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Chemical Sciences in the FY 2016 Budget

Disciplinary Budgets, CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

In this chapter:


  • Funding for chemical sciences programs supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) would see modest increases, while the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) R&D would see more substantial increases.
  • Administration priorities in FY 2016 involving significant chemical research efforts include clean energy, precision medicine, and antibiotic resistance.


Chemistry is a fundamental science that underpins advances in areas as diverse as understanding disease pathways and designing new drugs; finding new materials and chemical processes to develop next-generation energy systems; and improving standards and measurement technologies to enhance American competitiveness. As highlighted in Chapter 1, the Obama Administration has set forth several science and technology (S&T) policies that affect the chemistry community. The FY 2016 S&T funding priorities important for chemists include advanced manufacturing, R&D in clean energy, neuroscience, precision medicine, antibiotic resistance, climate resiliency, and STEM workforce training. These priorities would be backed by proposed funding at NIST, DOE, NIH, and NSF, as well as other agencies. The FY 2016 budget also emphasizes translational research and lab-to-market efforts, as indicated by expanded support for programs such as the NSF Innovation Corps program, or I-Corps™ (up $1.2 million from FY 2015 enacted levels) and the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, or NCATS (up $27.4 million).

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NSF funding for basic chemical research is focused in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), specifically within the Chemistry (CHE) Division. While MPS would receive an overall 2.2 percent increase over FY 2015, CHE would receive a 3.0 percent increase in FY 2016.  

A recent report to the MPS Advisory Committee led to a proposed multi-directorate program on Innovation at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS), which would receive $75 million in funding in FY 2016; MPS would provide $8.9 million. MPS would nearly double its contribution to the NSF I-Corps™ program. Investments in this program are directed to an assessment of the commercial viability of the scientific discoveries in MPS disciplines through individual investigator awards.

CHE’s funding in the FY 2016 request would also provide enhanced support for core research programs. CHE will continue a strong commitment to research in clean energy technologies, CAREER awards for top young scientists, advanced manufacturing, and the Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI). The Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program decreases funding to its planned sunset in 2017. Much of the remaining funding, including that from the discontinued SEES Postdoctoral Fellows Program, will focus on the Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials (SusChEM) research program. The CHE division’s increased interdisciplinary focus supports both experimental and theoretical/computational research at the interface of biology and materials science, including the major cross-foundation effort, Understanding the Brain (UtB).

Roughly 59 percent of the CHE portfolio is available for new research grants, and 41 percent goes to continuing grants; the CCI program constitutes 43 percent of continuing grant commitments in FY 2016. Almost 85 percent of CHE’s budget is used to support individuals and small groups of researchers, while about 15 percent of the budget supports centers and facilities.

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DOE research is funded primarily by the Office of Science (SC). DOE-SC is the largest federal funder of physical science research, which encompasses fields ranging from biological science to high-energy physics, with the overarching goal of advancing knowledge and technology in energy production, storage, efficiency, and conservation, as well as developing alternative energy resources. The main DOE-SC programs affecting the chemical research community are Basic Energy Science (BES) and Biological and Environmental Research (BER). Especially high-risk, high-reward energy research is funded on a competitive basis by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.

In the FY 2016 budget request, approximately $697 million would be allocated to research within BES in the Materials Sciences and Engineering, Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences Divisions. The remainder of the BES budget would go towards construction and scientific user facilities.

BER supports research in biofuels production, carbon storage, and containment remediation. It also funds climate science and prediction, which is useful for determining the energy resource needs of the future. In FY 2016, BER funding would increase about 3.4 percent. The Biological Systems Science Division would see reduced federal dollars, and Climate and Environmental Sciences would receive a significant boost in line with the President’s emphasis on climate resiliency. High-potential, high-impact innovative energy research would also be enhanced through ARPA-E funding, evidencing the Administration’s enthusiasm for and encouragement of translating basic science breakthroughs into early stage technologies.

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NIH is the principle supporter of biomedical research in the U.S. and is the largest biomedical research funding agency in the world. Its mission is to enhance health, increase longevity, and decrease or alleviate illness and disability by funding cutting-edge, peer-reviewed research. Biomedical research plays a prominent role in the President’s FY 2016 budget. The Administration supports the continuation and expansion of the BRAIN Initiative, with an approximate $135 million investment. A number of projects would be funded, including those for developing new technologies in neuroimaging to understand how the dynamic nervous system works at the molecular, cellular, and systems levels.

The Administration has also launched the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) and a National Strategy for Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. In particular, PMI-related line items in the NIH budget include a $70 million expansion of current cancer genomics research, non-invasive methods to track response to therapy, and researching new combinations of cancer drugs. NIH also requests $461 million to be dedicated to the national strategy on antibiotic resistance, an increase of $100 million over FY 2015 enacted levels. Further, the Accelerating Medicines Partnerships (AMP), which is intended to decrease the time and cost of developing new drugs and therapeutics, would be funded at $23 million – the same level as FY 2015.

Of the 27 NIH institutes and centers, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is the largest single funder of chemical R&D. The FY 2016 budget requests a 2.5 percent increase in NIGMS funding over FY 2015 enacted levels, with Cell Biology and Biophysics (CBB) and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC) requesting $14.6 million and $10.7 million increases, respectively. Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWDD) would receive a budget increase of $16.4 million.

NCATS’ mission is to promote and catalyze the process of moving, or translating, diagnostics and therapeutics from the laboratory to the clinic. Given that it can take approximately 14 years and $2 billion to develop a new drug, device, or intervention, the FY 2016 budget would allocate over $27 million more than FY 2015, for a total of $660 million. This sum includes $26 million for the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) and $18 million for more research project grants.

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The main mission of the EPA is to protect human health by developing and enforcing regulations, providing project grants, performing research on environmental issues, establishing cross-sector partnerships, and educating the public. For FY 2016, $769 million of the proposed EPA budget would be devoted to S&T. Chemical research at the EPA is performed primarily under the jurisdiction of the Office of Research and Development (ORD). The ORD’s research is focused in six main areas:  Air, Climate, and Energy; Safe and Sustainable Water Resources; Sustainable and Healthy Communities; Chemical Safety for Sustainability (CSS); Human Health Risk Assessment; and Homeland Security. Though each of these areas contains a chemical research component, CSS is most relevant for the chemistry enterprise. For FY 2016, CSS requests $101 million and aims to focus its efforts on computational toxicology, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and emerging materials, which includes engineered nanomaterials.

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NIST’s mission is to promote U.S. private sector innovation and competitiveness through R&D to improve measurement methods and standards. NIST enables universal quality-control technologies that undergird industrial productivity, efficiency improvements, and faster product development. NIST also plays a critical role in advancing public health and safety, environmental progress, and national security.

The core of chemical support is funded by Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS), and specifically in the Material Measurement Laboratory (MML). The Chemical Sciences Division of MML provides the measurement science, standards, technology, and data that help stakeholders across sectors make further progress in the chemical sciences. Examples of this work include assessing human health with diagnostic tests to determining the nutritional value of food and supplements and from setting emissions standards to assessing the climate.

NIST STRS requests an increase of 10.5 percent over FY 2015 levels, including increases to the STRS Lab-to-Market and Materials Genome Initiatives. The Lab-to-Market Initiative aims to accelerate technology transfer through data sharing by enabling the building of complementary technology packages and integration of government data with other databases. The Materials Genome Initiative is an effort to accelerate development of an advanced materials innovation infrastructure using a data assessment and validation framework, data standards, and modeling and simulation tools. 

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