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Post-Election Cost-Cutting Could Impact U.S. R&D Funding, AAAS Expert Reports

A push for reduced federal spending in the wake of the U.S. midterm elections “could have a significant impact on federal R&D investment,” said Patrick Clemins, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

Leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties agree that reining in the deficit must now be a priority, and efforts to trim government spending are likely to encompass federal R&D financing, Clemins noted in a new post-election analysis.

Already, Clemins noted, President Barack Obama’s administration has directed non-security agencies to downsize budget proposals for fiscal year 2012 by 5% compared with estimates listed in their 2011 proposals while also identifying “low-impact programs.” Those agencies can expect discretionary budget cuts of between 5% and 10% from previous fiscal year 2012 estimates. Clemins added, though, that while overall budget cuts are eminent, Obama said in a 3 November press conference: “I don’t think we should be cutting back on research and development.” So, R&D may be spared the worst of the cuts proposed by the Obama administration.

Some agencies, such as those authorized in the America COMPETES Act, could still see increases for 2012, although any gains would be reduced by 5% from previous estimates.

Patrick Clemins

At the same time, Clemins said, the 2010 Republican Agenda, A Pledge to America, includes policy positions that could strongly affect R&D funding. The agenda includes a goal to cut discretionary nonmilitary spending to 2008 levels, Kenneth Chang of The New York Times reported.

“Under that plan,” the Times reported, “ research and development at nonmilitary agencies—including those that sponsor science and health research—would fall 12.3%, to $57.8 billion, from Mr. Obama’s request of $65.9 billion for fiscal year 2011.” [See the Times’ full story.]

If government spending is trimmed back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels for 2011, Clemins said, federal R&D funding would drop by $8.1 billion, or 5.5%, compared with 2010 and by $8.5 billion (5.7%) compared with the president’s 2011 request, assuming 2008 R&D funding levels.

“The hardest-hit agencies would be those that were authorized in America COMPETES Act and have seen strong increases since the Act was passed in 2007,” said Clemins. “These agencies include the National Science Foundation (-11.1% in R&D from FY 2010), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (-14.8% in R&D from FY 2010), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (-14.1% in R&D from FY 2010).”

The change of leadership within the U.S. House of Representatives also is likely to mean increased interest in hearings related to climate change research, said Joanne Carney, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress, in an interview with Janet Raloff of Science News. Policy-makers may seek to “use the power of oversight to issue subpoenas to investigate a range of issues and concerns,” she noted, including policies related to climate science.

AAAS—the American Association for the Advancement of Science—is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. The non-partisan, non-profit association includes 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. The AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program has established a reputation as one of the nation’s most authoritative sources for non-partisan insight into fiscal factors that shape the U.S. government’s research and development policies and priorities.


See the full post-election analysis by Patrick Clemins, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

See the budget chart accompanying Clemins’ analysis.

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