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President Releases FY 2016 Budget (A Look at Federal R&D Budget Trends)


Greetings from D.C. Right on schedule, the President released the Administration’s federal budget request in early February. The $4 trillion overall request includes what has come to be known as the R&D budget-or federal funding for science and technology (S&T) activities. For FY 2016, the President is requesting $146 billion to fund S&T activities at over 20 federal departments and agencies, reflecting an increase of $8 billion (or nearly 6 percent) over 2015 enacted levels.

Documents from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) supporting the R&D budget release highlight the following aspects of the R&D component (it’s a little soon for closer independent analysis of budget specifics).

According to OSTP, the budget proposes (selected highlights):

  • $5.3 billion for the DOE Office of Science, $7.7 billion for NSF, and $755 million for NIST laboratories—increasing total funding for these three agencies by $0.7 billion over 2015
  • $12.3 billion for DOD S&T programs (with $3.0 billion for DARPA)
  • $18.5 billion for NASA
  • $31.3 billion for NIH biomedical research (an increase of $1 billion over 2015), and $215 million for HHS to launch a Precision Medicine Initiative
  • $2.4 billion to support advanced manufacturing at NSF, DOD, DOE, DOC, and other agencies
  • $7.4 billion for clean energy technology programs government-wide, and $325 million for the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
  • $2.7 billion for the U.S. Global Change Research Program
  • $3 billion in STEM education programs (3.6 percent over 2015).

In anticipation of the budget release, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) produced a summary of the significant trends in federal R&D budgets over the recent past. It notes that in the past 15 years, “federal appropriations for total R&D have experienced three approximate phases. In the ‘first phase,’ up to FY 2004, federal R&D increased rapidly, by 38.5 percent. The ‘second phase’ ran from FY 2004 to about FY 2010, and was marked by little change in the overall budget, but a divergence between defense and non-defense R&D. The end of the second phase was marked by the one-time funding boost in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in FY 2009. Since FY 2010, funding has entered a jagged third phase of decline and recovery. Each of these phases reflects the politics of the day, to varying degrees.”

With the budget release less than a week old, only two things are certain: 1) More detail will be provided in the coming days/weeks over the finer points of precisely what the Administration is proposing to fund regarding federal R&D efforts, and 2) The final appropriations will differ from the initial request. Now comes the interesting part—congressional hearings that will highlight more clearly what both the Administration and Congress feel is the appropriate focus and funding levels for federal R&D. There will be no shortage of reporting on all of the above as the picture becomes clearer.

For more information, you can review an overview of the overall budget from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the R&D budget from OSTP, the American Institute of Physics (AIP) summary of the R&D budget release, and the AAAS trends information.

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