The White House released the President’s Budget Request for fiscal year (FY) 2021 on February 10, 2020. The budget proposes large cuts for science for the fourth consecutive year. The $4.8 trillion budget framework calls for cuts to most federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The proposal would provide $1.3 trillion for discretionary programs, including $590 billion for non-defense spending – the source for most scientific research programs. Last year, Congress reached a bipartisan budget deal to raise the overall federal spending caps by $320 billion over FY 2020 and 2021. The agreement set the caps for defense and nondefense discretionary spending in FY 2021 at $741 billion and $635 billion, respectively. While the President’s request of $741 billion for defense spending is in line with the budget deal, the request for nondefense discretionary spending falls $45 billion below the cap.
The Administration has proposed increased investments in technologies that will be “at the forefront of shaping future economies,” including artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences, advanced manufacturing, and biotechnology. The budget describes these technologies as “Industries of the Future.”
However, overall federal investments in R&D would decrease by 8.8 percent in FY 2021 to $142.2 billion. Some key items related to science in the budget request include:
- NSF would receive $7.7 billion, a 6.5 percent cut relative to the FY 2020 enacted level. The Research and Related Activities account within NSF, which includes the Biological Sciences Directorate, would be cut 7.8 percent to $6.2 billion.
- NIH’s budget would be slashed by 7.2 percent to $38.7 billion in FY 2021.
- NASA is among the few science agencies slated for a boost in funding. Overall, the space agency would receive $25.2 billion (+11.6 percent), but its Science account will shrink by 11 percent to $6.3 billion. NASA’s Earth Science program, which includes climate research, would be cut by 10 percent.
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would take a 29 percent hit, shrinking its budget to $738 million in FY 2021.
- The Department of Energy Office of Science would receive $5.8 billion in FY 2021, a 16.6 percent cut from FY 2020. Funding for Biological and Environmental Research would be slashed by 31 percent to $517 million. The President has once again called for terminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a proposal repeatedly rejected by Congress in the past. Support for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would shrink by 74 percent.
- A $12.8 billion (-16 percent) budget is proposed for the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service would be funded at $2.8 billion, 17 percent below FY 2020, with $327 million (-4.4 percent) targeted to natural and cultural resource stewardship. The Bureau of Land Management would be trimmed by more than 10 percent to $1.2 billion, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $1.4 billion (-16 percent). The department’s science agency, the USGS, would see its budget slashed by nearly 24 percent. The Administration has once again proposed restructuring its 7 mission areas into 5 mission areas. Under the proposed structure, the new Ecosystems mission area would receive a nearly 50 percent budget cut. The proposal would terminate the Cooperative Research Units and reduce funding for climate research.
- EPA is slated for a 26.5 percent budget cut in FY 2021. Overall, the agency would receive $6.6 billion, with $485 million targeted to science and technology (-32 percent).
- Funding for the Agricultural Research Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be slashed by 12 percent. On the upside, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive a boost of 3 percent, with the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) slated for a 41 percent increase to $600 million.
- NOAA’s budget would shrink by 14 percent to $4.6 billion. The Administration has again proposed eliminating the National Sea Grant College Program.
- The budget request for Smithsonian Institution has not yet been released.
Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have rejected the President’s proposal and have said that they will adhere to the budget agreement on spending caps that was reached last year. “We’re going to write our bills according to the agreement that we have with the administration,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also indicated that he would stick with the agreed upon spending caps. “What we will be looking at is trying once again to have a relatively regular appropriations process since we have agreed on what the cap is supposed to be for this year,” said McConnell.