From the Hill


From the Hill

President proposes slim increase in R&D funding for FY 2013

Federal R&D investment would rise to $142.2 billion under President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This would represent a $1.7 billion or 1.2% increase above FY 2012 estimated funding levels but is less than the expected rate of inflation. In constant dollars, the president’s budget would leave federal R&D expenditures approximately 10% below the peak achieved in FY 2010, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act boosted spending.

The overall increase would be driven largely by gains in nondefense R&D, with defense R&D declining by $1.5 billion or 1.9%. Basic and especially applied research would receive increases above FY 2012 levels, whereas development activities would be reduced by 1.7%. All three trends represent a continuation of changes begun last year. Funding for weapons development and research at the Department of Defense (DOD) would be reduced.

In the nondefense realm, R&D at several agencies that fared well in last year’s budget cycle, including the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), would again receive increases under the president’s budget. Conversely, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding would fail to keep up with inflation for the second year in a row. The budget proposed that NIH adopt “new grant management policies” to increase the number of new research grants. The Department of Agriculture is subject to a mixed picture, with a flat overall R&D budget but increases in some key research-oriented offices and initiatives.

The administration still supports ultimately doubling the budgets of DOE’s Office of Science, NSF, and NIST, although the timing of this doubling is not clear. Congress also has shown strong support for these agencies, but appropriations in recent years have not achieved the sustained increases authorized by the COMPETES legislation.

The administration once again proposed that the R&D tax credit be expanded and made permanent. In addition, the administration continues to make manufacturing innovation a priority, proposing $2.2 billion for advanced manufacturing R&D.

The funding picture in Congress remains murky. Although many research agencies remain popular with appropriators, several specific components of the president’s budget have been criticized for being too generous or not generous enough. The constrained budget environment will force difficult funding choices, as it did for the FY 2012 budget, which was not finalized until late December. That budget decreased R&D spending by $1.8 billion or 1.3% below FY 2011 levels and $7.4 billion or 5% below the president’s request. The DOD budget saw the largest portion of these cuts, with R&D spending down $2.5 billion. These cuts were driven largely by reductions in development and support activities; basic and applied research increased 6.5%. Defense-related spending at DOE was up $322 million or 8.1% over FY 2011.

Nondefense spending held steady overall as compared to FY 2011 levels, although it was again far below the administration’s request. The total NIH research budget was essentially unchanged at $30.2 billion. Most individual research centers received a 0.5% increase, but there were some notable changes. Congress agreed to establish within NIH the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, an entity that will seek to reengineer the process by which new discoveries in fundamental science move from labs to clinics. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration saw substantial cuts in R&D budgets of 11.2% and 28.5%, respectively.

R&D in the FY 2013 budget by agency (budget authority in millions of dollars)

FY 2010 FY 2011 FY 2012 FY 2013 Change FY 2012–2013
Actual Actual Estimate Budget Amount Percent
Total R&D
(Conduct of R&D and R&D Facilities)
Defense (military) 83,325 79,112 74,464 72,572 -1,892 -2.5%
   S&T (6.1-6.3 + medical) 14,749 12,751 13,530 12,534 -996 -7.4%
   All Other DOD 68,575 66,361 60,935 60,038 -897 -1.5%
Health and Human Services 31,758 31,186 31,153 31,400 247 0.8%
   National Institutes of Health 30,489 29,831 30,046 30,051 5 0.0%
   All Other HHS 1,269 1,355 1,107 1,349 242 21.9%
Energy 10,836 10,656 11,019 11,903 884 8.0%
   Atomic Energy Defense 3,854 4,081 4,281 4,691 410 9.6%
   Office of Science 4,528 4,461 4,463 4,568 105 2.4%
   Energy Programs 2,454 2,114 2,275 2,644 369 16.2%
NASA 9,262 9,099 9,399 9,602 203 2.2%
National Science Foundation 5,392 5,494 5,614 5,872 258 4.6%
Agriculture 2,611 2,135 2,331 2,297 -34 -1.5%
Commerce 1,344 1,275 1,258 2,573 1,315 104.5%
   NOAA 685 686 574 552 -22 -3.8%
   NIST 588 533 556 1,884 1,328 238.8%
Transportation 1,073 954 945 1,106 161 17.0%
Homeland Security 887 664 577 729 152 26.3%
Veterans Affairs 1,034 1,160 1,164 1,166 2 0.2%
Interior 776 757 796 863 66 8.3%
   US Geological Survey 646 640 675 727 51 7.6%
Environmental Protection Agency 597 584 568 580 12 2.1%
Education 353 362 392 398 6 1.5%
Smithsonian 213 259 243 243 0 0.0%
International assistance programs 121 121 121 121 0 0.0%
Patient-Centered Outcomes 10 40 120 312 192 160.0%
Justice 79 109 92 100 8 8.7%
Nuclear Regulatory Commission 81 99 83 91 8 9.6%
State 73 75 75 75 0 0.0%
Housing and Urban Development 100 79 57 98 41 71.9%
Social Security 49 42 8 48 40 500.0%
Tennessee Valley Authority 18 18 15 15 0 0.0%
Postal Service 12 14 14 14 0 0.0%
Corps of Engineers 11 11 11 11 0 0.0%
Labor 4 4 4 4 0 0.0%
Consumer Product Safety Commission 0 2 2 2 0 0.0%
Telecom Development
Total R&D 150,025 144,318 140,530 142,194 1,664 1.2%
Defense R&D 87,179 83,193 78,745 77,263 -1,482 -1.9%
Nondefense R&D 62,846 61,125 61,785 64,931 3,147 5.1%

Source: OMB R&D data, agency budget justifications, and agency budget documents.

Note: The projected GDP inflation rate between FY 2012 and FY 2013 is 1.7 percent.

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

In total dollars, the largest nondefense gains were for DOE’s Office of Science ($209 million or 4.9% above FY 2011) and Energy Programs ($198 million or 10.5% above FY 2011). However, both of these increases were far below the administration’s request. Although the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s overall budget remained steady from FY 2011, the portion devoted to R&D increased by 36.7% or $283 million. Conversely, fossil energy R&D declined by $70 million or 15.4%. The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy was the subject of substantial debate, but ended up receiving a $92 million or 53.1% increase. The Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also saw significant relative gains in research funding, but the Department of Homeland Security saw a small reduction.

Hearings examine R&D activities at the EPA

In November, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held two hearings on the merit and quality of R&D activities at the EPA. A November 17 hearing began as a discussion of the EPA’s peer-review process but ultimately centered on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process in which water and chemicals are injected at high pressure into underground shale formations to extract natural gas.

In an opening statement, Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) charged that the EPA acts based on political rather than scientific motivations. “The perception,” he said, “is that EPA has a penchant for pursuing outcome-based science in order to validate its regulatory agenda.” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) disagreed sharply with this assessment. “Let me be clear,” he said, “there may be some legitimate concerns related to EPA’s research enterprise, but EPA is not the demonic agency that the Republican majority has made it out to be.”

Arthur Elkins, the EPA’s junior inspector general, said that his office found the agency’s peer-review process to be satisfactory, but that some organizational problems remain. For example, the EPA does not collect sufficient data on its employees, hampering its ability to control for inefficiencies. “To their credit,” he concluded, “the Office of Research and Development has been receptive to many of our recommendations.” Paul Anastas, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, testified that the agency is implementing recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General by restructuring programs and strengthening ties among national, regional, and local offices. David Trimble, director of natural resources and environment at the GAO, expressed concern that the EPA’s 35 labs are too independent and as a result could be overspending on redundant projects.

Questioning by Harris and other Republican representatives centered on fracking. Harris said it was foolish for the EPA to pursue a study on the method’s safety because no documented cases of water contamination have been found. Anastas disagreed, saying, “You can’t find something if you don’t look, if you don’t ask the questions, if you don’t do the science.”

The November 30 hearing, which was billed as an opportunity to hear “perspectives on common sense reform,” featured scholars with essentially the same message. They said the EPA should not be allowed to pursue both research and regulatory activities because one will inevitably influence the other, resulting in politicized research and pseudoscientific policy. Susan Dudley, director of George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center and former Office of Management and Budget administrator under President George W. Bush, called for greater transparency in the EPA’s risk assessment process, particularly with regard to uncertainty. Gary Marchant, faculty director of the Center for Law, Science and Innovation at Arizona State University, recommended that the EPA be split into two separate agencies: one for research and one for regulation. Committee Chairman Harris agreed with the idea, citing the NIH as an example of a successful science-only agency.

Future of U.S. planetary science explored

The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space andAeronautics held a November 15 hearing to discuss the future of U.S. planetary science, particularly Mars exploration. In opening remarks, ChairmanSteven Palazzo (R-MS) and RankingMember Donna Edwards (D-MD)raised questions about NASA missionsand asked panelists to identify potential impediments to progress.

Witnesses discussed NASA’s implementation of recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences’ Planetary Science Decadal Survey, released in March 2011, which calls for a balanced mix of small, medium, and large missions.

Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said that the survey placed the highest priority on the planned 2018 Mars mission. But to complete the mission, NASA must reduce its cost to below $2.5 billion, which Green believes is achievable only if NASA has a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). In 2009, NASA and the ESA signed a letter of intent in support of the Mars mission. Green said that in order to maintain its global leadership in planetary science, the United States needs a flagship mission, such as the Mars Rovers, that can be implemented during this decade.

The second witness, Steve Squyres, chair of the Committee on the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, said that NASA has chosen to follow the survey’s recommendations closely in all areas except for flagship missions in which budget concerns jeopardize progress. He stressed that flagship missions are essential to planetary science and that the ability to carry out these missions is one of the greatest U.S. science and technology achievements. He reiterated that the joint NASA-ESA Mars mission is of the utmost priority. Squyres also highlighted the importance of international partnerships in general, because they can help reduce the risk involved and provide additional funding. Although the Obama administration has not canceled the Mars mission, it has not explicitly approved it either, witnesses said. Squyres said that although the international community is enthusiastic about partnerships with NASA, there is also frustration at its inability to commit.

Federal science and technology in brief

  • NSF has released its biennial Science & Engineering Indicators report, which tracks data trends in global and domestic R&D funding, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, the science workforce, and public attitudes on science and technology. The report, using data through 2009, finds that long-term growth in domestic R&D investment, although slowing considerably, nevertheless outpaced broader economic growth. The United States also maintained a substantial lead in global research investments, although its share of global R&D declined from 38% percent in 1999 to 31% percent in 2009. This slippage is primarily because of substantial acceleration of research investments in Asia, especially in China. Thanks to explosive growth of 20% per year, China now ranks second in research investment, recently surpassing Japan. The report finds continuing public support for science and technology, but also notes some troubling trends for the U.S. high-tech sector in the global marketplace.
  • The final FY 2012 authorization bill for the DOD, which was signed into law on December 31, retained language to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The new law increases the current 2.5% set-aside, which is taken from the annual R&D budgets of all federal agencies with R&D above $100,000 to fund SBIR programs in all agencies, to 3.2% over six years.
  • On November 16, the EPA and the Department of Transportation announced a joint proposal to set stronger fuel economy and green house gas (GHG) pollution standards for 2017–2025 model year cars and light trucks. The program would increase fuel efficiency requirements from 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg), required by the Obama administration for 2012–2016, to 54.5 mpg. The net benefit to society is estimated at more than $420 billion and would reduce GHG emissions by 50%.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 35 new drugs in FY 2011, its second highest annual total in the past 10 years, according to an agency report released in November. The report was released at nearly the same time that the White House issued an Executive Order directing the FDA to take action to reduce prescription drug shortages through expedited review and im proved reporting.

“From the Hill” is adapted from the newsletter Science and Technology in Congress, published by the Office of Government Relations of the American Association for the Advancement of Science ( in Washington, DC.

Cite this Article

"From the Hill." Issues in Science and Technology 28, no. 3 (Spring 2012).

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