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Notes on the President's Budget

Beginning in a few weeks, we'll be presenting a series of online in-depth analyses of the President's FY 2016 budget request to Congress, prepared by AAAS staff and the Intersociety Working Group. This year marks the 40th edition of these analyses, which we've published annually since 1976 as the AAAS Reports series (for instance, last year's edition). This year, we'll be changing things up by making most of the content digital-only, thereby allowing earlier publication and easier access. Check back at the AAAS R&D Program site for more later this month. In the meantime, here's a thumbnail sketch of the budget request.

Basics on Spending


The President's budget proposes $4.0 trillion in outlays for FY 2016, a 6.4 percent nominal increase above FY 2015 levels, and representing an increase in government spending as a share of the economy from 20.9 percent of GDP to 21.3 percent of GDP.

As part of his package, the President has also proposed a discretionary spending increase, as he did last year. Under the Budget Control Act, discretionary spending should only rise by 0.2 percent this year, capped at $1.016 trillion. This cap includes a reduction of $91 billion or 8.2 percent below the original, pre-sequester baseline, which originally had discretionary spending capped at $1.107 trillion in FY 2016 (we'll get deeper into the mechanics of all this in a future post).

Getting closer to that higher $1.107 trillion target this year is a big priority for Democrats, including the President, and for many who value both defense and civilian discretionary expenditures, including for science funding. Reflecting that preference, the President's budget proposes increasing the discretionary spending cap by a net of $71 billion in FY 2016, to $1.087 trillion. This falls a bit short of the original baseline, but would still be good for a 7.2 percent increase above the prior year's levels, and offset most of the current spending reductions.

Such a move may prove to be a heavy lift in the current Republican Congress, where agreement on how to actually pay for these spending increases could be elusive.

See this report from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget for much more on the budget's general contours.

Research & Development Spending


The discretionary spending increase described above means there's more room for investment in R&D. Under current AAAS estimates, R&D would increase by 6.4 percent or $8.8 billion to $145.3 billion in FY 2016 (see current table). Note that basic research would only increase by 2.6 percent and applied research by 3.6 percent, while development funding would increase by 9.2 percent, led by large increases in the Defense Department's development programs for weapons, vehicle, and communications. Under current estimates, budget authority for R&D would increase slightly as a share of GDP, to 0.77 percent from 0.76 percent in FY 2015.

The chart at right shows year-over-year percentage changes for R&D for the major science and technology funders, adjusted for inflation. These figures reflect data from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with some updates and revisions, and will be further updated in the weeks ahead pending additional analysis.

Some brief notes:

  • UPDATED: The big increase for NOAA is driven by a request for construction funds for a new research vessel. The NOAA research office also received a major discretionary increase of 13.6 percent, with large increases for climate and ocean acidification research.
  • Two past Administration priorities — low-carbon energy and advanced manufacturing — are again highlights this year. The Administration has also again revived its proposal for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.
  • NIH would receive the largest dollar increase at fully $1 billion above FY 2015 levels for all program funding. All institutes would receive increases above inflation, with Alzheimer's research again among the priorities. The BRAIN Initiative (including funding from NSF and DARPA) would increase to over $300 million.
  • The major NSF research directorates all received funding increases at least ahead of inflation. Social sciences received the largest requested increase of 7.1 percent, which may not win the favor of appropriators. NSF is also establishing a new research program dubbed Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS).
  • While the NASA budget is more generous than last year's, some of the general contours are the same: limited funding for the Science Directorate, cuts to next-generation space exploration, and a big increase for NASA's technology program.
  • The fusion energy office within the DOE Office of Science would be cut by 10.2 percent, with the domestic research program bearing the brunt of these reductions. Contributions to ITER (the international fusion energy reactor in France) would be held flat. Advanced computing at DOE would receive the biggest increase, and department-wide spending on exascale computing would nearly double.
  • Peer-reviewed competitive research, under USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, would receive a nearly 40 percent increase. Multiple USDA research centers would receive funding for modernization and construction.
  • The budget also included widely-reported proposals for new initiatives on antibiotic-resistant bacteria and precision medicine.

Revisit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program site in the coming weeks for additional coverage, and also be sure to follow AAAS' ScienceInsider.


Matt Hourihan


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