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New Spending Bill Leads to Modest Growth in Federal R&D Funding

While many federal science and technology agencies and programs received funding increases from the 1,600-page omnibus spending bill, analysis by AAAS indicates that few will face budget bumps that exceed the inflation rate, meaning that their spending power for fiscal year 2015 will remain essentially unchanged.

"The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is generally pleased that the omnibus bill includes stable funding for R&D," said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science. "We encourage the House and the Senate to work together towards closing the innovation deficit, which is so dependent on a vibrant science and technology enterprise."

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which was passed by the U.S. Senate on 13 December and signed by President Obama on 16 December, appropriated $1.1 trillion in spending to fund the federal government through fiscal year 2015. The omnibus spending bill appropriated $137.6 billion for federal R&D, keeping pace with inflation by growing 1.7% over the FY 2014 appropriation.

However, the R&D funding situation for one government agency remains unclear. While every other agency received a full appropriation for the year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was funded by a continuing resolution that will expire in February. The stop-gap measure gives incoming Congressional Republicans an opportunity to develop a legislative response to President Obama's executive actions on immigration. Moreover, the estimated R&D budget for DHS may decrease as the agency will require less funding to complete construction of a new biodefense facility in Kansas.

The numbers above also exclude R&D tied to war funding and Ebola response, including vaccine development and manufacturing, therapeutics, viral genetics, and clinical trials. R&D spending linked to Ebola response will include $238 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $45 million for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), $50 million for the Chemical and Biological Defense Program, and $157 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control received an appropriation of $1.8 billion for Ebola response, though that is non-R&D funding. When such supplemental funding is included, the total federal R&D budget increases 2.2% over FY 2014.

Besides the supplemental funding for Ebola response, the NIH received $30.3 billion for R&D, a 0.5% increase over FY 2014. Appropriations for the BRAIN Initiative, Alzheimer's research, and the Common Fund for pediatric research slightly exceeded the inflation rate but funding fell for the rest of the agency, dropping 12.7% below its peak in FY 2004.

Unlike NIH, basic research and advanced technology R&D funded by the Department of Defense (DOD) received higher appropriations than requested, increasing more than 5% over FY 2014. In fact, basic research funding at DOD will reach its highest level in at least 30 years and overall science and technology funding will grow to its highest point since FY 2010.

NASA will also receive more funding than requested during the initial appropriations process and $549 million more for R&D than requested in the President's FY 2015 budget, which would have cut the agency's budget. Several programs at NASA will receive budget increases but the biggest bump will go to aeronautics research, which will receive 15% more funding than it did in FY 2014.

In addition to the omnibus bill, Congress included report language explaining the intent behind the appropriations. The final version of the report omitted language from earlier drafts that would have prevented the DOD, DOE, the National Science Foundation, and NASA from "implementing" climate change reports such as the National Climate Assessment and the IPCC report. However, it does call on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Pentagon to report on how much they spend implementing the recommendations from the climate reports.


Kat Zambon