Small science foundation feels sting of Obama budget cuts

  • Story Highlights
  • Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is slated to lose its federal funding
  • Agency provides life-science scholarships, fellowships to students and researchers
  • Chairwoman stunned at news, offers to give administration "the full picture"
  • Administration official: Only 20% of foundation budget funds fellowships, awards
From Dick Uliano
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the context of a $3.5 trillion budget, a $1 million proposed cut might not seem like much. But for one small foundation, the impact could be shattering.

Chairwoman Kimberly Owens said the foundation is involved in a range of programs promoting math and science education.

The federally-funded Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, which provides life-science scholarships and fellowships for students and professional researchers, is slated to lose its entire $1 million annual appropriation under President Barack Obama's 2010 budget plan.

The chairwoman of the Auburn, New York-based foundation, which has only two staff members, was stunned when she heard the news Thursday.

"We are the smallest federal agency in the country, but we have a partnership with big, big companies [and] big agencies," Kimberly Owens said.

"I would love to have an opportunity to encourage [Obama] to get more information. He's obviously not looking at the full picture."

An Obama administration official who asked not to be named said the foundation is "obviously inefficient" because only 20 percent of its budget is actually paid out in fellowships and awards.

Owens said that calculation, while accurate, doesn't fairly reflect the breadth of the foundation's work. She said the foundation is involved in a range of programs promoting math and science education -- an area that Obama himself has said needs greater support. It also supports individuals and companies conducting research relating to homeland security.

"I would be more than thrilled to speak to the people in the Obama administration to give them a true picture of what we do, and not just [misleading] snapshots," Owens said.

Obama acknowledged Thursday that his recommendations to cut funding for 121 federal programs and save $17 billion in 2010 would not be pain-free.

"Some of the cuts we're putting forward today are more painful than others," he said at a news conference.

"Some are larger than others. In fact, a few of the programs we eliminate will produce less than a million dollars in savings. And in Washington, I guess that's considered trivial. Outside of Washington, that's still considered a lot of money."

For the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation -- which will now wait to see what Congress ultimately decides -- it's all the difference in the world.

CNN's Bob Costantini contributed to this report

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