FY 2013 Request would Maintain but Delay NSF, DOE Science, and NIST Budget Doubling

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Publication date: 
14 February 2012

Office  of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren got right to the point in  the first minute of his briefing yesterday on the FY 2013 R&D and STEM education  requests.  Said Holdren:

“We  think, and the President thinks, that it is absolutely key to the country’s  future to continue to make these investments in research and development and  STEM education in order to have the sort of future that I think all Americans  want and expect.”

He  continued, referring to President Barack Obama, stating:

“He  has consistently stuck with the message that whatever else we have to do to  live within our financial means we are not going to stint our investments in  these crucial domains.”

The  FY 2013 request sent to Congress yesterday was formulated under a tight budget  cap that required the administration to make difficult choices across the  entire spectrum of government services and programs.  Funding would remain roughly flat for the  National Institutes of Health, and decline somewhat for NASA.  Total funding for the National Science  Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the laboratory  and research facilities construction programs of the National Institute of  Standards and Technology (NIST) would increase by 4.4 percent.  The Administration’s emphasis on these agencies  continues the attention that have been given to them since President George W.  Bush called for their funding to be doubled in his 2006 State of the Union address.  The more than half-billion dollar increase  President Obama requested for these three agencies is distributed as follows:

  • Department  of Energy’s Office of Science: Up $127 million or 2.6 percent
  • National  Science Foundation: Up $340 million or 4.8 percent
  • NIST  Scientific and Technical Research and Services, and Construction of Research  Facilities accounts up $86 million or 13.8 percent

The original schedule for budget  doubling called for it to be reached within ten years.  That would require annual increases of 7  percent, a target that has proven to be quite elusive for most programs.  While the time frame has been shifted, the  administration’s goal remains intact.  As  explained in an OSTP briefing document:

“The President is committed to doubling  the budgets of NSF, DOE SC, and the NIST labs. . . . The President’s Plan for  Science and Innovation (a key pillar of A Strategy for American Innovation  announced in September 2009 and revised in February 2011), the America COMPETES  Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69), and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010  (P.L. 111-358) have all identified NSF, DOE SC, and NIST as critical to  preserving America’s place as the world leader in innovation.”

The budgetary landscape has changed  significantly since 2006.  FY 2013 total  discretionary spending will remain at the 2011 level for the second consecutive  year.  The OSTP document acknowledges  this new budget reality:

“New funding levels set in the Budget  Control Act of 2011 mean delaying the original target completion date for doubling these  budgets. Consistent with the Budget Control Act spending caps, these fiscally  responsible increases are part of a 2013 Budget that freezes non-security  discretionary spending at 2011 levels for a second year and reduces projected  deficits while making crucial investments to build American manufacturing,  American energy, and American skills.”

Holdren referred to these constraints at  yesterday’s briefing describing the “intense pressure” when he spoke of NIH,  and “some very difficult choices” resulting in a somewhat smaller NASA budget  request.   Even though the budgets for  NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and the NIST laboratory and construction  programs would be up, Holdren said it was “not at the rate of increase we would  have preferred.”  

“Flat  is the new up” is the operable budget perspective in this and in the years to  come.  It is against this new perspective  that the following FY 2013 budget request figures, calculated by OSTP, should be  viewed:

  • Total  federal R&D would increase 1.4 percent
  • Non-defense  R&D would increase 5.0 percent
  • Federal  basic and applied research would increase 3.3 percent
  • Defense-related  R&D would decline 1.5 percent
  • Total  R&D facilities and equipment would increase 10.9 percent
  • U.S.  Global Change Research Program would increase 5.6 percent
  • National  Nanotechnology Initiative would increase 4.1 percent

Upcoming  issues of FYI will review selected FY 2013 S&T and STEM education agency  budget requests.