WASHINGTON—A Defense Department program that distributed $124 million last year in contracts to university researchers appears to have been a one-time windfall for academic scientists. Its survival, which is uncertain given the pressure to trim military spending and reduce the federal deficit, could hurt other researchers funded by the Pentagon.

The University Research Initiative (URI) was created as a way to provide universities with money for equipment, training and research in areas felt to have military value. Congress, in a burst of enthusiasm for basic research, added $75 million to the Pentagon's initial $25 million program request. Cuts mandated by the GrammRudman law pared the 1986 appropriation to $90 million, and Congress approved only $34 million for the program in 1987 because the 1986 money was not released until the end of the fiscal year.

Funding for the program was expected to grow each year, supporting a stream of new,...

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