The President’s Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative: What’s In It?

An extra funding package proposed by the President would make a big fiscal difference for science agencies.

Last December, Congress agreed upon a $1.014 trillion discretionary spending limit for FY 2015, thus leaving all but a quarter of the Budget Control Act spending cuts in place, and allowing for only a sub-inflationary increase in discretionary spending. A year ago, the President’s budget completely ignored the cuts under sequestration. But this year’s budget submission takes a somewhat different tack.

The centerpiece is the “base” budget, which does fit under the $1.014 trillion cap. This year’s agency budget submissions primarily focus on the base budget. But the President has also proposed $56 billion in additional funding on top of the current base, through what’s being called the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI). This extra funding, which includes $5.3 billion for R&D, would effectively raise the FY 2015 spending cap from $1.014 trillion to $1.065 trillion (with the Administration seeking to shift an additional $4 billion in surface transportation spending from the discretionary to the mandatory budget), and would be paid for through a combination of revenue increases and some spending cuts elsewhere.

Whereas the discretionary spending cap would increase only by 0.2 percent under current law – well below a 1.7 percent rate of inflation – OGSI would allow for a more robust increase of 5.2 percent. Another way to look at it: the current spending cap is about $72 billion, or 6.6 percent, below the pre-sequestration spending cap for FY 2015 as originally established by the Budget Control Act. Adding in OGSI funding (and accounting for the surface transportation adjustment) would leave FY 2015 spending only about $20 billion, or 1.9 percent, below that original cap, essentially offsetting about three-quarters of the Budget Control Act cuts.

This extra funding would, of course, make a big difference for many R&D agencies that would otherwise receive a sub-inflationary increase in the base budget, though Congress has not been eager to embrace it. To illustrate the funding impact, the graph at right shows changes to discretionary budgets for select agencies in the base budget and the base budget plus OGSI funding, adjusted for inflation. Overall, the President’s base budget proposes $136.5 billion for R&D, a 0.6 percent increase. Adding OGSI R&D funding increases the total request to $141.8 billion, a 4.5 percent increase (see also chart at bottom).

Some agencies have more detailed plans than others for OGSI funding. Available information is reviewed below, and nominal dollar figures are provided in the below chart. Note that unless indicated, these figures are total discretionary spending and not strictly R&D spending; there is no way to know how this spending would ultimately break down between R&D and non-R&D activities.

National Institutes of Health. OGSI provides $970 million extra for NIH. Allocations would include $280 million for research project grants; $100 million more each for Alzheimer’s research and the BRAIN Initiative, in addition to BRAIN Initiative funding in the base budget; $90 million for big data; $50 million for a partnership with industry to accelerate next-generation drug development; and $125 million for vaccine development.

NASA. The additional $886 million for NASA would result in a four percent budget increase from FY 2014 levels, compared against a moderate cut in the base budget. NASA’s plans for OGSI funding are relatively well defined. Some items of note:

  • Within the Science Directorate, the bulk of funding would go towards carbon, climate, and ecosystem monitoring and associated data challenges. Other areas to receive funding would include extended Planetary Science missions, radioisotope power systems, and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
  • There are several projects within the Space Technology and Aeronautics directorates that would receive incremental funding.
  • Unsurprisingly, the Commercial Crew Program would receive the largest slice of OGSI funding, though the Orion vehicle and the Space Launch System would also receive some funding.

National Science Foundation. NSF plans are less detailed than NASA’s, but the $552 million in OGSI funds would likely be spread across the agency. NSF has said the additional funding would provide 1,000 additional grant awards. Priority areas for investment would include neuroscience, cybersecurity, clean energy, climate research, the Cyber-Enabled Materials, Manufacturing, and Smart Systems initiative (CEMMSS), and NSF Research Traineeships.

USDA. Within USDA, the largest slice of OGSI funding ($155 million) would be used to replace the Southeast Poultry Disease Research Laboratory in Athens, GA, while another $42 million would be spread across a variety of intramural research areas. On the extramural front, $60 million of the $80 million would go towards the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), while the remainder would provide competitive funding for capacity grants. AFRI funding would increase by about 22 percent above FY 2014 levels, compared to about a 3 percent increase in the base budget.

Commerce. $180 million in NOAA funding would be divided between ocean observation and data gathering; drought studies; work related to sea level rise; and more accurate heat advisories and forecasts. $25 million would fund oceanic and atmospheric research grants. At NIST, the huge increase is driven by $2.4 billion for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which is setting up industry-led innovation hubs. Nine hubs exist or would be funded in the NIST base budget, while OGSI provides funding for an additional 36 hubs, bringing the total to 45, as the President has pledged.

Federal Aviation Administration. The budget line shown in the above table is entirely for the NextGen initiative, which seeks to transform the nation’s air traffic system to improve safety, capacity, and efficiency. OGSI would accelerate funding for advanced communication, positioning, and radar technology, among other items.

U.S. Geological Survey. USGS funding would be directed towards research in energy and mineral development, climate resilience, ecosystems, water resources management, and species protection. The remaining Interior R&D funding would be divided between five other bureaus, including the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Department of Defense. The Administration has said DOD would receive $2.1 billion for R&D, but more information than that is scarce. It’s reasonable to suppose the science and technology accounts would receive a small slice.

Department of Energy? Not shown in the above table is DOE, as publicly available information is currently conflicting. It appears funding would be available for civilian programs in energy technology development, grid modernization, and energy efficiency, as well as nuclear nonproliferation R&D and nuclear facility modernization within the National Nuclear Security Administration. This post will be updated should things be clarified.

As stated above, Congressional embrace of this overall package is unlikely. For one, Congress would have to raise the discretionary spending limit again, and such a move is guaranteed to cause partisan conflict. The same holds true for the Administration’s revenue proposals to pay for OGSI. And key legislators have already thrown cold water on the general idea of deviating from the December budget deal, even as some in the House have proposed doing just that.

And so the above proposals may be nothing more than a list of priorities that will go unfunded without additional fiscal room. Of course, even if appropriators are unwilling to grant an overall rise in discretionary spending, they always have the option of including pieces of the OGSI in regular appropriations.