First Notes on the FY 2018 Science Budget

Trump Administration’s Proposal Would Make Historically Large Spending Reductions for Science and Technology Funding

See also:
DOE, NSF, and NASA in FY 2018
USDA and Commerce in FY 2018
DOD, EPA, and the U.S. Geological Survey in FY 2018

Following the March release of the so-called "skinny budget," the Trump Administration today unveiled the (mostly) full set of funding proposals that make up their FY 2018 budget. It's "mostly" full because, at the time of this writing, there are some important details still missing. Most notably, the full funding request for NIH has yet to be revealed (though the Department of Health and Human Services devotes a portion of their budget summary to NIH). The full budget should shed further light on the agency's priorities for FY 2018 and, hopefully, clarify NIH's confirmed plans to cap indirect costs at a uniform rate.

But with the lion's share of important details now public, one can begin filling in the full picture of an historically large set of cuts to science and technology (some of which can be seen in the graph above at right). There is much to absorb, but some quick notes are below; AAAS will provide additional coverage in the coming days.

Discretionary Spending and R&D Totals

As has been previously reported, the budget would make very large reductions to the nondefense discretionary spending cap in FY 2018, cutting that portion of the budget by $54 billion or 10.9 percent below FY 2017 levels in order to boost defense spending. But what's clear now is that the Trump Administration would go much farther than that. As can be seen at right, the White House budget recommends steep nondefense cuts in FY 2018 - and then would keep cutting beyond, by over two percent annually before inflation. As a result, the nondefense discretionary budget in 2027 would be 41.9 percent less than in 2017, adjusted for purchasing power. Over the decade, total nondefense spending would decline by 29 percent in the aggregate.

This matters for R&D funding because every science and technology agency and program outside the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration is housed in the nondefense budget. Most programs generally move in accord with this budget: when it declines, most science agencies decline to varying degrees, and vice versa. Bringing the nondefense budget to the historically low levels proposed would almost certainly have substantial ripple effects on even popular science programs like NIH.

Leaving aside the question of future funding, the Trump Administration budget proposes substantially large reductions to R&D funding in 2018, particularly for basic and applied research. According to current (and preliminary) AAAS estimates, the White House would cut total research funding by 16.8 percent, or $12.6 billion, in FY 2018. No Administration appears to have proposed cuts to research this large in over 40 years (President Reagan came closest).

Note that these figures compare FY 2018 funding data against R&D estimates from the recent omnibus, which provided 2017 funding. That legislation did provide several science funding boosts, but it also came too late for the final numbers to be incorporated into the Administration's public budget materials for 2018. As a result, the official budget documents assume all agencies were essentially flat-funded in 2017 under a hypothetical continuing resolution, lasting all year. While a perfectly defensible choice given the constraints and timelines of budget preparation, it also doesn't reflect reality as much as using Congressionally-enacted omnibus figures; AAAS is opting for the latter approach.

Given the steep cuts to research funding, federal research would ultimately drop to 0.31 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, representing at least a 40-year low in that metric (see graph below).

Agency Notes

While more detail will be provided in future updates, here are a few noteworthy items from science and technology agencies:

  • As mentioned above, NIH is slated for a 21.5 percent reduction below omnibus funding levels (see table). No President has sought such a cut in at least 40 years, and the reduction would essentially wipe out NIH's previous budget doubling. The White House would eliminate the Fogarty International Center, and consolidate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality into NIH as a new institute. The Administration will also adopt a uniform indirect cost rate agency-wide, but further detail awaits (edit: the uniform rate will be set at 10 percent, per White House documents).
  • As expected, most science and technology programs at the Department of Energy would be cut to varying degrees. Some of the steepest reductions are for renewable energy and efficiency; carbon capture and storage technology; and climate-related research within the Office of Science. Program eliminations would include the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, as expected; multiple energy innovation hubs; and the Department's clean energy manufacturing institutes.
  • In spite of the overall increase to defense spending, Department of Defense science and technology programs would generally not benefit. DOD basic research would be cut by 2.1 percent. Among the military branches, Army's research and advanced technology programs would be cut by 22.4 percent. On the other hand, DARPA would be slated for a 9.7 percent increase.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) would see an 11 percent reduction to a total $6.6 billion in FY 2018, bringing the agency's inflation-adjusted budget down to FY 2002 levels. NSF’s six main research directorates would see roughly equal percentage reductions across the board.
  • Within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, the budget provides Planetary Science with a 4.5 percent increase, including a $150 million boost for a planned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, while cutting back the Earth Science portfolio by 9 percent below last year’s enacted levels, somewhat larger than expected. Both SLS and Orion would be trimmed, and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program would also see a funding reduction.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would take a 13 percent cut to its core laboratory programs, which focus on cybersecurity, nanoscale science, communications technology, and other basic research areas. The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) would be eliminated, while Manufacturing USA, formerly known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), would receive $15 million, a $10 million reduction from the enacted omnibus level.
  • NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) would see a large $164 million or 32 percent decrease, with OAR climate research scaled back by 19 percent from last year’s enacted levels. The National Sea Grant College Program would be eliminated, while the National Weather Service is slated for a 5.7 percent cut in the request. GOES-R and JPSS would see funding reductions in line with planned launch preparation activities, while the Polar Follow On (PFO) budget would be cut in half and a re-plan initiated for the PFO program.
  • EPA’s Science & Technology account would be cut by $263 million or 36.8 percent below last year's enacted omnibus level.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would be subject to an overall 15 percent cut, $163 million below last year’s appropriated level of $1.1 billion.