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A Look at R&D Funding in the FY 2015 Omnibus

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 83), released this week, is a massive 1,600-page bill that would fund most federal agencies through the end of the 2015 fiscal year next September. The deadline for passage to avoid a shutdown is actually today, December 11, but Congress is likely to pass a continuing resolution to buy a few more days' time. While some climate-related riders did not make it into the bill, controversy has emerged over other areas, including immigration and financial reform.

The bill provides $1.1 trillion in total spending, including discretionary spending subject to the caps established by the Budget Control Act and modified by the Bipartisan Budget Act exactly one year ago. It also includes war funding and supplemental spending for disaster relief and Ebola response (see also the actual text; House summary; Senate summary). While most agencies would receive a full appropriation for the year, the lone exception is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The agency would only be operating under a continuing resolution through February, to give the next Republican-controlled Congress a chance to devise a legislative response to the President's executive actions on immigration.

On the science and technology front, several agencies and programs would see real funding increases above FY 2014 levels. Many of these increases are higher than the rate of inflation. Other increases, like those for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), are below inflation but above the rest of the discretionary budget. This is an important baseline to keep in mind: discretionary spending is the pool from which most R&D funding is drawn, and is nearly flat in FY 2015. Under these tight constraints, every dollar one program gets is a dollar another program doesn't.



According to current AAAS estimates, base federal R&D would rise to $137.6 billion under the omnibus, a 1.7 percent increase from FY 2014 levels — exactly the rate of inflation (download a table breaking R&D down by agency, and see chart at right for a breakdown by individual spending bill). Note that this amount includes a placeholder for DHS in FY 2015. The final Homeland Security R&D appropriation may ultimately come down a bit relative to last year, as the agency requires less funding this year to complete construction of a new biodefense facility in Kansas.

Our omnibus estimate is also 0.9 percent above the request. Some large agencies and programs, like Defense science, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Agricultural Research Service, came out notably ahead of the request, while many did not.

The above estimate excludes $227 million for R&D specifically tied to war funding, and R&D contained in the multibillion-dollar Ebola response. For Ebola, appropriators provided $238 million for NIH, $45 million for DARPA, $50 million for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program, and $157 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. This collective funding focuses around vaccine development and manufacturing, therapeutics, viral genetics, and clinical trials. The Centers for Disease Control also received a hefty amount, $1.8 billion, though most of this is non-R&D. Factoring in all of these supplementals would mean a year-over-year R&D increase of 2.2 percent.


According to the current estimate, defense R&D would rise just slightly faster than nondefense R&D, due in part to large boosts for Defense science and technology and National Nuclear Security Administration R&D. Total research would only increase by 0.2 percent while development activities would increase by 2.9 percent compared to FY 2014, but some of this disparity is due to a NASA reclassification of some research activities to development across years.

As a share of gross domestic product, the current estimates peg federal R&D at 0.76 percent of GDP in FY 2015 (again, pending a final DHS appropriation), compared to 0.78 percent in FY 2015 and a President's budget that would have put base R&D at 0.75 percent.


Click here for a summary table showing overall budgets (including non-R&D spending) for select agencies.

  • At NIH, most institutes would receive a 0.3 percent increase. Larger increases of 1 to 2 percent were reserved for cancer research, Alzheimer's research, and the BRAIN Initiative. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would receive the $238 million in Ebola-related funding.
  • At $2.3 billion, DOD basic research would reach at least a 30-year high in constant dollars. DARPA would receive a 3.4 percent increase, somewhat below the request, plus Ebola funding.
  • NASA has to be considered among the agency winners. Appropriators outdid themselves, granting more than had been proposed during the regular appropriations process and over $500 million more than the President's request, which had sought cuts. Several areas would receive increases above FY 2014, but none moreso than the agency's aeronautics research, which would receive 15 percent above FY 2014 levels.
  • The National Science Foundation also came out ahead of the President's request, and closer to the higher House appropriation.
  • Technology programs in efficiency, renewables, fossil energy, and nuclear energy all saw increases in new budget authority (though nuclear energy also received a large rescission of previously-granted funding authority). But the Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) were flat-funded. Within the Science office, Biological and Environment Research was cut, and appropriators trimmed U.S. cash and hardware contributions to ITER, the international fusion energy project, to $150 million, from $200 million in FY 2014. The cash portion cannot be released until ITER implements managerial reforms.  
  • Within USDA, both intramural and extramural research received increases, though not large. The Agricultural Research Service received $45 million for projects identified in its capital investment strategy (PDF), with a new Southeast poultry research center topping the list. The competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received a 2.8 percent increase.

Additional updates will follow if and when the omnibus bill passes Congress and becomes law. Also keep an eye on ScienceInsider for in-depth and ongoing coverage.


Matt Hourihan