White House’s 2018 Budget Plan Would “Devastate” R&D, Says AAAS CEO Holt

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The Energy Department’s national laboratories have long supported the work of scientists and engineers, such as the researcher above seeking to find more efficient ways to convert biomass into biofuels to replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. | U.S. Department of Energy, photo courtesy of Jason Richards

The double-digit percentage cuts President Donald Trump is proposing in his fiscal 2018 budget plan for science and technology programs would “devastate America’s science and technology enterprise” and weaken the nation’s economic growth, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said Tuesday.

Pointing to the budget blueprint the White House delivered to Congress Tuesday, Holt said, the plan, if enacted, would make steep cuts to science and technology programs and “negatively affect our nation’s economy and public well-being.” He cited several agencies and programs facing particularly “severe” cuts.

For instance, the proposal calls for sharp reductions in science and technology programs, including 11% from the National Science Foundation, which champions basic scientific research across all fields except medical topics; 22% from the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest biomedical research agency; and 44% from the Environmental Protection Agency’s science and technology programs.

“Slashing funding of critically important federal agencies threatens our nation’s ability to advance cures for disease, develop new energy technologies, improve public health, train the next generation of scientists and engineers and grow the American economy,” said Holt.

The Energy Department’s scientific research efforts also face deep cuts. Its Office of Science, the government’s central energy research agency, largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences and the home of a renowned network of national research laboratories, would be cut by 17% and its Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy would face a 69% reduction. The budget proposal also calls for the department’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy program to be eliminated altogether by fiscal 2019.

The Agriculture Department’s research programs were not immune to proposed reductions. Funding for the Agriculture Research Service, for instance, would shrink by 38%; the National Institute for Food Agriculture would face an 8% decrease; and the Forest Service research programs would be cut by 10%. The Interior Department’s U.S. Geological Survey, which maps the Earth’s systems to help officials monitor natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, is slated to be cut by 15%.  

At the Commerce Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific agency, which uses satellite data to forecast and track severe weather and conducts research on oceans, fisheries and climate, would see funding fall by 9%, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology that leverages measurement science to advance innovation would see a 23% decrease.

Holt stressed that the budget proposal in now in the hands of Congress where it is up to lawmakers to accept, reject or shape, a reality that was on full display when the Republican-controlled Congress restored many of the cuts Trump outlined in his fiscal 2017 budget plan.

During an afternoon press conference, Holt noted that the administration’s budget proposal deviates from how the scientific enterprise has long been viewed. “It has been regarded as an investment that leads to economic growth and human welfare,” said Holt, noting that the fiscal 2018 plan “is completely contrary to the idea of investment.”

Holt applauded Congress for “prioritizing federal research and development” when lawmakers finalized spending on May 4 for the remainder of fiscal year 2017, which ends after Sept. 30.

He called on Congress to continue to make research and development investments a priority and “to once again act in the nation’s best interest and support funding for R&D in a bipartisan fashion – including both defense and non-defense programs – in FY 2018 and beyond.”

[Associated image: EPA researchers take water and sediment samples after a 2010 spill on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan. | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]