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FY 2017 Science Budget, Obama's Last, to Reprise Familiar Themes

Last week the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued their annual joint memo (PDF) identifying science and technology priorities for the FY 2017 budget. That memo provides guidance to federal agencies as they prepare their FY 2017 budget plans, which must be submitted to OMB for review in September before they're sent to Congress by the President in February. It will be the last time President Obama does so, as a new president will be in office the following year.

The FY 2017 guidance largely reiterates R&D budget priorities from years past. A partial list includes:

  • Climate change. The memo highlights the need for "actionable data, information, and related tools" to assist with climate resilience and adaptation. Since the Republicans took back the House of Representatives in 2010, few areas of science and technology funding have been as controversial as climate science, with the possible exception of...
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    Clean energy
    . As in past years the memo casts a wide net related to low-carbon energy technology, calling for grid modernization and innovation in renewable energy, transportation, and efficiency in homes and industry. But again, Congress tends to have very different ideas about where to put these dollars, as shown at right (see also for reference: the President's Climate Action Plan; the Quadrennial Energy Review).
  • Earth observations, another area of recent controversy at NASA (see also the National Plan for Civil Earth Observations)
  • Advanced manufacturing, including enabling technologies like nanotechnology and cyber-physical systems. Attempts to establish a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation have been a centerpiece of recent Administration budgets. The network was authorized by law last December, but so far funding has not been forthcoming (see also the National Plan for Advanced Manufacturing). 
  • Life sciences and neuroscience. This is one of the few areas both parties seem to agree on, as testified by the relative embrace of the BRAIN Initiative by appropriators. The memo also cites antimicrobial resistance, which received special focus in last year's budget submission; biosurveillance; and mental health access (see also the National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria).

Several other areas are mentioned as well; see the memo for the full list. In addition, the memo directs agencies to prioritize resources for commercialization and technology transfer, requests agencies' evaluation strategies for their R&D programs, and cites the Maker Movement as important potential collaborators.

On the same day, OSTP and OMB also released a separate memo on biological defense activities in the FY 2017 budget, directing agencies to provide resources for prevention, threat detection, and response.

These memos are usually, but not always, a good clue as to what the ultimate budget request will include, several months down the road.