Skip to main content

Obama 2011 Budget Proposal Details Range of New R&D Priorities, AAAS Analyst Says

President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal includes significant new investment for research into energy, health, space, and basic sciences, with funding drawn away from long-time research and development priorities such as defense and homeland security, AAAS’s budget analyst said on Capitol Hill.

Patrick Clemins, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, said at an hour-long briefing that the federal research and development budget would decline slightly from 2010 levels. Still, he said, by shifting funds between programs, the administration is seeking to renew the historic federal role in cutting-edge research that drives innovation and economic growth.

“The budget this year is pretty flat from last year,” Clemins said in an interview after the briefing. That is “not a big surprise, because of Obama’s pledge in the State of the Union address to keep discretionary spending flat over the next three years. But within that budget, there have been a number of shifts in priorities.”

Clemins identified several key elements of the White House vision for science and technology: Federal research on fossil fuels and nuclear energy would be reduced, as would investment in agricultural facilities. Much space travel would be turned over to the private sector in the next five to 10 years. But the federal government would increase funding for research on cancer and autism; science education and workforce development; elements of a new U.S. manufacturing strategy; and R&D in energy, defense, computing, and space science that could have far-reaching future applications.

Patrick Clemins

The briefing was requested by the Congressional Research & Development Caucus and organized by the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress. The AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program is a leading authority on how the United States and other nations invest in science and technology; it annually provides an assessment of the U.S. president’s R&D budget proposal soon after it is submitted to Congress and tracks its evolution through the year.

Clemins provided his first comprehensive look at the Obama administration’s 2011 R&D plan to an audience of about 100 people—including one member of Congress, educators, reporters, and staffers from Congress, the White House, and foreign embassies—who convened 16 March in the ornate Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building.

“Nobody tells us better what the current situation is than AAAS,” U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) said in introducing Clemins. “Their annual look at research and development, particularly in the federal budget, is second to none.”

The Obama administrations research and development budget proposal for 2011 was unveiled at AAAS last month by John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. His presentation came just days after Obama, in his State of the Union address, called for a freeze on non-defense discretionary spending as part of an effort to control the federal budget deficit.

Clemins, at his briefing, said the budget numbers appear to reflect the administration’s goal of using R&D investment to help achieve several top priorities: new industries and jobs; clean energy; health; and national security.

In all, the federal R&D budget proposed by Obama is $148.1 billion, a decrease of 0.3% the current year. But the deeper story of the budget is told by the shifts, Clemins said.

  • Overall funding would increase for basic research by 4.4% and for applied research by 3.9%. But funding would decline by 3.5% for development and by 1.1% for equipment and facilities.
  • Funding for defense R&D would fall by 4.8%; for non-defense R&D, it would increase by 5.8%. (The Department of Defense would continue to get a little over half of all federal funding for research and development.)
  • Within the Department of Defense, the administration would cut development by 5%, or $71 billion. But funds would be shifted toward cutting-edge research: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an established center of military innovation, would get an increase of $3.1 billion, or 3.7%. And investment in basic defense research would rise 6.7% to $2 billion.
  • At the Department of Energy (DoE), R&D spending would fall by 10.4% for fossil fuels and by 19.2% for nuclear energy. But Obama would provide $300 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which received its first funding in 2009 to pursue potential paradigm-shifting energy research. The administration also would increase R&D funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy; the nation’s electricity distribution grid; and the DoE Office of Science.
  • Overall, energy would move past NASA to become the No. 3 recipient of federal R&D funding, behind defense and health.

One of the most controversial elements in Obama’s budget was the proposal to end NASA’s Constellation program, which would have developed spacecraft that could replace the Space Shuttle and support human missions to the moon and possibly Mars.

But there, too, the administration is signaling a shift in priorities and funds, Clemins said. Though it would save $3.1 billion by ending the return-to-the-moon mission and retiring the space shuttle, the proposed budget would increase overall NASA R&D funding by $1.7 billion, or 18.3%.

Obama would invest $6.1 billion over five years to transition regular near-Earth orbit missions to private industry. It would raise funding for the International Space Station by 35.1%, to $812 million, over three years. And it would invest $559 million in “heavy-lift” and propulsion systems, including research into new engines, new propellants, and advanced combustion processes.

“The cancellation of the Constellation program—and especially the Space Shuttle retirement—allows NASA to re-energize and… become more of a research and development agency and less of an operations agency,” Clemins said in his briefing.

Three other key science and technology agencies—the National Science Foundation (NSF), the DoE Office of Science; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—would receive significant increases. The America COMPETES Act of 2007 established the goal of doubling the agencies’ budgets to support the basic science research essential for the nation’s long-term innovation efforts.

Under the White House budget proposal, the overall NSF budget would rise 8% to $7.4 billion, with a 9.4% increase pushing R&D to $5.5 billion, Clemins said. The funds would be used to support the National Innovation Strategy through next-generation information and communication technology, workforce development, and other initiatives.

The DoE Office of Science budget would rise 4.4% to $5.1 billion, with R&D funding rising 3.8% to $4.6 billion. Among the initiatives supported by that funding: Energy Frontier Research Centers; a new Energy Innovation Hub dealing with batteries and energy storage; advanced computing; and workforce development.

At NIST, the total budget would rise 7.3% to $919 million, with the R&D budget rising 21.7% to $706 million. An initiative called Competitive Manufacturing and Construction in a Clean-Energy Economy would get $34.6 million in new funding.

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) R&D budget would rise 2.8% to $31.4 billion. Among initiatives to receive funding in 2011 would be: cancer and autism spectrum disorders; AIDS research; and health applications of nanotechnology. The NIH Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program, mandated by Congress to drive the discovery of new drugs, would nearly double to a total of $50 million.

Clemins reported that the administration would provide an increase of less than 1% in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, with the budget up $32 million to $3.7 billion. Most of the new funds would go toward undergraduate diversity programs and graduate-level fellowships at NSF, NIH, DoD, and DoE.

Total homeland security spending, across more than 10 federal departments and agencies, would rise by 2.7 percent, Clemins’ research shows. But Department of Homeland Security R&D would fall 4.4%, he said.


Listen to AAAS’s Patrick Clemins discuss R&D priorities in the 2011 budget proposed by President Obama.

View the slide presentation (PDF) from Patrick Clemins’ briefing on the proposed 2011 budget for the Congressional R&D Caucus.

Learn more about the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.


Edward W. Lempinen

Related Scientific Disciplines