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White House Proposes $146 Billion in Federal R&D Support for FY 2016


John Holdren announced the President's FY 2016 budget, along with Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science, OSTP; Pat Falcone, Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, OSTP; and France Córdova, Director, NSF. | AAAS/Carla Schaffer

U.S. President Barack Obama's proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 R&D budget, released 2 February at AAAS, calls for $146 billion in total federal research and development funding.

The President's overall FY 2016 budget requests that Congress increase discretionary spending — the portion of the budget that does not go to mandatory entitlement programs — by 7% over the forced spending caps known as sequestration.  If approved by Congress, federal R&D funding would increase to its highest level since 2012, before sequestration.

The $146 billion figure represents an $8 billion or 6% increase from 2015 enacted levels, though it does not take into account inflation, which is expected to increase 1.6% from FY 2015 to FY 2016, said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). The total R&D budget request allocates $68.8 billion for non-defense-related R&D and $76.9 for defense R&D. Most agencies that carry out R&D would receive some level of increase over their FY 2015 budgets.

"Overall, the budget is definitely more ambitious than we saw last year," said Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. "It's particularly ambitious in certain priority areas where we've seen big increases requested in previous budgets as well, such as low-carbon energy technology, infrastructure R&D, and advanced manufacturing."

"Overall, the budget is definitely more ambitious than we saw last year."

Matt Hourihan, AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program

Several cross-agency initiatives would receive substantial funding, reflecting key areas of interest for the White House, said Holdren. The 2016 budget provides $2.4 billion, spread across several agencies, to support innovation in advanced manufacturing. The budget also includes $215 million for National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, to launch a Precision Medicine Initiative on personalized medicine. And, it provides $1.2 billion to NIH and other agencies to implement the National Strategy to Combat Antibiotic Resistance. The 13-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program would receive approximately $2.7 billion to help carry out the President's Climate Action Plan.

The budget includes several other allocations related to implementing the Climate Action Plan, reflecting the fact that President Obama is "absolutely committed to continuing the administration's leadership on addressing climate change," said Holdren. These include the effort to expand the nation's "Climate Resilience Toolkit," as well as research on ocean acidification and the role of natural resources as carbon sources.

Funding for basic research would surpass FY 2015's levels, Holdren said. The National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce, together would receive a total of $13.8 billion, an increase of $0.7 billion over FY 2015. NIST would fare particularly well, according to ScienceInsider; its budget would increase 29%, primarily to support research on advanced manufacturing. NSF and DOE each would see an increase of roughly 5%. The areas within these agencies that would receive the biggest increases are education and human resources at NSF, which would increase by 11%, and the advanced computing program at DOE that would receive a boost of nearly 15%.

"In the current environment these are definitely pretty sizeable increases, given that discretionary spending is basically flat this year," said Hourihan.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are some of the biggest winners, ScienceInsider reported. USGS would receive $1.2 billion, an increase of 13.7%, while NOAA would receive $3.33 billion, an increase of 6.3%.

NIH would receive $31.3 billion, representing an increase of 3.3% from FY 2015. In addition to antibiotic resistance and personalized medicine, other key areas of focus include the BRAIN initiative, cancer, and Alzheimer's research.

NASA's proposed budget increase is also relatively modest, with a 2.7% bump up to $18.5 billion. Missions to fly past Europa and to land on an asteroid are among the top priorities, according to ScienceInsider. At the briefing, Holdren also highlighted some other goals, including the development of a "vibrant, American commercial space industry and to regain the capability to send an astronaut into space cost-effectively and safely from American soil by the end of 2017." He also noted that the budget includes $1.9 billion for Earth science.

In summarizing the president's proposal, Holdren said: "The budget also reflects the reality that we continue to have to govern in an era of very tough choices. Not everything that is desirable is affordable."

However, the FY 2016 budget, which will now be evaluated by Congress, "ends the harmful spending cuts known as sequestration while achieving spending cuts through more sensible and less disruptive means," said Holdren.  "And, also like this president's past budgets, this one treats science, technology, and STEM education well."


Kathy Wren

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