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The FY 2020 Budget Request: Agricultural and Environmental Research

A review of proposed research funding at the USDA and environment-focused agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA and NOAA.

See also: FY 2020 Science Appropriations Dashboard | R&D in the President's Budget


Agricultural Research Service (ARS): The $100 million reduction in Salaries and Expenses, as seen in the table below, would affect most research programs. The largest apparent reduction would be for human nutrition research, funding for which would be roughly halved from FY 2019 levels (though actual FY 2019 allocations program-by-program are not yet available given a late final appropriation). ARS received an historically large $381 million in FY 2019 for lab facility construction and modernization, hence the decline in FY 2020. Major construction projects to have received substantial prior-year funding include the U.S. Agricultural Research Station in Salinas, CA and the Knipling Bushland Laboratory in Kerrville, TX. Project funding requested in the FY 2020 budget includes $42.1 million for design and construction of improved research facilities for the Southeast Watershed Research Laboratory in Tifton, GA and $5.4 million for renovation of the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, WI.

The request also includes $87.1 million for activities at the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF), a new biosafety level 4 lab currently under construction on the Kansas State University campus. The Department of Homeland Security is managing construction, which has already been fully funded, and USDA will take on full stewardship upon completion in the next few years, with appropriators’ approval. This sum breaks down to $79.1 million for operations and maintenance, equipment purchases, and the transition from the existing Plum Island facility; $5 million for related livestock protection research activities, including development of countermeasures against zoonotic agents and of animal disease models; and $3 million for bioassay capacity development.

Table showing USDA funding in the FY 2020 budget request.


National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). As can be seen in the above table, capacity grants and extension activities would generally be scaled back from FY 2019 appropriated levels and integrated activities would be virtually eliminated, while the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative or AFRI would see a substantial plus-up. AFRI would divide its new funding with $134 million on sustainable agriculture, $317 million on foundational and applied science, and $49 million on workforce development. NIFA also proposes an additional $50 million for competitive research facility and equipment awards at land-grant universities.

The NIFA budget also contains $9.5 million for the controversial proposal to move NIFA out of the Washington, DC region as a cost-savings, efficiency, and recruitment measure.

The Administration is looking to achieve the same for the Economic Research Service (ERS), which allots $15.5 million out of its budget for a similar move outside DC and a bureaucratic realignment. Accounting for this sum would leave ERS with a $26.3 million or 30.3 percent drop below FY 2019 levels for programmatic activities, including reduced funding for research on trade and markets, nutrition, food safety, and the rural economy.


The Interior Department’s scientific arm, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), faces an overall $177 million or 15.3 percent reduction below FY 2019 enacted levels (see table below). The Ecosystems mission area would see funding eliminated for Cooperative Research Units, which facilitate research between natural resources agencies and universities across the country. The budget includes a combined $6.9 million cut to Greater Everglades and Chesapeake Bay research and monitoring, while funding for invasive species research would be preserved. For climate-specific USGS activities, see this summary of climate R&D in the budget.

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Within the Water Resources mission area, the Administration would again eliminate the $6.5 million Water Resources Research Act Program, a federal-state partnership that addresses local and regional water problems. The Water Availability and Use Science Program, which conducts the National Water Census among other activities, would see its funding cut by roughly a quarter. The National Water Quality Program and the Groundwater and Information Streamflow Program are slated for cuts of 18.5 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively.

For Energy and Mineral Resources, the Administration proposes $10.6 million for a critical minerals mapping initiative in support of Secretarial Order 3359, issued in December 2017. Meanwhile, funding would again be eliminated for the $10.2 million Contaminant Biology Program and the $12.6 million Toxic Substances Hydrology Program. The Natural Hazards mission area would see cuts to both the earthquake and volcano hazards programs, while funding would be maintained for the Global Seismographic Network. Core Science Systems would absorb funding for the National Land Imaging Program, which is slated for a $10 million or 10 percent cut below FY 2019 enacted, with reductions to research and remote sensing grants.   

Solar-powered seismic station near summit of Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii. Photo courtesy USGS.

Other Interior Agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would see funding eliminated for its Cooperative Landscape Conservation Program, which helps States build science capacity for dealing with conservation issues in areas like energy security and climate resiliency. Funding is also terminated for FWS science support functions to improve the use of science in the conservation of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitat. The Bureau of Reclamation’s Science and Technology Program, which focuses on water and power challenges in the Western US, would see its funding drop by a third. There is also a proposed 15 percent cut to oil spill research conducted by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.


NOAA’s Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research funding account would be cut in half, with a proposal repeated from prior budgets to eliminate the agency’s National Sea Grant College Program (see table below). The budget includes a $22 million or 53.2 percent cut to extramural ocean exploration and research efforts, with reduced support for the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology. The budget proposes a $4 million decrease for the Integrated Ocean Acidification Program, which conducts research on ocean and coastal acidification and its impacts on marine resources, communities and industry. The Administration would eliminate $1.9 million in environmental genomics activities as well as the $3 million autonomous underwater vehicle project, slowing the pace of evaluating new technologies for ocean observations, according to NOAA.



Within the National Ocean Service, the Administration again proposes to eliminate $27 million in federal support to states for management of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, a network of 29 coastal sites designated for long-term research and protection. The budget would also terminate $41 million for the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, which provide grants to academic institutions to conduct ecological research. Elsewhere, the National Marine Fisheries Service would see funding eliminated for Antarctic research and New England groundfish research.

For NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, see the AAAS summary of climate R&D in the budget.


EPA’s Science & Technology budget includes a $40 million or 31.8 percent cut to Chemical Safety and Sustainability research activities, with reductions to both the computational toxicology and endocrine disruptors programs (see table below). The Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program would see funding cuts to research assisting states watersheds and nutrient overloading. Funding would also be cut for research on recovering resources from wastewater and advancing water systems technologies. EPA’s Sustainable and Health Communities Program would face cuts to various activities including research into the environmental component of children’s asthma and research into the cumulative effects of chemical exposures on human health. The Administration would eliminate work on the ECOTOX database and EPA’s Report on the Environment, which track the state of the environment and human health over time.



The Environmental Programs and Management account would see funding eliminated for nearly every one of its Geographic Programs, which partner with states and local entities to support water monitoring and research, specifically those in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, South Florida, San Francisco Bay, and Puget Sound. The budget terminates funding for the National Estuary Program, which addresses environmental challenges and water quality and ecosystem issues in 28 designated estuaries located along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico. Also slated for elimination is water quality research and support grants that totaled $25 million in FY 2018.

For a review of EPA climate change research, see this AAAS summary.


The NIEHS would see a 14.1 percent funding reduction across its extramural research portfolio (see table below), while the estimated number of competing research project grants (RPGs) would be trimmed by just 4 to 144 awards in FY 2020. Within an overall declining budget, the agency would prioritize funding for studies on the environmental risks for psychiatric disorders and chronic kidney disease of unknown origin, among other topics, as guided by the NIEHS 2018–2023 Strategic Plan. Intramural programs, which comprise elements including the National Toxicology Program Division and the NIEHS Clinical Research Unit, would see a total $31 million or 14.1 percent decrease. The proposed budget also includes $66.6 million in Interior Superfund appropriations, a 16 percent decrease from FY 2019 enacted levels.



For more on the FY 2020 National Institutes of Health budget, see this AAAS life science summary.


Within NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate, core environmental biology funding would be cut by a total $13 million or 8.6 percent below FY 2018 enacted levels (see table below). Funding for operations of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), which enables ecological research on a continental scale, would decrease by $5 million or 7.8 percent. The Geosciences Directorate would see broad cuts to earth sciences research while funding for the Academic Research Fleet, including scientific support equipment and oceanographic instrumentation, would decline by a total 13.9 percent below FY 2018. Research within the Office of Polar Programs would drop by a third and supporting infrastructure investments, including U.S. Antarctic and Arctic research facilities, would be subject to an overall $42 million or 11.5 percent reduction.



For more on the FY 2020 NSF budget, see AAAS summaries on physical science and climate research.


The budget proposes a total $19 million or 69.4 percent reduction to Environmental System Science, with reductions to both subsurface biogeochemical research and terrestrial ecosystem science. A large $59 million or 61.2 percent cut to the Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling program would negatively impact the development timetable of the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM), as noted in previous AAAS climate R&D coverage. Elsewhere, funding would be cut by 61.2 percent at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a user facility at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that investigates biological and environmental processes across temporal and spatial scales.



For more on the FY 2020 DOE budget, see this AAAS summary on physical science.

Cover Image Credit: Eric Vance/EPA


David Parkes

Program Associate

Matt Hourihan