Guide to the President’s Budget: Research & Development FY 2019

A review and summary of R&D funding proposals in the White House budget request for the 2019 fiscal year.

Note: the bulk of this guide was drafted prior to passage of the FY 2018 omnibus spending bill, and compares the President's budget against FY 2017 figures. For comparisons with FY 2018 omnibus figures see these tables.

In addition, Congress has to date largely rejected the President's budget request. For the most up-to-date and relevant content, see: AAAS Appropriations Dashboard | May 30 Update | May 18 Update | May 11 Update

Introduction and Overview

The story of the proposed science budget for FY 2019 is rather unusual. Originally, the Trump Administration had planned to replicate much of the FY 2018 budget, which was historically difficult for federal science and innovation programs. For instance, documents from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) suggest agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were originally slated for reductions in the order of 20 or 30 percent. And the Administration had also planned on again targeting environmental science programs, applied technology research within the Department of Energy, and other such programs.

But a matter of days before the White House budget was due February 12, Congress adopted the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the latest in a string of budget deals to raise the spending caps that have been in place since FY 2012, and the latest demonstration of Congress' unwillingness to take the budget to places preferred by the Trump Administration. Ultimately, Congress added $68 billion to the nondefense discretionary cap in FY 2019, whereas the Administration had intended to cut nondefense spending by $65 billion, according to official documents (the budget deal also added $80 billion to the defense discretionary cap, a move much more in line with White House thinking).

These developments meant an enormous gap of $132 billion between what Congress was planning to spend on nondefense programs and the White House’s pending recommendation to reduce those programs by over 10 percent below FY 2017 levels. In response, OMB made a last-minute decision, literally over the weekend before the budget was due, to add $75 billion back into the nondefense budget (see Figure 1), with details on this last-minute spending addition spelled out in a 26-page addendum.

Roughly $14 billion out of the $75 billion was directed to science and technology programs, primarily for federal funders of nondefense basic science:

  • NIH received an extra $9.2 billion on top of the original request
  • NSF received an extra $2.2 billion
  • The Department of Energy Office of Science received an extra $1.2 billion
  • Additional smaller amounts were directed to NASA, the Department of Agriculture, fossil and renewable energy programs, and elsewhere

This maneuver allowed the Administration to recommend flat budgets (from FY 2017 levels) for the first three agencies in the above list, rather than the round of steep cuts originally planned. On the other hand, several R&D areas outside the basic research realm would again be targeted, as they were in last year’s budget. Some examples:

  • Termination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
  • Elimination of EPA climate research
  • Support for only three out of eight Climate Science Centers within the U.S. Geological Survey
  • Termination of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership within the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Termination of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's’s Sea Grant College Program and the National Estuarine Research Reserve system

While the FY 2019 White House budget is ultimately a bit friendlier for many research programs, the White House could actually have gone further. Following the aforementioned budget deal, the nondefense cap for FY 2019 stands at $597 billion –
but the White House is now recommending Congress spend only recommending Congress spend $540 billion, even with the last-minute addendum funding (Figure 1). That means the Administration could, in theory, have chipped in extra funding
for stated priorities such as high-performance computing, cybersecurity, agricultural biotechnology, or other fields. Instead, the White House preference is to see that extra funding go unspent.

For more, download the full report.