Budget Deal Provides Stability

Let’s break out the inexpensive bottle of champagne and have a moderate celebration for the success of the “Ryan-Murray” budget agreement.  The deal undid much of the damage from the sequester, and there is a modest chance for stability with the return to “regular order.”

The Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) Omnibus spending bill was recently signed into law in a bipartisan fashion. The House passed the bill 359-67, and the Senate adopted it by 72-26.  While neither party got exactly what it wanted, each was happy to have achieved a result that could pave the way for a less chaotic budget process in the coming year. 

The question is, sifting among the details of the FY14 Omnibus bill, how did the scientific accounts fare?  The answer ranges from poor to exceedingly well depending on the account and how you interpret the numbers. 

For example, Fusion Energy Sciences at Department of Energy (DOE) got a significant boost of 26 percent over the FY12 appropriated levels, effectively reviving Alcator C-Mod and funding ITER at the same time, although not quite at the previously planned level of $225M.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the other hand, did not manage to reverse the sequester cuts, falling about $800M below FY12 levels.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) did receive an increase over FY12 levels, but the increase in the FY14 budget was not as large compared to other areas in the budget.  

The big picture is that historically, federal investment in scientific research is 10 percent of non-defense discretionary funding.  Since 2010, overall discretionary spending has decreased about $165B.  Thanks to strong advocacy from the scientific community, overall spending for scientific research has not decreased as much relative to discretionary spending (overall spending has decreased 13.6 percent and scientific research spending has decreased 12.3 percent).  In other words, advocacy efforts have continued to keep science as a bipartisan investment that most in Congress recognize as important to future U.S. economic competitiveness. 

How does this budget affect the average researcher? 

Well, grant success rates won’t be drastically altered due to the new budget deal.  The FY14 numbers are far better than the feared continued effect of sequester, including the loss of grants. But, the budget number do not represent a substantive step forward either.  The scientific community needs to continue to push toward a new paradigm where federal funding of scientific research is increased to keep pace with our competitors.  

Of importance to DOE researchers is a new grant funding model being employed by DOE.  Grants of less than a million dollars will be fully funded up to three years.  This means that there will be a period of readjustment for the next two years where fewer new grants are funded in order to fully transition to the new model of funding.

The details in the new FY14 spending bill are as follows, with percent change from appropriated FY12 levels in parentheses:

NSF is funded at $7.20B in FY14 (+2.4%).  The Research & Related Activities account is being funded at $5.81B (+1.5%), a slight disappointment relative to increases seen in other parts of the budget.  The education portion of NSF, termed Education & Human Resources, is funded at $846M (+2.1%). 

Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science is funded at $5.07B (+3.9%).  The Advanced Scientific Computing Research initiative is funded at $478M (+8.1%), Basic Energy Sciences at $1.71B (+1.3%), Biological and Environmental Research is funded at $610M (-0.4%), Fusion Energy Science is funded at $505M (+25.7%) with $200M of that set aside for ITER, High Energy Physics is funded at $797M (+0.8%), and Nuclear Physics is funded at $569M (+3.6%).

The DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewables (EER-E) and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) are funded at $1.91B (+5.1%) and $280M (+1.8%), respectively.  The National Nuclear Security agency is funded at $12.13B (+5.4%).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Science and Technical Research and Services is funded at $651M (+14.8%), Construction of Research Facilities is funded at $56M (+1.8%), and the Industrial Technology Services is funded at $143M (+11.7%).

National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) Science is funded at $5.15B (+1.1%).  Funding for the James Webb Space Telescope was included with strict instructions that the overall budget is not to exceed $8B.  Also, NASA is prohibited from engaging bilaterally with China, a continued restriction that has caused some confusion as to the extent of the ban.

NIH was funded at a rather disappointing $29.90B (-2.5%), which is ~$800M less than in FY12. 

Finally, the Office of Science and Technology of the President was funded at $5.5M (+23.4%).

 

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