AAAS R&D Analysis Finds Strong Support for Basic Research in FY 2010 Budget

President Barack Obama’s proposed 2010 budget would flat-line overall funding for federal research and development while still directing strong support to agencies conducting the bulk of the government’s basic physical sciences research, according to AAAS’s top budget analyst.

Patrick Clemins, director of the AAAS R&D Budget Policy Program, said in a briefing on Capitol Hill that the $147.5 billion federal science budget proposed for next year, an increase of 0.3%, or $ 491 million over the previous year’s funding levels, is an all-time high.

Patrick Clemins

This increase is driven by broad budgetary support for agencies across the federal government, especially those identified in the America COMPETES Act (2007) as primary drivers of U.S. innovation through basic and applied physical sciences research—the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DoE).

Other agencies receiving large percentage increases include the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with moderate gains for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Transportation.

The strong increases for physical science research will be offset by cuts or flat funding for the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Clemins said at the briefing held in conjunction with the U.S. House Research and Development Caucus.

“It’s clear that President Obama recognizes the connection between federal support of basic research and America’s ability to remain competitive globally for ideas and a talented workforce,” said Clemins. “Science and technology are recognized as drivers of economic heath and growth, not only in the United States, but also the world.”

The 30 September luncheon brought together representatives from congressional staffs and scientific societies, along with policymakers, journalists, and the public. Organized by the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Congress, the briefing focused on the impacts of the budget proposal on the major research and development agencies and the political outlook for science and technology in the appropriations process.

Obama’s budget proposal is not final—it must now be reviewed by committees in both chambers of Congress before it returns to the President’s desk for signature.

As of November 9, five of the twelve appropriations bills have been signed by the President, with the remaining seven bills still under review by Congressional groups.

Beyond the increased funding proposed in the president’s budget, Congress directed an additional $18.4 billion to agencies conducting research and development as part of a $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Passed in February 2009, the purpose of the act was to stimulate the struggling U.S. economy through “job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and state and local fiscal stabilization.”

While ARRA funds do represent federal support of science, they are not included in the FY 2010 budget proposal analysis.

In the budget proposal, basic research would surge 3.4% to $30.8 billion, mostly due to increases in the budgets of NASA and the NSF, while applied research would fall 3.1% to $28.5 billion. This leads to a modest 0.2% to 0.3% increase in total federal support of research (basic and applied). When adjusted for inflation, this represents the sixth year in a row that the number would decline—down 6.8% from 2004.

Clemins cited an April 2009 speech to the National Academy of Sciences in which Obama pledged efforts to push total government and private sector R&D spending to more than 3% of U.S. gross domestic product, a target also set by the European Union in 2000. Currently, R&D accounts for around 3.55% of GDP in Japan and South Korea, with China currently at 1.5% and rising fast.

“A robust investment in research and development will pay clear dividends if we are able to harness the will and excitement of our most talented scientists and engineers,” said U.S. Rep Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), co-chair and co-founder of the House Research and Development Caucus. He added that Obama’s strong support of the federal science budget is not only driven by those that have influence on him, “but from the president himself.”

The America COMPETES Act and the American Competitiveness Initiative advanced under former President George W. Bush are initiatives to double the budgets of the NSF, DoE Office of Science, and NIST over seven to 10 years beginning in 2007. In the president's proposed 2010 budget, NSF received a 9.5% increase in funding excluding non-R&D related programs, with increased funding for its Directorate for Social and Behavioral Sciences (up 6.9%) and Directorate for Geosciences (up 12.6%).

The DoE Office of Science would see an increase in R&D spending of 3.3%, growing $142 million to $4.5 billion. Strong funding would go towards investments in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, with fossil fuel and coal programs receiving less support. Despite the drop in coal funding in the President’s proposal, it received $3.4 billion in ARRA funding.

Within the $1.3 billion requested for the Department of Commerce, NIST R&D programs would increase 13% to $471 million, while NOAA R&D would decrease 8% to $644 million. Some of the NOAA declines are offset by money it received from stimulus programs. Within the Department of the Interior, the USGS, which has recently lagged behind other R&D agencies in funding, would receive a 5.2% boost to $1.1 billion.

As the largest supporter of basic research in the federal government, NIH’s budget would rise $443 million, or 1.4%, to $31 billion dollars, with strong support for research on cancer and autism spectrum disorders.

Clemins said the federal government’s support of basic research remains critical. While private industry outspends the federal government in total R&D by more than 2-to-1, industry funding overwhelmingly goes towards applied research and development.

“Not only does the federal government perform much of the nation’s basic and applied research,” Clemins said, “it also has the ability, or responsibility, to work on issues that private industry may not be interested in.”