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White House: Modest 2015 R&D Budget Proposal, but With a Twist

News, fy2015 announcement, full panel, 5 Mar 2014
From left, John Holdren; Patricia Falcone; Cora Marrett, NSF Acting Director; Kathy Hudson, NIH Deputy Director for Science, Outreach and Policy; Catherine Woteki, USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics | AAAS/Carla Schaffer

U.S. President Barack Obama's proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 R&D budget, released 4 March at AAAS, calls for a modest $135.4 billion in total federal research and development funding, but calls for an additional, "fully-paid-for" $56 billion, including $5.3 billion for R&D related to "Opportunity, Growth, and Security."

The baseline request of $135.4 billion, which would remain within the spending caps set forth in the Budget Control Act and the December budget agreement, represents a 1.2 percent increase over 2014 estimated levels, or a decrease of about 0.5 percent, if inflation is taken into account, said Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. Support for basic science would decline by $331 million, to $32.1 billion, under the president's 2015 R&D budget plan, compared with 2014.

In a twist, however, the president will also ask Congress to lift spending caps to provide another $56 billion in support for efforts to promote innovation and job creation, including basic and applied research, high-tech manufacturing hubs, incentives for states supporting energy efficiency, and other science-based priorities outlined in his recent State of the Union address. The additional $56 billion would be fully offset by cuts to mandatory spending and other strategies that would not add to the national deficit, said Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal R&D within the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP).

"These average increases are plainly modest."

John Holdren, OSTP Director
News, fy2015 announcement, third holdren, 5 Mar 2014
John Holdren | AAAS/Carla Schaffer

Within Obama's additional $56 billion request, $5.3 billion would support R&D, including an extra $2.1 billion for Department of Defense R&D, $1 billion for a Climate Resilience Fund, $970 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $886 million for NASA, $552 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and more, said OSTP Director John P. Holdren, the president's science and technology advisor.

Obama's baseline 2015 R&D proposal would provide $30.2 billion for NIH, versus $30.1 billion enacted for 2014. The proposed additional amount of $970 million under the "Opportunity" initiative would help to offset prior cuts to critically important biomedical research, said AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the Science family of journals. In a recent Politico op-ed, Leshner noted that "NIH R&D expenditures since 2010 have dropped by $3.7 billion, or 11.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars." In those terms, he wrote, "The agency's total budget is now at its lowest level since 2001."

AAAS analysis suggests that a small increase in federal R&D spending between 2013 and 2014 "will be almost entirely erased by inflation," said AAAS analyst Hourihan. Moreover, compared with 2010 levels, estimated federal R&D spending in 2014 will represent a 15.8 percent decline in support, when inflation is taken into account.

In his state of the union address, Obama emphasized that "climate change is a fact," and the time has come to shift toward a "cleaner energy economy." His 2015 R&D budget reflects that concern, by preserving $12.3 billion for the Department of Energy's R&D budget and $2.5 billion for the multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program, plus the $1 billion Climate Resilience Initiative under his add-on proposal.

Holdren described the "biggest winners" under Obama's baseline proposal as being the Department of Interior, slated for $925 million in environmental and energy-related research; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would receive $688 million to support for Earth-observing satellites and other research; the National Institute of Standards and Technology, recommended to receive $690 million in 2015 R&D support; and research related to patient-centered outcomes research.  In the latter category, Obama has pushed for efforts to combat key public-health challenges, including antibiotic resistance and neurodegenerative diseases, and indeed, his 2015 budget proposes to double the federal investment in the BRAIN Initiative from about $100 million in 2014 to some $200 million for 2015, spreading the work across NIH, NSF, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

$135.4 billion

The baseline amount of federal R&D funding requested by President Obama.

0.5 %

The decrease in requested, baseline R&D funding compared to FY 2014, when inflation is factored in.

Under Obama's $135.4 billion 2015 R&D budget proposal, funding for non-defense R&D would be set at $65.9 billion — including $64.7 billion for basic and applied research at universities and major research centers, Holdren explained.

Responding to a question from the audience, OSTP analyst Koizumi said that support for basic science, as opposed to applied research, would be set at $32.1 billion for 2015 under Obama's plan, which would be "down slightly," by about 1 percent, compared with the 2014 Omnibus-enacted level.

Defense R&D would receive $69.5 billion, under the president's baseline proposal for 2015. If approved by Congress, that amount would extend a downward trend for defense R&D, reflecting U.S. military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The defense category of R&D spending has dropped by 24.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, compared with its peak in FY 2010, Hourihan has reported. The Department of Defense R&D would get another $2.1 billion as part of Obama's add-on plan.

Within the proposed $69.5 billion for defense R&D, the president is calling for about $11.5 billion for DOD science and technology accounts — a 5.7 percent reduction compared with estimated 2014 spending in that category, said Patricia K. Falcone, OSTP's associate director for National Security and International Affairs. Department of Homeland Security R&D also would decline by more than 15 percent compared with 2014 levels, but DOE weapons-related R&D would increase by 14 percent, she said. She added that DARPA would receive $2.9 billion, under Obama's proposal.

Also featured in Obama's proposed 2015 R&D budget is $2.9 billion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (STEM) programs for 2015, an increase of 3.7 percent versus the 2014 enacted level.  "Modest consolidations" of programs-within but not across agencies-are also proposed under the plan, Holdren said.

In summarizing the president's baseline 2015 R&D proposal, Holdren said: "These average increases are plainly modest." Further, he said, "This budget required a lot of tough choices. All of us would have preferred more" in R&D support.

Obama's proposal will now be evaluated by Congress. His state of the union address urged lawmakers to provide greater support for U.S. science: "The nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow," he said. "Federally funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones.  That's why Congress should undo the damage done by last year's cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery."


Ginger Pinholster

Former Director, Office of Public Programs