DC on T2

President Releases FY 2018 Budget - Focus on Science Funding


Greetings from D.C.  As reported in the last DC on T2 column, the recently signed omnibus budget bill funding the federal government for the remainder of FY 2017 was received with fairly positive reviews from the science community—namely, federal science funding did well in the final bill.  The President has now released his first full budget proposal (for FY 2018), and the feedback regarding the R&D budget portion of the proposal from those same science-related organizations is decidedly different.

As noted in a post by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the FY 2018 budget would “make very large reductions to the non-defense discretionary spending cap in FY 2018, cutting that portion of the budget by $54 billion, or 10.9 percent below FY 2017 levels in order to boost defense spending.”  The article also notes that the current proposal would keep cutting non-defense spending beyond 2018 “by over two percent annually before inflation.  As a result, the non-defense discretionary budget in 2027 would be 41.9 percent less than in 2017, adjusted for purchasing power.  Over the decade, total non-defense spending would decline by 29 percent in the aggregate.” 

As the AAAS explains, this is relevant to the R&D community since science funding—other than Department of Defense (DOD) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—is located in the non-defense budget.  Therefore, decreases in non-defense spending will generally have a downward push on science funding as well.  The AAAS also notes that bringing the non-defense budget “to the historically low levels proposed would almost certainly have substantial ripple effects on even popular science programs like NIH [National Institutes of Health].”


Looking only at the current fiscal year, the budget “proposes substantially large reductions to R&D funding in 2018, particularly for basic and applied research.  According to current (and preliminary) AAAS estimates, the White House would cut total research funding by 16.8 percent, or $12.6 billion, in FY 2018.  No Administration appears to have proposed cuts to research this large in over 40 years.”

Space constraints limit the ability to highlight all of the potential science agency impacts; however, a select few (from AAAS’ initial analysis) are included.  See the AAAS link for more agency-specific details. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) also provides its take on the R&D budget proposal, and the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI) provides some Congressional thoughts on the proposed budget.

According to the AAAS post, NIH would realize a 21.5 percent reduction; most non-defense science and technology (S&T) programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) would be cut by varying degrees (e.g., the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would be eliminated entirely); the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see an 11-percent reduction; NASA would remain relatively flat, but with a 5-percent increase in planetary science and a 9 percent decrease in earth science; the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would see a 13-percent cut in core lab programs; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would see a 32-percent decrease; and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science and Technology account would see a 37-percent reduction in funding.  Even the DOD, while receiving an overall increase in defense spending generally, would realize some cuts to several science accounts. 

As always, it’s a long road from proposal to appropriations, and this year’s journey looks to be particularly contentious.  Given the nature of the current budget debate (on issues unrelated to R&D), the short time to get things accomplished (September 30 will be here before you know it), and the general political climate in D.C. these days, it’s far from clear where the federal science budget debate will end up.

Gary can be reached at gkjones.ctr@federallabs.org.

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