APS News

President’s Request Treats Science Well

In early February, President Obama sent Congress next year’s federal budget request, which among other things, proposed an overall increase in federal science funding, including physics research.

This increase comes in spite of the President’s announcement, a week earlier, that there would be a budget freeze in non-military discretionary spending. Though the net total FY 2011 Federal budget was frozen at the same level as 2010’s, spending within agencies was adjusted to increase overall funding for scientific research. 

Should Congress pass the president’s budget as is, it would represent an overall increase of 5.9% in non-defense research and development funding in FY 2011. The budget for the National Science Foundation would increase 8%, NIST 6.9% and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science 4.6%. The department of Defense, which was not part of the budget freeze, likewise received a 6.2% increase to its basic research budget.

The biggest increase to science funding is within NASA. Overall the budget for the agency only increased 1.5%, but funds directed for scientific missions have been increased by 11.4% overall. Much of this increase comes from the proposed cancellation of the Constellation program, which was developing a manned space capsule to replace the shuttle after its retirement later this year. Cancelling the Constellation program, already behind schedule and over budget, freed up a significant portion of the Space Agency’s budget to put towards scientific missions.

Within the Department of Energy, almost all of the programs devoted to basic physics research have had their budgets increased. Basic energy science research got a $198.5 million, or 12.1% boost in funding. Nuclear physics received $27 million or 5% increase while high energy physics research saw an $18.5 million or 2.3% increase.

Fusion research was the only basic research sector in the Department of Energy to have its funding cut. The department reduced its spending on fusion research by $46 million, or 10.8%. According to the details released along with the budget, this reduction comes in part from frustrations over the speed of construction and management direction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER.

“The President’s budget cuts wasteful spending while making wise investments in innovation and clean energy that will put Americans back to work, save families money and keep our nation competitive in the global marketplace,” said Secretary Chu in a released statement, “This budget supports new approaches to energy research and invests in the next generation of scientists and engineers, and it will spark new clean energy projects nationwide, including restarting the American nuclear power industry.”

At the National Science foundation, Mathematical and Physical Sciences got a $58.1 million, or 4.3% boost. NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research and Services program was designated a 13.5% increase.

Though overall science programs at NASA received a boost, some sectors saw cuts. Earth Science received a boost of $381 million, or about 27%, and Planetary Science received a boost of 145 million, or about 11%. However Astrophysics is set to receive a $28 million cut, or about 3 percent, and Heliophysics a $15 million cut, or about 2%.

A more detailed breakdown of the President's request can be found in the Washington Dispatch column.


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