Blotter

What does Biden’s budget mean for science?

The president has requested more R&D funding, but even that’s not enough. Congress needs to invest in NIH, in particular, where spending power continues to decline and threatens U.S. innovation and standing.
Sarina Neote
April 12, 2022

President Joe Biden’s 2023 budget request last month proposed significant funding increases for the agencies that support scientific research and development, but even if Congress appropriated every last dime that the president requested it still wouldn’t be enough to meet the pressing needs of the nation. 

The president requested $49 billion for the National Institutes of Health base budget (a nearly 10% increase), $10.5 billion for the National Science Foundation (a 19% increase) and $7.8 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science (a 4.5% increase).

The appropriations process spans several months. First, the Office of Management and Budget gives guidance to federal agencies about funding levels and priorities and then makes final decisions about the agencies’ proposed budgets. From there, the president creates the administration’s budget request and submits it to Congress.

Then, the House and the Senate develop their own budget resolutions and set spending levels, which often deviate from one another and from the president’s request. Lastly, the House and the Senate negotiate their differences and ultimately pass a reconciled appropriations bill in both chambers, which the president signs into law.

Adam Schultz/White House Flickr
President Joe Biden released his budget request for fiscal year 2023 in late March. You can read it in full here.

NIH needs more funds to support its core functions 

At its core, the NIH is focused on funding investigator-initiated research. Its 27 institutes and centers support more than 60,000 projects and 300,000 investigators on average each year. 

Biden’s proposed 10% funding boost would continue the trend of increasing the budget of the NIH. In FY22, NIH was appropriated $45 billion, up from $43 billion in FY21, translating to roughly a 3% increase

While a 10% increase for FY23 is better than the budget being stagnant, it’s important to keep in mind that consumer prices rose 7.5% between January 2021 and January 2022 and $5 billion of the $49 billion is specifically directed to the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, which would be focused on cutting-edge treatments and therapies for high-burden diseases. The budgets for most of NIH’s institutes and centers would remain flat.

A $300 million increase to the NIH’s base budget is not enough to meet the needs of the scientific community. After all, the spending power of a NIH R01 grant is not what it used to be: A $250,000 grant has only 55.5% of the value it had in 2001, according to the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index. (See chart.) 

The Biomedical Research and Development Price Index, produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the Department of Commerce, indicates how much the NIH budget must change to maintain purchasing power. This chart shows the decreasing spending power of NIH R01 grants. The red bars indicate the purchasing power of the modular grant (using 2001 as the baseline), and the black bars indicate how much the grant needs to be increased to have the same purchasing power.

Scientists doing important research need more from federal funding agencies, especially considering their foundational work has directly led to the development of a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Biden recognizes that NSF needs more funds

In March, the NSF established a new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, which aims to fund research that could lead to breakthrough technologies and move discoveries more quickly into the marketplace. 

NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan proposed an initial budget of $865 million, but Congress’ omnibus bill in March failed to fund the new directorate and increased the NSF’s budget by only 4%, bringing it to $8.8 billion. This limits the directorate’s ability to start new activities this fiscal year, which runs through September. 

It’s vital that Congress robustly fund the NSF for FY23, and Biden’s budget proposal reflects that: The administration is proposing $10.5 billion for NSF, which would strengthen the agency’s leadership in emerging technologies.

Importantly, Biden’s proposal also includes 16% more for NSF’s educational and workforce training program, including boosting the number of graduate research fellowships from 2,000 to 2,500. Robustly funding STEM workforce development is necessary to ensure the American research enterprise’s scientific productivity. 

DOE’s Office of Science sees biggest proposed increase 

The Biden administration proposed a 4.5% overall increase in funding for the DOE Office of Science, which would be spread across five major research programs. However, in the president’s budget request, the biological and environmental research program would receive the largest increase, a 10.9% increase to $904 million in FY23. If Congress can agree on this boost, it would be a significant win for the scientific community. 

Many organizations are advocating for changes to the numbers presented in Biden’s budget — especially the budget proposed for the NIH. 

On March 30, the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research called for $49 billion for NIH’s base budget (instead of the $45 billion proposed by Biden), saying: “We are concerned that the bold proposal for the nascent Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health comes at the expense of NIH’s annual base budget, which ultimately would undermine the success of both entities ... (T)he coalition urges lawmakers to ensure no less than $49 billion for NIH’s base program level and that any additional funds for ARPA-H supplement, rather than supplant, this core investment in NIH.” 

The National Coalition for Science Funding is asking for at least $11 billion for FY23: “We ask Congress to make bold investments in the NSF this year, setting the agency on a course to advance domestic innovation and to keep pace with investments other countries are making in research and development." 

Read the full ASBMB statement here.

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Sarina Neote

Sarina Neote is ASBMB's director of public affairs.

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