Obama Administration Outlines S&T Budget Priorities for FY 2017

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Publication date: 
13 July 2015

When the Obama Administration sends its FY 2017 budget to Congress next February, the program requests of agencies such as the National Science Foundation, NASA, DOE Office of Science, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will reflect a White House memorandum issued last week.

“This memorandum outlines the Administration's multi-agency science and technology priorities for formulating FY 2017 Budget submissions to the Office of Management and Budget” states a five page memorandum to department and agency heads from Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren.  Entitled Multi-Agency Science and Technology Priorities for the FY 2017 Budget, the memorandum provides clear insight into the S&T agenda for the remainder of the Obama Administration.

Reflecting the high degree of uncertainty about whether there will be a new budget agreement modifying tight funding caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act  no mention is made in the memorandum about budget numbers or guidelines.  The importance of basic research is highlighted early in this memo, as is translating this research into businesses and products:

“Federal government funding for research and development (R&D) is essential to address societal needs in areas in which the private sector does not have sufficient economic incentive to make the required investments. Key among these is basic research - the fundamental, curiosity driven inquiry that is a hallmark of the American research enterprise and a powerful driver of new technology. Simply supporting research is not sufficient, however, Federal agencies should ensure that the results of that research are made available to other scientists, to the public, and to innovators who can translate them into the businesses and products that will improve all of our lives.”

The remainder of the memo describes the following nine multi-agency R&D priorities with one paragraph descriptions:

  • Global climate change
  • Clean energy
  • Earth observations
  • Advanced manufacturing and industries of the future
  • Innovation in life sciences, biology and neuroscience
  • National and homeland security
  • Information technology and high-performance computing
  • Ocean and Arctic issues
  • R&D for informed policy-making and management

The memorandum discusses R&D infrastructure as follows:

“Agencies should support the R&D infrastructure (e.g. facilities, platform technologies, IT, digital tools) needed to ensure that U.S. science and engineering remain at the leading edge, and leverage resources from other agencies, state and local governments, the private sector, and international partners. Proposals for development, construction, and operations costs for new facilities must be fully justified and balanced against funding for ongoing programs and operations of existing facilities. In addition, agencies should take steps to ensure that underused existing facilities are made available to additional users through transparent and competitive methods.”

The memorandum briefly discusses the utilization of the Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan as guidance for STEM education programs. Also discussed is the utilization of basic research:

“Transforming research results and technologies to new products and services is a key step in realizing the economic and quality-of-life improvements the taxpayer expects from Federal investments in R&D. Commercialization of Federal R&D is therefore one of the core responsibilities of each R&D supporting agency. Agency budget proposals should prioritize and highlight contributions to the Lab-to-Market Cross-Agency Priority Goal, such as entrepreneurial personnel exchanges, commercialization training, and other programs that have the potential to accelerate and improve the transfer of new technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace.”

Federal agency managers will spend the next few months developing their FY 2017 budget requests for submission to the Office of Management and Budget for review. A May 1 memorandum from Director Donovan states these budget submissions should reflect a 5 percent reduction from the planning figure contained in the FY 2016 request.  OMB will comment on the FY2017 requests by late November, with the budget going to Congress in early February 2016.  Complicating the process will be uncertainty about the overall amount funding that will be available for FY 2017, a number that may not be known until year’s end.


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