Making Hard Choices: OMB and OSTP Issue Guidance to Agencies on Formulation of FY 2014 Budget Requests

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Publication date: 
19 June 2012

The  Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology  Policy (OSTP) have issued two memorandums in the last month to department and  agency heads providing guidance on formulating budget requests for the fiscal  year starting on October 1, 2013.  These FY  2014 requests will be sent to Congress next February.

The  memos total about six and one-half pages.   The key words for the science community are found in the May 18 OMB  memorandum:

“The  2014 Budget must continue to cut lower-priority spending in order to create  room for the most effective investments in areas critical to economic growth  and job creation, including education, innovation, infrastructure, and research  and development.”

The  FY 2014 agency budget requests that will be developed and sent to OMB in coming  months are being assembled under very tight constraints.  The May 18 memorandum  requires a department or agency (unless otherwise advised) to submit a FY 2014  request that would reduce spending by 5 percent from the figure originally  shown for that year when the last budget request was sent to Congress in February.  “The 2014 Budget will need to make hard  choices,” the memorandum declares, warning that last year’s budget agreement  will “sharply constrain discretionary spending.”

The  June 6 OMB and OSTP memorandum’s subject is “Science and Technology Priorities  for the FY 2014 budget.”The opening paragraph declares:

“Scientific  discovery, technological breakthroughs, and innovation are the primary engines  for expanding the frontiers of human knowledge and are vital for responding to  the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. We look to scientific  innovation to promote sustainable economic growth and job creation, improve the  health of the population, move toward a clean energy future, address global  climate change, manage competing demands on environmental resources, and ensure  the security of the Nation.”

The  practice of issuing an S&T budget priorities memorandum extends back at  least as far as the Clinton Administration.  In contrast to some years, the new memorandum  does not provide target numbers.  It does  provide guidance in some areas.   Regarding funding for basic research, it states:

“In  particular, the Nation benefits from government funding for basic and applied  research in areas in which the private sector does not have the economic  incentive to invest. Because of the crucial government role in supporting  research, in general agencies should give priority to funding for research  above funding for development activities.”

The  memorandum discusses “Grand Challenges” as follows:

“Within  research portfolios, agencies are encouraged to identify and pursue ‘Grand  Challenges’ -ambitious goals that require advances in science, technology and  innovation to achieve.”

Regarding  new facilities, the memorandum declares:

“Agencies  should also support the research tools and infrastructure needed to ensure that  U.S, science remains at the leading edge of discovery, but in delineating  priorities, any proposals for new major facilities must fit within Federal real  property guidance and be fully justified and balanced against funding for  research activities and operations of existing facilities.”

“Prioritizing  key science and technology activities” is required in an agency’s formulation  of its budget request:

“In  a time of constrained resources, agencies should continue to direct resources  to high-priority activities and identify potential eliminations or reductions  in less-effective, lower-quality, or lower priority programs. Agencies engaged  in complementary activities should consult with each other during the budget  planning process so that resources are coordinated to maximize their impact and  to avoid inappropriate duplication. They should also avoid duplicating research  in areas that already receive funding from the private sector. Agencies should  explain in their budget submissions how they are redirecting available  resources from lower-priority areas to science and technology activities that  address the priorities described below.”

The  memorandum also discusses metrics:

“agencies  should describe the targeted outcomes of research and development (R&D)  programs using meaningful, measurable, quantitative metrics where possible and  describe how they plan to evaluate the success of those programs.”

Single  agency science and technology priorities are not included in this memorandum.  Under the heading “multi-agency priorities”  the memorandum explains:

“In  the 2014 Budget, agencies should balance priorities to ensure resources are  adequately allocated for agency-specific, mission-driven research while  focusing resources, where appropriate, on addressing the following multi-agency  research activities that cannot be addressed effectively by a single agency.”

Nine  of these multi-agency priorities are listed with a paragraph of explanatory  text. The priorities are:  advanced  manufacturing, clean energy, global climate change, R&D for informed  policy-making and management, information technology research and development,  nanotechnology, biological innovation, innovation and commercialization, and  science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

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