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FY 2015 R&D Appropriation Now in the Books


Greetings from D.C. Congress passed and the President signed into law in mid-December the 2015 omnibus budget bill. The $1.1 trillion appropriated to fund the government through September 2015 covers all agencies except the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was funded through February 2015 only. The final bill appropriated $137.6 billion for federal R&D (including a "placeholder" for DHS), approximately 1.7 percent over the FY 2014 mark. (Note: These numbers exclude additional R&D funding tied to certain war funding and Ebola response expenditures which, when added in, increase the total R&D budget to 2.2 percent more than FY 2014.)

As usual, one of the best sources for understanding the R&D budget, particularly as it winds its way through the appropriations process to passage into law, is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). All information provided in this column comes directly from its preliminary (and in some cases estimated) analysis of the omnibus bill.

According to initial AAAS estimates, total federal research expenditures will increase by 0.2 percent and development expenditures by 2.9 percent (with some caveats). These figures place total federal R&D at about 0.76 percent of GDP, continuing a decline in this statistic for the past several years. (For more detail, see the links at the end of this column.)

Some agency-specific highlights include:

  • Department of Defense base R&D should increase to $66.7 billion in 2015 (a 1.3 percent increase over 2014). In general, Navy science and technology (S&T) funding will increase, the Air Force’s will stay relatively the same, and the Army’s will decline. Department of Defense (DOD) basic research and advanced technology accounts should both increase by about 5 percent, while development funding will decrease by a less than 1 percent. Overall, DOD basic research funding should reach a 30-year high, while overall DOD S&T funding will achieve its highest point since FY 2010.
  • The National Institutes of Health will receive $30.3 billion for R&D in 2015 (0.5 percent increase over 2014), which does not include the Ebola-related supplemental funding (e.g., the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will receive $238 million for Ebola research). This modest increase belies the fact that but for a limited few of the institutes and initiatives (e.g., BRAIN initiative, Alzheimer’s research, and pediatric research), funding fell for most of the agency, hitting a mark 12.7 percent below its peak in FY 2004.
  • Department of Energy R&D funding should increase to $11.7 billion (a 3.1 percent increase), largely reflecting gains within the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Office of Science funding remained relatively flat, as did the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E), with modest gains for other energy development programs.
  • NASA will receive nearly $18 billion in total funding (a 2.1 per cent increase over 2014, but a 3.1 percent above the budget request, which doesn’t happen often). While almost every major program, with a few exceptions, gained funding, the NASA budget still remains over $1 billion below its average funding during the second Bush Administration.

While the omnibus bill was a little late in arriving and offers either encouragement or disappointment for those affected by it (depending on the outcome for your program), at least we now know what the agencies have to spend,including for S&T activities, for the next nine months (except, of course, DHS). Just in time for the FY 2016 submission to Congress, which should be released in February. Stay tuned.

AAAS provided a summary of the R&D budget about a week before its final passage, and later an update and additional details on that summary after the bill became law. Combined, they offer more details on agency-specific implications of the 2015 R&D budget.


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