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The FY 2020 Budget Request: University Programs

A review of select university-focused research and technology programs in the White House budget.

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

As the largest performers of federally-funded R&D, universities are interwoven throughout the federal science and technology enterprise. Most of that funding is dispersed via competitive awards open to researchers at institutions beyond universities (including industry and national labs; see these other summaries for research areas of interest), but some programs are specifically earmarked for university research and capacity-building. A selection of these are reviewed below.

Department of Defense Science and Technology

As can be seen below, most university-specific programs across military branches would be scaled back somewhat in the Pentagon’s budget, though not everywhere. The Army would see increases of $2.5 million for basic science within the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) and Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP). The University and Industry Research Centers program funds an array of collaborative research ventures including Collaborative Technology and Research Alliances, University Centers of Excellence (COE), and University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs). The decline in that element is primarily due to an unrepeated $22 million in additional funding from Congress in FY 2019 for materials research and other topics, and the move of the $5 million Cyber Security Collaborative Research Alliance out into its own program element in the FY 2020 request.

Elsewhere, Navy funding for DURIP would be reduced by $10 million or 31.1 percent in the request, while MURI and Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) awards are also slated for reductions. Air Force funding for competitive awards for undergrad and graduate research would increase by $1.4 million, amid a modestly declining university initiatives budget overall.

Select university programs funded by DOD in the FY 2020 request.


DOD’s support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions was given an extra $10 million boost in FY 2019 appropriations, but would continue supporting annual competitions for basic research, student support, and instrumentation, and review the Centers of Excellence. DOD’s newly-renamed National Security Innovation Network (not shown in the above table) would receive a $10 million increase above FY 2019 to $25 million for, in part, launching a dual-use technology network with at least 10 university partners; hackathons and related activities at up to 25 universities; and other initiatives.

For more on DOD, see this review of security R&D in the request.

USDA: National Institute of Food and Agriculture

As seen below, most capacity and other grants funded by NIFA for universities would see at least some reductions in the FY 2020 budget request. Several smaller programs would be outright eliminated.

Of note, the Administration proposes $50 million for competitive grants for refurbishment and modernization of aging laboratories and other research-relevant facilities at land grant colleges and universities (including 1862, minority, and tribal institutions). NIFA expects to award 15-20 grants in FY 2020.

Select university programs funded by USDA / NIFA in the FY 2020 request.


National Science Foundation Centers

NSF supports a variety of Centers programs that partner with U.S. universities (see table below). The Centers for Analysis & Synthesis budget would see a 20 percent drop for the final year of funding for the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, located at the University of Maryland. The $19 million request for the Centers for Chemical Innovation would fund up to two new centers, along with three continuing and one potential renewal.

The requested $55 million for the Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) includes initial funding for three 4th-generation ERCs focused on convergent engineering research, with awards anticipated in FY 2020. The budget also proposes an $8 million boost for NSF’s Materials Centers program, which would complete its triennial competition in FY 2020 and fund up to nine new centers.

As for NSF’s Science and Technology Centers, the proposed 30 percent drop reflects the scheduled ramp-down of five centers.



Other Agencies

The Department of Homeland Security’s Centers of Excellence program received funding for ten centers in final FY 2019 appropriations, and would be reduced to five.

NASA's Space Grant Program is slated for elimination, for the third year in a row. The program, currently funded at a total $44 million, comprises a national network of 52 university-based consortia that carries out space-related research.

At NOAA, the Administration again proposes to terminate the National Sea Grant College Program, a national network of 33 university-based programs that supports research in areas of coastal processes, hazards, energy resources, climate change, storm water management and tourism. The budget would eliminate $68 million in base funding for the program, as well as $12 million for the Sea Grant Marine Aquaculture Program, which focuses on research for a sustainable seafood industry.

Within NIST, funding would be eliminated for the Centers of Excellence Program, which supports collaborations between NIST and universities in emerging technology areas. A total $15 million would be terminated for the current three Centers of Excellence in Advanced Materials, Community Resilience, and Forensic Science. Note that this does not affect NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, which is funded through a separate account.


Cover Photo credit: Joe Wolf, Flickr


Matt Hourihan


David Parkes

Program Associate