WASHINGTON—In the midst of a growing chorus lamenting the physical condition of the nation's research facilities, the National Science Foundation has been singing a different—and somewhat dissonant—tune.

The battle, not surprisingly, concerns money: in particular, whether the federal government should undertake a multibillion dollar program to upgrade laboratories in hundreds of colleges and universities. A host of educational organizations think it should, and are backing a bill proposed by the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Rep. Robert Roe (D-N.J.), to provide $2.5 billion over 10 years for such purposes.

But NSF Director Erich Bloch has been less than enthusiastic about such a plan. He is said to fear that, once begun, such a program will eventually grow so large that it will threaten federal dollars now being spent directly on research and other R&D programs. Seen as a public works project, it would also attract the...

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