WASHINGTON—Pressure has been building in Congress to provide higher pay for federal biomedical researchers. But it’s unlikely that any of three bills currently under congressional scrutiny—one of them a well-publicized proposal from President Bush that applies to employees at all government agencies—will make it into law this year.

The driving force behind all three of the plans is a desire on the part of federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health to recruit and retain an elite cadre of scientists.

But the proposals face serious opposition from those who don’t want to see scientists’ pay scales treated differently from the pay scales of other federal workers. Those in opposition thus favor maintaining the existing linkage in salary among all government employees.

“This [legislation] breaks that link,” says Michael MilIman, who directed an Institute of Medicine study that evaluated the future of the NIH intramural program. “So it’s a...

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