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By Michael Lucibella
The Obama administration called for a 5.5 percent increase in federal scientific research and development funding in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2016. The proposal, which was released on February 2, 2015, calls for rolling back spending caps imposed by sequestration, and increasing the discretionary budget by about 7 percent overall. “Sequestration” refers to automatic budget limits imposed by a law passed to avoid U.S. government default in 2011.
Altogether, the request calls for about $8 billion more for science and research than last year, bringing the total to $146 billion spread across a dozen or so federal agencies. The largest chunk of that, $76.9 billion, goes towards defense research and development, with $68.8 billion allocated for the non-defense agencies.
In effect, the budget request is the beginning of a long, often acrimonious negotiation between the White House and Capitol Hill. The document is a proposal sent from the administration to Congress outlining the priorities of the administration for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.
This budget in particular has little chance of passing in its current form because of Republican resistance to increased spending. Already the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress has sharply criticized the proposal. After the recent change in leadership in the Senate, Republicans now control both houses of Congress and can pass their own version of the budget, which the president may veto.
The proposal shows a continued commitment to scientific research. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the nation’s biggest source of funds for basic physical science research, received an additional $272 million, a 5.4 percent boost over last year’s enacted number, up to about $5.3 billion total. The Department of Energy’s full budget received a 9 percent increase to about $29.9 billion overall.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology received a huge boost of 29.6 percent. Much of this increase is in the Industrial Technology Services section, which more than doubled from $138 million to $306 million. This directorate promotes research into advanced manufacturing, and is expanding with its new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research and Services is also getting a healthy bump of 12 percent, from $675 million to $754 million.
The administration upped the National Science Foundation’s budget by $379 million to $7.7 billion, an increase of 5.2 percent. Altogether, its six research directorates are getting a boost of about 4.3 percent up to $6.19 billion, while its education directorate would get an 11 percent increase up to $962 million. The Math and Physical Sciences directorate received the lowest requested increase, 2.2 percent, rising to about $1.37 billion. However, the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, which has been under scrutiny from the House Science Committee, received the biggest relative bump, up 7.9 percent to $291 million.
The increase in NASA’s $18.5 billion budget request was relatively smaller than most other agencies, up only 2.7 percent over last year, but featured some program changes. Within NASA, funding for its science office increases less than 1 percent over last year. The request also included funding for a new mission to send a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa, but called for ending the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2016 and the orbiting Mars Odyssey probe in 2017, even though these programs faced termination but were saved.
The Defense Department’s spending on foundational research stagnated. Its three fundamental science and technology divisions increased only by about 0.1 percent, from $12.25 billion to $12.26 billion. Within that, its investments in basic research dropped from $2.27 billion to $2.08 billion, a drop of about 8 percent.
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