From the Hill

“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.

2016 budget proposal

President Barack Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 research and development (R&D) budget, released on February 2, calls for $146 billion in total federal R&D funding.

The president’s overall FY 2016 budget requests that Congress increase discretionary spending—the portion of the budget that does not go to mandatory entitlement programs—by seven percent over the forced spending caps known as sequestration. If approved by Congress, federal R&D funding would increase to its highest level since 2012.

The $146 billion figure represents an $8 billion or six percent increase from 2015 enacted levels, though it does not take into account inflation, which is expected to increase 1.6 percent from FY 2015 to FY 2016, said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). The total R&D budget request allocates $68.8 billion for non-defense-related R&D and $76.9 billion for defense R&D. Most agencies that carry out R&D would receive some level of increase over their FY 2015 budgets.

“Overall, the budget is definitely more ambitious than we saw last year,” said Matt Hourihan, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science R&D Budget and Policy Program. “It’s particularly ambitious in certain priority areas where we’ve seen big increases requested in previous budgets as well, such as low-carbon energy technology, infrastructure R&D, and advanced manufacturing.”

Several cross-agency initiatives would receive substantial funding, reflecting key areas of interest for the White House, said Holdren. The FY 2016 budget provides $2.4 billion, spread across several agencies, to support innovation in advanced manufacturing. The budget also includes $215 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, to launch a Precision Medicine Initiative on personalized medicine. It also provides $1.2 billion to NIH and other agencies to implement the National Strategy to Combat Antibiotic Resistance. The 13-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program would receive approximately $2.7 billion to help carry out the president’s Climate Action Plan.

The budget includes several other allocations related to implementing the Climate Action Plan, reflecting the fact that President Obama is “absolutely committed to continuing the administration’s leadership on addressing climate change,” said Holdren. These include the effort to expand the nation’s “Climate Resilience Toolkit,” as well as research on ocean acidification and the role of natural resources as carbon sources.

Funding for basic research would surpass FY 2015 levels, Holdren said. The National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce, together would receive a total of $13.8 billion, an increase of $0.7 billion over FY 2015. NIST would fare particularly well, according to ScienceInsider; its budget would increase 29 percent, primarily to support research on advanced manufacturing. NSF and DOE each would see an increase of roughly 5 percent. The areas within these agencies that would receive the biggest increases are education and human resources at NSF, which would increase by 11 percent, and the advanced computing program at DOE, which would receive a boost of nearly 15 percent.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are some of the biggest winners, ScienceInsider reported. USGS would receive $1.2 billion, an increase of 13.7 percent, and NOAA would receive $3.33 billion, an increase of 6.3 percent.

NIH would receive $31.3 billion, representing an increase of 3.3 percent from FY 2015. In addition to antibiotic resistance and personalized medicine, other key areas of focus include the BRAIN initiative, cancer, and Alzheimer’s research.

NASA’s proposed budget increase is also relatively modest, with a 2.7 percent bump up to $18.5 billion. Missions to fly past Europa and to land on an asteroid are among the top priorities, according to ScienceInsider. At the briefing, Holdren also highlighted some other goals, including the development of a “vibrant, American commercial space industry and to regain the capability to send an astronaut into space cost-effectively and safely from American soil by the end of 2017.” He also noted that the budget includes $1.9 billion for Earth science.

In summarizing the president’s proposal, Holdren said: “The budget also reflects the reality that we continue to have to govern in an era of very tough choices. Not everything that is desirable is affordable.”

However, the FY 2016 budget, which will now be evaluated by Congress, “ends the harmful spending cuts known as sequestration while achieving spending cuts through more sensible and less disruptive means,” said Holdren. “And, also like this president’s past budgets, this one treats science, technology, and STEM education well.”

Budget winners and losers

The president has regularly drawn a connection between science and technology and the potential for middle-class jobs, including in January’s State of the Union address. Accordingly, the administration’s proposed investments pay particular attention to areas that may contribute in the near-term to job growth and advanced industry sectors.

Jobs, Technology, and Innovation. Advanced manufacturing has been a lead strategy for the administration. The FY 2016 budget provides $2.4 billion for advanced manufacturing-related R&D, including a $1.9 billion mandatory proposal for the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation. Key manufacturing initiatives at the National Science Foundation would receive funding as well, and the size of the Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office would double.

Beyond manufacturing, other technology areas to receive boosts would include NASA’s Space Technology Directorate, which would receive a 22 percent increase. The budget also seeks to increase investment in cybersecurity and advanced computing initiatives across government, notably at DOE.

Low-Carbon Energy. Innovation in energy efficiency and renewable energy again takes center stage. Two flagship offices for these efforts are DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), both of which would receive robust funding increases. Elsewhere, NSF would devote $377 million to clean energy technology.

Life Sciences, Health, and Agriculture. NIH would receive the largest dollar increase at fully $1 billion above FY 2015 levels for all program funding. All institutes would receive increases above inflation, with Alzheimer’s research and translational science again among the priorities. The BRAIN Initiative (including funding from NSF and the Defense Advanced Products Research Agency) would increase to over $300 million. Hundreds of millions in funding is included for new initiatives on antibiotic-resistant bacteria and precision medicine.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would also receive funding boosts in multiple areas. On the intramural front, the budget provides $200 million for facilities construction and modernization, and peer-reviewed competitive research on the extramural front would receive a nearly 40 percent increase.

Climate, Environment, and Earth Observation. Of the four environment-oriented agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USGS, the NOAA, and the Forest Service—the two largest, NOAA and USGS, would receive major increases for climate and resilience research. The gains for EPA and the Forest Service are much more modest. Outside these agencies, the NSF Geosciences Directorate; the Biological and Environmental Research Office within the DOE Office of Science; and the NASA Earth Science Division would receive varying increases.

Infrastructure R&D. Although the Aeronautics Directorate at NASA would receive hefty cuts, the administration remains keenly interested in relative boosts for R&D activities in the transportation realm through the Department of Transportation. These include increases for next-generation aviation technology, high-performance rail, and a new multiyear surface transportation authorization that would increase funding for intelligent transportation systems research.

Even in a budget such as this, with major increases across many areas, there are some programs and agencies that would see reductions.

Fusion Energy Research. Within the DOE Office of Science, the domestic fusion energy research program would trimmed, even as funding remains flat for ITER, the international fusion energy project.

Assorted NASA Activities. As in years past, NASA doesn’t make out as well as other agencies. Reductions are targeted for the big-ticket space exploration systems development programs, education, and aeronautics research.

DOD Basic Research. Overall, Defense Department basic research activities would decline by 8.3 percent, with most of the cuts targeted at military departments.

Homeland Security Science and Technology. Even with funding for construction of a new biodefense facility likely to be wrapped up in FY 2015, funding for other activities would be cut by about 5 percent.

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Science and Technology. Although the civilian side of DOE would post major gains, select science, engineering, and nonproliferation activities at NNSA would experience some reduced funding.

Hill addendum

New report from education task force

The Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education, appointed by a bipartisan group of senators from the Senate Education Committee, has released its report, Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities. The report reviews the federal regulations and reporting requirements on colleges and universities, identifies specific regulations of highest concern, examines the processes for the development and implementation of regulations, and makes recommendations for ways to ensure that the regulatory process is easier to understand and easier to comply with.

New Rules for Spouses of H-1B Visa Holders

Last week, the government announced that spouses of H-1B visa holders will now be able to apply for work permits. The hope is that the change will incentivize highly skilled workers and their families to stay in the United States. The new rules take effect on May 26.

UMR/ITIF report examines NIH funding

United for Medical Research has teamed with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on a new report entitled Healthy Funding: Ensuring a Predictable and Growing Budget for the National Institutes of Health. The report examines the implications of reduced federal commitment to NIH-funded research as well as options for altering the budget process to enable continued government investment in biomedical R&D.

Ranking Democrat’s Letters to 7 Academic Institutions Draws Ire

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent letters to seven academic institutions requesting information regarding the funding sources, testimony, and related communications of specific academics who have testified before Congress on climate change.

His request was in response to revelations that Dr. Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had not fully disclosed all of his funding from industry that supported his research. The congressional request has prompted a strong reaction from a number of scientific organizations that have expressed concerns regarding academic freedom. Rep. Grijalva has since acknowledged that his request for communications was probably an “overreach.”

FCC Adopts Open Internet Rules

On February 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed Open Internet Rules, establishing that internet service providers (ISPs) cannot “unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage the ability of consumers to select, access, and use the lawful content, applications, services, or devices of their choosing.” The rules specifically forbid ISPs from blocking legal content, throttling internet traffic, and using paid prioritization.

Significantly, the order reclassifies broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, thus giving the FCC more regulatory authority over broadband services. The FCC’s previous Open Internet Rules were struck down in January 2014 by the DC Court of Appeals, and the court’s opinion indicated that reclassification would be a potential way to regulate broadband in the future.

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