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FY 2013 appropriations: Nearly $10 billion in R&D cuts

With the passage of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 last week — on a 318-109 vote in the House following a 73-26 vote in the Senate — appropriations for FY 2013 are now complete, six months into the fiscal year.  The bill trims $506.6 million in R&D funding from FY 2012 levels, according to initial AAAS estimates, but also leaves sequestration in place, meaning that federal R&D may be reduced as much as $9.6 billion below last year's levels, a 6.9% drop.

Not all agencies will fare equally, though.  Department of Defense (DOD) R&D will likely decline by roughly $7.0 billion or 9.4% below FY 2012 levels, with Congress cutting $1.3 billion and sequestration accounting for the remainder — although cuts to the Defense Health Program research will be somewhat smaller than the DOD total due to a Congressional boost. On the other hand, Congress granted increases to the Department of Energy (DOE) atomic weapons and nonproliferation accounts within the National Nuclear Security Administration, leaving DOE's atomics R&D only $45 million or 1.1% below FY 2012.  (All figures are in current dollars, except where specifically noted two paragraphs below.) 

Nondefense research agencies also are subject to some variation. The National Science Foundation's R&D received a boost of $152 million or 2.7%, which would leave the agency's R&D budget only 2.4% below FY 2012 levels after sequestration. NSF also saw the preservation of its political science research programs, but with some unprecedented restrictions.  Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) amendment, which originally would have stripped all NSF funding for political science research, was modified to restrict NSF to funding only research projects that "the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States," and was passed by voice vote.  Despite a small boost to NIH, sequestration will still leave its R&D roughly $1.4 billion or 4.8% below FY 2012 levels.  Overall R&D budgets at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and especially the Department of Homeland Security were increased significantly, more than offsetting sequestration's effects. At NASA, the Science and Space Technology directorates were boosted at the expense of the Exploration and Space Operations accounts. And as a result of fiscal tightness, NASA has announced the suspension of a broad array of public education and outreach activities, pending further review.

In historical terms, when adjusted for inflation, these figures put federal R&D investment (in actual spending power) at its lowest point since FY 2002, and more than $25 billion in constant dollars below the all-time peak in 2010. This represents a roughly 17.1% decline in just three years. 

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