From the Hill


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From the Hill

Obama proposes essentially flat 2012 R&D budget

On February 14, the Obama administration proposed a fiscal year (FY) 2012 R&D budget of $147.9 billion, a $772 million or 0.5% increase from FY 2010. Although the overall budget is essentially flat, the president carves out increases for his priorities in areas such as clean energy R&D, education, infrastructure, and innovation.

The White House released its budget request the same week as the new Republican majority in the House approved a bill to provide funding for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year that includes significant cuts in R&D spending.

In releasing the federal R&D budget request, John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that “This is a budget that our nation can be proud of. It provides solid research and development investments to achieve game-changing advances in areas of crucial importance to ’s future.”

Overall, basic and applied research and nondefense research fare very well in the president’s budget request. Basic research would grow almost 12% to $32.9 billion. Applied research would increase 11.4% to $33.2 billion. Total nondefense research would increase 6.5% to $66.8 billion.

The president’s budget keeps the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on a multiyear path to doubling their budgets. The NSF R&D budget would increase 16.1% to $6.3 billion. The DOE Office of Science budget would increase 9.1% to $4.9 billion. The NIST budget would increase dramatically by $284 million to $872 million, mostly because of a ramping up in investments in cyberinfrastructure research and advanced manufacturing technologies. Because funding for part of FY 2011 still has not been approved, all figures for FY 2012 use a FY 2010 baseline for comparison.

Climate change is also a priority in the administration’s budget. Funding for the U.S. Climate Change Research Program, an interagency initiative, would increase more than 20% to $2.6 billion.

Several key agencies would see modest increases in their budgets, including the National Institutes of Health, which would receive a $1 billion or 3.4% increase to $31.2 billion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration R&D budget would rise by $559 million or 6% to $9.8 billion. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget would increase by $36 million or 5.2% to $728 million.

Other agencies did not fare so well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget would decline by 17.7% to $2.15 billion, mostly because of reductions in building and facilities, congressionally designated projects, and extramural research. The Department of Interior R&D budget would drop by $49 million to $727 million. The U.S. Geological Survey budget would decrease by 8.2% to $607 million. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget would decline by more than 12% to $579 million. The Department of Defense R&D budget would decline by 4.9% to $76.6 billion, although most of the decrease is because of cuts in development. Basic research would increase by 14.5% to $2.1 billion.

The president’s FY 2012 budget request stands in stark contrast to the bill passed by the House on February 19 that would cut FY 2011 discretionary funding by $61 billion below FY 2010 enacted levels. Under the bill, which was rejected by the Senate, R&D as a whole would be cut by $6.41 billion, 4.4% less than FY 2010. Overall, the president’s budget request totals $7.4 billion or 12.5% more in nondefense R&D investment than the House bill. Some of the biggest differences are in funding for energy R&D, the NIH, and the NSF.

R&D in the FY 2011 and FY 2012 Budgets by Agency (budget authority in millions of dollars)

  FY 2011 Current CR FY 2011 House Change from FY 2010 FY2011 Senate Change from FY 2010 FY 2012 Budget Change from FY 2010
Percent Percent Percent
TOTAL R&D (Conduct of R&D and R&D Facilities)

Defense (military) 81,442 77,189 -4.2% 76,739 -4.8% 76,633 -4.9%

S&T (6.1-6.3 + medical) 13,307 13,308 0.0% 13,309 0.0% 13,311 0.0%

All Other DOD R&D 68,135 63,881 -5.1% 63,430 -5.7% 63,322 -5.9%

Health and Human Services 31,948 30,345 -3.4% 31,943 1.7% 32,343 2.9%

National Institutes of Health1 30,157 28,583 -5.2% 30,159 0.0% 31,174 3.4%

All Other HHS R&D 1,791 1,762 38.8% 1,784 40.5% 1,169 -7.9%

Energy 10,783 9,328 -13.9% 10,133 -6.5% 12,989 19.9%

Atomic Energy Defense 4,074 4,074 5.7% 3,851 -0.1% 4,522 17.3%

Office of Science 4,481 3,515 -22.4% 4,141 -8.5% 4,940 9.1%

Energy Programs 2,228 1,739 -29.1% 2,141 -12.8% 3,527 43.7%

NASA 9,911 9,820 6.0% 9,979 7.7% 9,821 6.0%

National Science Foundation 5,374 5,223 -4.1% 5,355 -1.7% 6,320 16.1%

Agriculture 2,619 2,239 -14.2% 2,548 -2.4% 2,150 -17.7%

Commerce 1,331 1,199 -10.8% 1,298 -3.4% 1,720 28.0%

NOAA 684 593 -14.3% 660 -4.6% 728 5.2%

NIST 589 542 -7.8% 573 -2.5% 872 48.3%

Transportation 1,054 970 -9.3% 1,049 -1.9% 1,215 13.7%

Homeland Security 887 803 -9.4% 727 -18.0% 1,054 18.8%

Veterans Affairs 1,162 1,162 0.0% 1,162 0.0% 1,018 -12.4%

Interior 776 750 -3.4% 770 -0.8% 727 -6.3%

US Geological Survey 661 646 -2.2% 657 -0.6% 607 -8.2%

Environ. Protection Agency 590 552 -6.4% 576 -2.3% 579 -1.9%

Education 356 350 -0.9% 356 1.0% 480 36.0%

Smithsonian 226 224 5.1% 226 6.1% 212 -0.5%

All Other 575 575 1.8% 575 1.8% 650 15.0%

Total R&D 149,034 140,730 -4.4% 143,435 -2.5% 147,911 0.5%

Defense R&D 85,516 81,263 -3.8% 80,590 -4.6% 81,155 -3.9%

Nondefense R&D 63,518 59,467 -5.1% 62,845 0.3% 66,756 6.5%

Source: OMB R&D data, H.R.1 as passed by the House, Senate bill as posted on appropriations website, agency budget justifications, and agency budget documents.

Note: The projected GDP inflation rate between FY 2010 and FY 2012 is 2.7 percent.

All figures are rounded to the nearest million. Changes calculated from unrounded figures.

1/ H.R.1: Sec.1812 sets the average total cost of all Competing RPGs awarded during FY 2011 at a maximum of $400,000.

Sec.1850 directs NIH to award at least 9,000 new competing research grants in FY 2011.

Major R&D cuts in the House bill, compared to FY 2010, include: the USDA, $415 million; NIST, $160 million; NOAA’s Operations, Research, and Facilities budget, $454 million; NSF, $360 million; fossil energy R&D, $131 million; the Department of Education’s Mathematics and Science Partnership Program, $180 million; and NIH, $1.63 million. Additionally, the House bill would prohibit the use of federal funds for NOAA’s Climate Service, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and EPA programs involving greenhouse gas registry, greenhouse gas regulation, offshore drilling, mountaintop mining, mercury emissions from cement plants, and Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Because Congress could not agree to a bill funding the government for the full fiscal year, it approved a temporary bill that extended funding through March 4 but which also cut spending by $4 billion below enacted FY 2010 levels. The cuts included $41 million in the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Program and $77 million and $292 million, respectively, in DOE’s Office of Science and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program.

In a March 3 letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Task Force on American Innovation, which is made up of about 170 scientific and other organizations, said the cuts in the House bill would have a “devastating impact” on the NSF, DOE’s Office of Science, NIST’s core research programs, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs contained in the America Competes law, a major priority of the research community.

In a flurry of activity in the lame-duck session in December 2010, Congress unexpectedly approved reauthorization of the America Competes Act. The primary goal of the Act is to authorize increased funding over three years, from FY 2011 to FY 2013, for the NSF, NIST, and the DOE’s Office of Science. NSF would receive $7.4 billion, $7.8 billion, and $8.3 billion; NIST would receive $919 million, $971 million, and $1.04 billion; and the Office of Science would receive $5.3 billion, $5.6 billion, and $6 billion. In addition, the legislation provides modest increases for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to $300 million, $306 million, and $312 million, respectively. Given the new political landscape in, these increases are now in question.

Scientific integrity guidelines released

More than 21 months after President Obama requested them, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on December 10, 2010, released government-wide guidelines on scientific integrity. The document elaborates on the principles laid out by the president on March 9, 2009, and provides guidance to executive departments and agencies on how to develop policies on issues involving scientific integrity.

The guidelines are in response to controversies that occurred during the George W. Bush administration. A number of scientists, scientific organizations, and congressional leaders accused Bush officials of taking steps that politicized science.

The memorandum states that science should be free from “inappropriate political influence.” To strengthen government research, the memo states that job candidates should be hired “primarily” on their merits, that data and research used to support policy decisions should undergo peer review when possible, and that clear conflict-of-interest standards and appropriate whistle-blower protections should be promulgated. Additionally, when appropriate, agencies should make scientific and technological information readily available, communicate scientific findings to the public in a clear and accurate manner, and detail assumptions, uncertainties, probabilities of outcomes, and best- and worse-case scenarios of scientific findings.

The memorandum states that for media interview requests, agencies should make available an “articulate and knowledgeable spokesperson” who can portray a research finding in a nonpartisan and understandable manner. Also, after appropriate coordination with their immediate supervisor and the public affairs office, federal scientists may speak to the media and the public about their findings, and the public affairs office cannot ask or direct scientists to change their findings.

The guidelines call on agencies to establish policies that promote professional development of government scientists and engineers and encourage research publication and the presentation of research at professional meetings. Also, the guidelines say that government scientists and engineers should be allowed to be editors and editorial board members of scholarly and professional journals, serve as officers and board members of professional societies, and receive honors and awards.

Reaction to the guidelines was mixed, with some observers saying they left too much discretion to individual agencies.

Climate negotiations inch forward in Cancun

Expectations for the 2010 international climate negotiations in Cancun were far more modest than 2009’s Copenhagen conference, which allowed many to declare the December 2010 meeting of the 190 nations that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change a success. But key decisions on how to move forward on a global system to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012 were left until the next meeting in, to be held from November 28 to December 9, 2011. Delegates did, however, agree that cuts will be needed by both developed and developing countries, and they made progress on other significant issues.

The Cancun agreements established a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Developed and developing countries will share control of the fund, with the World Bank initially serving as trustee. Much of the funding for the fund’s adaptation efforts will come from a “fast track finance” fund with an initial commitment of $30 billion and a goal of increasing the amount to $100 billion by 2020, although how the funds will be raised has yet to be resolved. In addition, a new framework and committee was established to promote action on adaptation.

Several agreements were advanced to help reduce GHG emissions through the use of technology and incentives for reducing deforestation. Governments agreed to boost technological and financial support for curbing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. Technology transfer mechanisms were established.

Progress was made in developing standards for the monitoring, reporting, and verification of emissions reductions, for both developed and developing countries, which has been a sticking point between China and the United States.

Patent reform moves ahead

On March 8 the Senate passed the America Invents Act by a vote of 95-5. Meanwhile, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that he plans to introduce similar legislation in the House. Both Congress and the Obama administration see reform of the patent system as a means of jumpstarting the U.S. economy and increasing innovation.

The bill would convert the U.S. patent system to a first-to-file regime, the method used in most countries, from the first-to-invent system currently used. It would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to set its own fees, thus raising the funds needed to hire more patent examiners and decrease the patent backlog, now estimated at more than 700,000 applications.

Furthermore, the bill creates three satellite patent offices, allows certain technology to receive priority for approval, and requires courts to transfer a patent infringement case to a venue that is more convenient than the one at which action is pending. The bill also gives third parties the opportunity to petition the validity of a patent once it is awarded.

Food safety reform bill finally passes

After months of congressional debate and delay, President Obama on January 4, 2011, signed major food safety legislation that will greatly expand the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate food production.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will, for the first time, allow the FDA to issue a mandatory recall of food deemed tainted or unsafe. In the past, the agency has relied on voluntary recalls. The bill also gives the FDA the authority to detain food and suspend a facility’s operations should either be found to pose a health risk.

The new law calls on the FDA to create a system to facilitate the tracing of any product back to its origin. Should any shipment of produce, for example, be found tainted with a harmful bacteria, the tracing system would make it simple to track down the farm from which it originated. The law also calls on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of common food contaminants and create a nationwide educational program on food safety.

Although the legislation enjoyed widespread support, some critics pointed out that it failed to resolve key jurisdictional issues. Notably, although the FDA generally oversees most food products, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) handles meat, poultry, and eggs. With many food products being processed and packaged in locations handling food under both FDA and USDA jurisdictions, overlap between the two entities becomes understandable, as do gaps in oversight.


“From the Hill” is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org/spp) in Washington, D.C., and is based on articles from the center’s bulletin Science & Technology in Congress.

Cite this Article

"From the Hill." Issues in Science and Technology 27, no. 3 (Spring 2011).

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