What is in the budget,
Mr. President?

Published February 01 2017

The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 requires the president of the United States to submit a budget to the U.S. Congress for each fiscal year. The law goes so far as to provide a deadline for the submission: It requires that “on or after the first Monday in January but not later than the first Monday in February of each year, the President shall submit a budget of the United States Government for the following fiscal year.”

While it’s not explicitly stated, it’s commonly assumed that a new administration, as is the administration of President Donald Trump, will submit a budget request to Congress late. A late submission allows the new administration a chance to develop its own budget based on its funding priorities.

Thanks to a failed appropriations process last year, Trump has the task of providing a budget for fiscal year 2018 as well as providing guidance on the remainder of FY2017. This is a complicated dance that Trump’s economic team must perform, especially when considering his team has been in place for less than a month. In December, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through most of April. The continuing resolution gives time to Trump’s team to do the homework to deliver to Congress a framework for his administration’s funding priorities. Today, we are assuming that homework is being done.

The time it takes Trump and his team to get the budgetary work done affects science and federal funding. In October, because the government was operating under a continuing resolution, the National Institutes of Health announced a reduction in noncompeting research awards by as much as 10 percent and that institute councils would hold back some funding decisions for grants until there was clarity for what lies ahead. The continuing resolution funds agencies at the level of 2016. However, both the NIH and the National Science Foundation were proposed to have increases in FY2017. Mr. Trump and Congress really should get working on FY2017!

As for FY2018, Trump has an opportunity to make a statement to the life-sciences community about what kind of president he’ll be with his proposed budget. Former Vice President Joe Biden is known for saying, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Trump’s budget will give us an indication of what he values. If Trump provides Congress with a spending proposal to increase NIH and NSF funding, we may take away that while he may hold views on other scientific disciplines, like climate science, that are at odds with the views of most scientists, his administration may be friendly to the cause of biomedical research. A flat or weakened budget would provide us with evidence for what many suspect — that he is a president not interested in scientific progess.

February is federal budget season. Trump, the research community is watching for signs of your support. Please don’t let us down.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.