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AAAS Analysis: Science Funding at Risk

The proposed U.S. House of Representatives’ 2013 budget, though unlikely to gain Senate approval, sets a baseline for deep cuts to federal research and development spending for energy and other non-defense areas, according to a new AAAS analysis.

Specifically, the House budget would reduce total spending in key areas by 5% and total R&D by 3% below President Barack Obama’s requested budget of $142.2 billion for fiscal year 2013, said Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

For non-defense R&D in particular, the House proposal would mean an 8% cut versus the president’s request, and a 5% reduction compared with the approved 2012 funding levels.

The Impact of Sequestration

Across-the-board funding cuts will take effect in January 2013 if policymakers fail to agree on alternative budget-control strategies. Factoring in the effects of this “sequestration” could result in a total reduction in federal R&D of up to 12%, compared to both the president’s request and current-year funding levels, according to the AAAS analysis.

The original sequestration agreement was the result of a 2011 compromise that headed off a federal budget crisis and allowed an increase in the government’s debt ceiling. But it requires new cuts by 2013; if Congress and the White House cannot agree on those cuts, across-the-board cuts of about 8-10% would be automatically imposed, split between defense and non-defense discretionary spending.

But the Republican-directed House budget proposes changing the terms of that sequestration so that more of the automatic cuts could fall on nondefense spending.

Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, talks about the competing 2013 budget proposals submitted by President Barack Obama and the U.S. House of Representatives. | Video produced by Carla Schaffer

Under a worst-case scenario, non-defense R&D could be cut up to 27% over the next decade, Hourihan reported. He emphasized that this scenario appears highly unlikely because it would require Senate approval.

But the AAAS analysis suggests that, over a nine-year period (FY2013-21), the House proposal combined with the impacts of the sequestration would most significantly affect R&D related to energy, transportation, and natural resources. Those areas would receive 61%, 34%, and 21% less funding, respectively, compared to the president’s recommendations, Hourihan said.

General science, space, and technology research would receive an estimated 16% fewer resources over the same time period, he noted. Funding would be reduced across all primary categories of U.S. federal R&D, but work in the areas of defense, health, and agriculture, would likely see less drastic cuts under the House budget, given a sequestration scenario.

Matt Hourihan

“Most research areas would be cut, under the House budget, but they wouldn’t all be cut equally,” Hourihan said. “Defense-related R&D would not do too badly under the baseline of the House budget proposal. This area would actually increase above the president’s request, and it would only be cut by about 1% below current 2012 levels. However, other areas would fair much worse. Energy, in particular, would basically be cut in half, compared with current levels.”

The AAAS analysis offers insight to a range of budget scenarios, taking into account the impacts of the Budget Control Act as well as sequestration and an alternative version developed by the House. The analysis should not be considered a prediction of outcomes, Hourihan said, but rather, an informed estimate, given different assumptions.

It is intended to help guide policymakers faced with difficult fiscal decisions during an election year, said Joanne Carney, director of the AAAS Office of Government Relations.

“The Senate is unlikely to approve the House budget recommendations as they stand,” Carney pointed out. “But policymakers will use the House proposal as a baseline for making determinations for appropriation levels. So, it reveals some important insights to R&D priorities. For example, some energy research has been targeted for the deepest cuts.

“Actual funding levels will be set as part of the appropriations process, but the House budget helps us see where the battle lines are being drawn. The House Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee recently released its proposed funding levels for DOE R&D, and while the DOE Office of Science would remain flat, ARPA-E and EERE would receive cuts of 20% or more.”

At a recent Capitol Hill briefing, Hourihan reported that the president’s 2013 budget request includes modest increases in R&D funding for several agencies. As a share of the total federal budget, however, R&D investment would fall to its lowest level in more than 50 years under the president’s proposal, Hourihan said.

The latest AAAS analysis follows another recent discussion on the value of federal R&D, during two events on the House and Senate sides of Capitol Hill. During those briefings, for example, speaker Fred Block of the University of California, Davis, noted that the U.S. innovation system has changed dramatically over the last three decades, with federally funded research helping to drive the Human Genome Project, the emergence of Google and the iPod, and other advances that produce transformational economic benefits.

Hourihan will provide additional insights to federal R&D funding trends during the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology, 26-27 April in Washington, D.C. Journalists can register for press access by emailing

Read the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program’s analysis of the U.S. House of Representatives’ 2013 budget proposal.

Read the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program’s analysis of President Obama’s 2013 R&D budget proposal.

Learn more about the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.