Looking Ahead to the Next Budget Request: Coalition Asks Administration to Prioritize DOE Science

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Publication date: 
23 December 2014

The federal budget cycle never stops.  Although President Obama just signed the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill last week providing funding for FY 2015, work on the request he will send to Congress early next year has long been under development.   A coalition of 70 scientific associations and universities has sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan last month strongly urging the Obama Administration to “provide robust and sustained funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and the important research and scientific facilities it supports, and to make this funding a priority.”  Among those signing this letter were the American Institute of Physics and two of its Member Societies, the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society.

The FY 2016 budget request for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2015 is being prepared under very tight constraints.  In early May, OMB sent a memorandum to the heads of departments and agencies instructing them that “Unless your agency has been given explicit direction otherwise by OMB, your FY 2016 budget submission to OMB should reflect a 2 percent reduction below the net discretionary total provided for your agency for FY 2016 in the FY 2015 Budget, for each of the defense and non-defense discretionary categories.” 

Of note, the memorandum then explains: “Your budget submission will provide the President with the options needed to make the hard choices necessary to provide room for critical investments in priority areas, and focus limited funding on programs and approaches that work.”  Earlier in this memo, looking back, it identified the FY 2015 request as making ”room for investments in priority areas such as research, clean energy, education, and ending homelessness.”  Looking ahead, the memo described “a long-term discretionary path that will allow us to sufficiently and smartly invest in critical priorities such as education, innovation, infrastructure and security.”

OMB’s identification of research and innovation as some the Administration’s budget priorities is not surprising.  The President often discusses the value of R&D as an important component of a robust economic and security future for the United States.  His budget requests have reflected these priorities.  Commenting on the FY 2015 request that was sent to Congress last March, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren said “The 2015 budget reflects this Administration’s clear-eyed recognition that our Nation’s standing as a global leader today is built largely on a foundation of science and technology.”  The Administration’s total federal R&D budget request was up by 1.2 percent, six times the overall increase allowed for discretionary spending of 0.2 percent.  The Administration requested an increase of 0.9 percent for the Office of Science for FY 2015.

The November 25, 2014 letter from the Energy Sciences Coalition to OMB Director Donovan about the FY 2016 request follows:

“Dear Director Donovan:

“President Obama has said that funding for research should be a priority for our country. We completely agree. As you prepare the Administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, we strongly urge you to provide robust and sustained funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and the important research and scientific facilities it supports, and to make this funding a priority.

“The basic research supported by the DOE Office of Science provides the scientific and technical foundation the nation needs to address some of our most pressing challenges in discovery science, energy, medicine, and national and homeland security. In many cases, this research would not be possible without the suite of complex, cutting-edge, world-class facilities operated and maintained by the DOE Office of Science for use by tens of thousands of scientists and engineers from academia, industry, and other government agencies.

“Among other things, the DOE Office of Science is supporting basic research applicable to the development of cost-effective and sustainable biofuels, the creation of advanced materials with unique properties of broad application to the energy and defense sectors, the development of fusion power for clean and abundant energy, the design of next-generation supercomputers 1,000 times faster and more powerful than the best that exist today, and the advancement of medical imaging technologies to help detect, diagnose, and treat diseases. Federal investment in basic scientific research has and will continue to deliver breakthroughs in these and other areas that will drive innovation, strengthen our competitiveness, sustain our economic growth, and create jobs.

“Our economic competitors in China, India, South Korea, the European Union, and elsewhere are copying our approach to innovation and increasing their rate of investment in research and development. At the same time, sequestration’s spending caps are undermining continued U.S. leadership in science and technology. Now is not the time to reduce federal investment in the basic research and scientific facilities that are so critical to future economic growth.

“We recognize the challenge you face working with such a constrained federal budget, but we believe funding for the DOE Office of Science must be a priority, and is justified. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to make the DOE Office of Science a priority in the Administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request.”

The FY 2016 budget request will be sent to Congress in February (possibly March) of next year.