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Congress Is Expected to Boost Research and Development Spending

Congress Is Expected to Boost Research and Development Spending


The odds are Congress will increase R&D spending in fiscal 2017 before year’s end, easing the impact of recent congressional austerity measures on science spending. | AAAS

Congress is on track to increase federal spending for research and development programs by at least $3.1 billion in fiscal 2017 over the previous year, a noteworthy boost at a time when overall federal discretionary spending is slated to remain flat, according to AAAS’ latest analysis of federal spending programs.

Congress Is Expected to Boost Research and Development Spending


Spending levels as percent of GDP are set to remain steady in fiscal 2017. | AAAS

R&D spending in the 12 appropriations measures that the House Appropriations Committee has approved would increase spending by $3.1 billion, a 2.1% increase over fiscal 2016, and the 12 measures the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved would boost spending by $4.7 billion, a 3.2% increase over fiscal 2016, said AAAS’ latest R&D budget analysis report.

Research and development (R&D) spending is mostly concentrated in six major spending bills that encompass programs in nine federal departments and at least nine other agencies, and includes both discretionary accounts – spending that Congress adjusts and allocates annually – and mandatory accounts – direct spending that has dedicated funding streams established by law. 

Taken alone, research funding – a category that does not include development spending, which is primarily found in the Defense Department, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Energy Department – would increase by at least 2% in fiscal 2017 based on spending measures House and Senate appropriations panels have approved, the report said. 

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Total federal R&D spending has regained some ground since the sharp 2011 budget cuts. | AAAS

The report predicts that Congress will preserve the spending increases in whatever final spending vehicle is enacted by year’s end. While calling the spending increases “modest,” the report said they represent real dollar increases given an inflation rate of 1.8%, and, interestingly, would outpace spending levels President Barack Obama requested for the same programs in his fiscal 2017 budget blueprint earlier this year.

“Discretionary spending is flat in FY17. That’s usually the major determining factor for R&D decisions in the aggregate,” said Matt Hourihan, director of AAAS’ R&D Budget and Policy Program, which prepared the fiscal 2017 spending outlook and sent it members of Congress on 15 September. “Congress was still able to provide boosts to NIH and shield NASA from steep cuts even though there isn’t a lot of room to work with.”

R&D spending includes everything from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s initiatives in the Defense Department relating to biosecurity and technological tracking devices, to the National Institutes of Health’s projects relating to research into precision medicine and advances in the understanding of the brain.

Each year, AAAS analyzes research and development spending rates and issues periodic reports, beginning with the president’s budget proposal and concluding when Congress completes its work on spending measures. The latest report provides an outlook for the remainder of fiscal 2017, which officially ends on Oct. 1.

The report comes as congressional leaders are working on a stopgap funding measure that Congress is widely expected to send to the president for his signature to avoid a government shutdown. The stopgap bill is expected to extend spending levels beyond the Nov. 8 elections, most likely until sometime in December when it is anticipated that Congress will then wrap up its work on final bills.

The R&D spending increases are primarily due to House and Senate appropriators providing far more funding for the National Institutes of Health than Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget blueprint proposed.

The president’s budget plan called for cutting NIH’s discretionary spending by $1 billion while increasing by $1.8 billion its mandatory or direct spending that is distributed based on congressional authorizations that become law.  House and Senate appropriators rejected the president’s proposed discretionary spending cuts with the House Appropriations Committee approving a $1.3 billion increase for NIH, and the Senate panel approving a $2 billion increase for the health agency.

Putting the spending levels in historical context, the expected R&D spending tracks recent spending trends, and would represent .78% of all the goods and services the U.S. produces under the House panel approved measure, and .79% of the gross domestic product under the Senate panel approved version.

“If Congress ends up halfway between House and Senate, then we’re looking at moderate increases, a bit ahead of the rate of inflation relative to fiscal 2016,” said Hourihan. “That would sustain the budget recovery,” in science agency spending since Congress first put in place steep spending cuts across all federal agencies in 2011.

[Associated image: Kevin McCoy/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0]


Anne Q. Hoy

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