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Interagency Initiatives: Education, Climate Science, Nanotech All Grow

by Britt E. Erickson , Cheryl Hogue , Andrea Widener
February 27, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 9

Table showing general change in U.S. science efforts, showing a boost for most agencies.
Table showing general change in U.S. science efforts, showing a boost for most agencies.
Table showing general change in U.S. science efforts, showing a boost for most agencies.

The President’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is reflected by the $3 billion he seeks for it across 13 agencies, a 2.5% increase. This budget request comes on the heels of his call for an additional 1 million graduates with STEM degrees, up by 33% from current graduation rates.

The Administration’s education efforts focus on two areas: improving college-level STEM education, primarily at the undergraduate level, and improving K–12 teacher effectiveness. And the funding proposals follow those lines. In total dollars, the largest boosts would be $111 million, or 21.5%, to $628 million for the Department of Education and $40 million, or 3.4%, to $1.2 billion for the National Science Foundation.

The Administration also asks for more coordination between NSF and the Department of Education. For example, a new initiative to improve mathematics education at the K–12 and undergraduate levels will require collaboration between the two agencies. The $60 million initiative will be equally funded by both agencies.

One focus of both the math initiative and other STEM programs is identifying efforts that have been proven to work on the small scale. “There is a great opportunity there to scale up those programs,” said Carl Wieman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP), at a budget briefing.

President Obama also proposes a 5.6% increase in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a multiagency science effort on climate change. The program was funded at $2.4 billion in 2012, and the President seeks nearly $2.6 billion for it in 2013.

The funding request for USGCRP represents “an affirmation of support” for federal climate-change research, says John P. Holdren, OSTP Director.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which saw a significant cut in its USGCRP funding in 2012, would see a major percentage increase under the President’s plan, which proposes $68 million in 2013 funding, up 15.3% from 2012 funding of $59 million.

In terms of dollars, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration would see the biggest jump in USGCRP funding, up 5.7%, or $79 million, to nearly $1.5 billion in 2013 from just less than $1.4 billion in 2012. The funding in part would support development of several research satellites.

The proposed 2013 budget also would boost nanotechnology research. The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), established in 2001 to coordinate nanotech R&D among 25 federal agencies, would receive $1.8 billion, an increase of $70 million, or 4.1%, compared with 2012.

The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency would each contribute double-digit percent increases to NNI in 2013. DOE would invest a total of $443 million, an increase of $128 million, or 40.6%, compared with 2012. And EPA would invest $19 million, a jump of $2 million, or 11.8%.

On the other hand, the NNI contributions of Departments of Defense and Homeland Security would each decrease by double-digit percentages. DOD’s investment would fall almost 20% to $289 million, while DHS’s would drop 14.3% to $6 million.

Federal agencies that participate in NNI plan to continue to invest in three signature initiatives: solar collection and conversion, sustainable nanomanufacturing, and nanoelectronics. The agencies also plan to follow the NNI environmental, health, and safety research strategy released in fall 2011 to protect public health and the environment while fostering nanotech product development and commercialization (C&EN, Oct. 31, 2011, page 28).


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