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AAAS Analysis: 2012 R&D Gains for Basic Research, Energy, and Environment; Overall Investment Down

Basic and applied research and energy and environmental research scored significant increases in a 2012 budget bill signed recently by President Barack Obama, but overall research and development spending will decline by 1.3%, according to a new analysis by the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

Total R&D spending for fiscal year 2012 was set at $142 billion, down about $1.9 billion from 2011.

“It’s no doubt a tough fiscal environment, but the fact that we actually see some fairly sizeable increases in certain research areas suggests persistent support for science and innovation even now,” said Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

Matt Hourihan

The budget for the fiscal year that began 1 October is the result of protracted and often contentious deliberations involving Congress and the White House. A $1 trillion compromise on nine key spending areas emerged from a House-Senate conference committee and was signed by Obama on Friday 23 December. It reflects both a drive to reduce the federal deficit and an effort to preserve R&D related to security and innovation.

According to the AAAS analysis, much of the 2012 R&D cut is concentrated in defense—and especially defense development initiatives. Overall, defense R&D will decline by 3.2%, or $2.5 billion.

Basic defense research, development, testing, and evaluation will rise 8.7% from 2011 levels, and applied research will rise by 5.6%. But that gain is dwarfed by billions of dollars in cuts to operational systems development and classified programs, among other areas.

Hourihan’s analysis found non-defense R&D will rise by a slight 0.5%, or $293 million, over 2011 levels. But there are a number of significant gainers:

  • The Department of Energy receives an overall R&D increase of 8%, or $821 million. Funding for energy programs will increase by 10.5%, or $198 million. Atomic defense R&D, including such areas as handling or disposing of fissile materials and managing the nation’s nuclear stockpile, will increase by 8.2%, or $322 million.
  • National Science Foundation R&D will rise 3.1%, or $165 million, for a key agency in the U.S. innovation ecosystem.
  • The Department of Commerce will see an overall R&D rise of 12.7%, or $158 million. Most of that will go to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), another important innovation agency. R&D at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will rise by 0.6%.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency will receive an R&D boost of 12.1%, or $68 million.

Research and development funding at the National Institutes of Health will essentially hold steady, with a $56 million decrease in its $30.2 billion budget.

Significant R&D cuts are in store for NASA (-6.6%, $647 million) and Education (-3.7%, $12 million).

Hourihan joined AAAS as director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program in December 2011. He earned a masters degree in public policy at George Mason University and has worked in the renewable energy policy field with positions at the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

Edward W. Lempinen

9 January 2012


Edward W. Lempinen

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