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By Mitch Ambrose | April 13, 2023
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The Biden administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2024 includes across-the-board increases for science agencies, with particularly large boosts proposed for programs focused on fusion energy research, emerging technologies, and translating research outcomes into practical applications.
The budget for the Department of Energy Office of Science would increase 9% to $8.8 billion, with its fusion program jumping 32% to just over $1 billion. Much of the new money would support public-private partnerships to develop fusion energy generation technologies, in pursuit of the administration’s goal to deploy pilot fusion power plants in the 2030s.
Expanding the National Science Foundation’s role in “use-inspired” research and technology development has remained a top priority of the administration. It proposes increasing NSF’s budget by about 15% to $11.3 billion, of which $1.2 billion is for the recently created Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships Directorate, a roughly 30% increase. Meanwhile, NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate would see a 9% increase to $1.8 billion, the smallest increase in percentage terms across the agency’s main directorates.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s base budget would surge 32% to $1.6 billion under the budget request. This includes a doubling of NIST’s facility maintenance budget to $262 million to help tackle dire degradation of buildings at the agency’s campuses in Maryland and Colorado.
There are exceptions to the administration’s budget increases. It also proposes major cuts across the Department of Defense’s early-stage R&D portfolio, comprising accounts funding basic research, applied research, and advanced technology development. The administration requests a total of $17.8 billion for these accounts, about 8% more than it sought for last fiscal year but 20% below what Congress ultimately appropriated.
Budget strains are also evident at NASA. While NASA’s Science Mission Directorate would increase 6% overall to almost $8.3 billion under the budget request, the Heliophysics Division budget would drop 7% to $751 million. The agency seeks to pause the division’s planned Geospace Dynamics Constellation and use the savings to address the growing costs of other missions, such as NASA’s effort to return rock samples from Mars to the Earth.
Reactions to the budget request have split along party lines in Congress.
“While the budget request doesn’t include everything that we worked hard to authorize in the CHIPS and Science Act, it provides for substantial progress for our federal science efforts,” stated House Science Committee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “I’m especially encouraged about the strong funding the president has called for to support our fusion energy efforts. We have seen incredible breakthroughs in fusion in the last 18 months — and we cannot afford to lose momentum.”
Meanwhile, Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) argued the budget “shortchanges” basic research while overspending on other areas. “In the past two years, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have spent reckless amounts of money, without regard for efficiency, effectiveness, inflation, or our national deficit,” he stated. “This budget proposal is, unfortunately, more of the same.”
Though Lucas supports the science budget increases recommended in the CHIPS and Science Act, House Republican leaders have pledged to constrain federal spending overall. The House and Senate will advance their own spending proposals this spring, with a standoff over federal limits likely to follow.
Mitch Ambrose is Director of FYI. Published by the American Institute of Physics since 1989, FYI is a trusted source of science policy news. Sign up for free emails at aip.org/fyi.
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