March 2010

President Proposes Decent Budgets for Science Agencies


The White House released its 2011 federal budget proposal Feb. 1, and, despite fears of the possible impact of a previously announced freeze on domestic discretionary spending, science funding was a clear winner overall, with most research agencies receiving increases. Although most administration-proposed budgets are modified during congressional consideration, this budget gets science funding off to a good start.

The Numbers

Dollar SignPresident Obama’s budget for 2011 comes in at $3.8 trillion, with a $1.2 trillion deficit. This is the largest budget, and the largest deficit, in history. Due largely to growing public and congressional concern over the size of the deficit, the administration is proposing a three-year freeze in nonsecurity discretionary funding (that is, discretionary funding outside of defense, homeland security, veterans affairs and international affairs), with funding thereafter increasing roughly with inflation. Over the next 10 years, the policy is expected to save $250 billion.

However, this freeze affects only a very small portion of the federal budget, and it is not an “across-the-board” freeze; most science funding, for example, is slated to increase. In addition, all the programs that are frozen at current levels have champions who will be working hard to keep them growing.

The budget calls for $66 billion in nondefense research and development, an increase of $3.7 billion or 5.9 percent overall more than 2010. “The president understands that, more than ever before, science holds the key to the prosperity of our nation, the security of our people, the health of our planet and the richness of our lives,” said John P. Holdren, adviser to the president for science and technology and director of the White House office of science and technology policy.

Specific agencies fared well, for the most part.

The National Institutes of Health received $32.1 billion under the budget proposal, an increase of $1.0 billion or 3.2 percent more than the 2010-enacted level. Investments will focus on five strategic priorities, first described publicly by NIH Director Francis Collins shortly after his appointment this past fall. They are:

- applying genomics and other high-throughput technologies;
- translating basic science discoveries into new and better treatments and diagnostics;
- using science to enable health care-reform;
- global health and
- reinvigorating and empowering the biomedical research community.

The NIH also will continue to award and oversee the $10.4 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In addition, the NIH Common Fund will invest $562 million, an increase of $18 million over 2010, to support cross-
cutting, trans-NIH programs that require participation by at least two NIH institutes or centers or that would otherwise benefit from strategic planning and coordination.

Although the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology would like to see a larger proposed increase for NIH, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology President Mark Lively noted in a statement that the president’s proposal for NIH was the largest proposed increase in eight years, even though it only allows NIH to keep up with inflation and little else. It is widely believed that the NIH received this increase due to strenuous internal lobbying efforts by Collins, with the support of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Of course, the overriding problem of “the cliff” remains— that is, what happens when the $10 billion in extra funding NIH received under the ARRA is spent. This is slated to occur by the end of 2010, a scant nine months away. Thousands of researchers who applied for grants under this special program are expected to resubmit the same grants through NIH’s usual funding mechanisms. Unless changes are made to greatly increase the NIH budget in Congress this spring, we are likely to see dramatically reduced success rates.

For the National Science Foundation, the administration proposes an increase of almost $500 million, to $7.4 billion in 2011, or 8.0 percent more than the 2010-enacted level. The budget expands NSF’s efforts in climate and energy research and education, networking and information technology research and environmental and economic sustainability. The 2011 budget also provides funding to triple the number of new NSF graduate research fellowships to 3,000 by 2013. (ASBMB was invited to provide written and oral congressional testimony on the NSF budget. You can see excerpts of the submitted testimony in the article, "ASBMB Congressional Testimony on NSF.")

The administration has proposed that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science receive $5.1 billion in 2011, or 4.6 percent more than the 2010-enacted level. The budget would fund more research on climate science, continue U.S. participation in international science and energy experiments and expand federal support for energy frontier research centers, intended to explore emerging opportunities in new materials and basic research for energy needs.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology invests in technological innovation through research, advanced measurement and standards development. The 2011 budget of $709 million for NIST’s intramural laboratories, a 6.9 percent increase over the 2010 enacted level, supports improvements in facilities and research in areas like health information technology and cybersecurity.

Overall, the administration proposal for NSF, the DOE Office of Science and NIST would continue the policy of doubling their budgets as mandated by the “America COMPETES Act,” signed into law by President Bush in 2006. The budget proposes completing the doubling funding of these agencies by 2017.

For other science funding agencies, the budget provides:

- $11 billion to the research and development portfolio of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration— an increase of $1.7 billion, or 18.3 percent, more than 2010;
- about $1 billion for research and development at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and $2.6 billion— an increase of $439 million, or 21 percent— to the multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program;
- $1.2 billion (up 1.5 percent) for Department of Veterans Affairs research and development; and
- $429 million (up 63 percent) for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s key competitive research program, the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative.

Peter Farnham ( is director of public affairs at ASBMB.


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