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President Sets R&D Priorities

Budget: Fiscal 2015 funding request focuses increases on manufacturing, energy, and education

by Susan R. Morrissey , Andrea Widener
March 7, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 10

Credit: Newscom
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget request being distributed on March 4, 2014.
Credit: Newscom

On a cold day in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama rolled out his $3.9 trillion fiscal 2015 budget request, and it quickly drew an equally chilly response from Congress, which sets the actual appropriations. The request provides $135.4 billion for R&D activities, a 1.2% increase over 2014 enacted levels. That includes $64.7 billion proposed for basic and applied research, a slight boost from 2014.

At a March 4 event to unveil the budget request, the President emphasized that “the budget is not just about numbers, it’s about the values and it’s about our future.” In fact, because Congress is unlikely to pass the budget as is, the priorities carry the most meaning in the document, highlighting the Administration’s continued focus on programs such as manufacturing, energy, and science education.

The President also unveiled a proposal for a $56 billion Opportunity, Growth & Security Initiative (OGSI), which includes $5.3 billion for R&D. This initiative is an addition to the regular budget that would also require congressional approval and would be paid for by closing tax loopholes and spending cuts.

Republicans in Congress quickly tagged OGSI as a way to get around a budget cap agreed to last year. “Despite signing last year’s bipartisan budget deal—and touting it as an accomplishment—the President now proposes violating that agreement with a spending surge,” says House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

The President continues to place emphasis on strengthening the nation’s advanced manufacturing R&D—providing $2.2 billion, up about 12% from 2014, in his 2015 request. That amount cuts across many federal funders, including the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards & Technology. Additional support for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which creates institutes designed to bring together businesses and academia, is included in OGSI.

“We are trying to make up for the lack of rapid growth by being smart about how we allocate our resources and how we leverage the resources by increasing partnerships with the private sector and the NGO sector, the foundation sector,” says John P. Holdren, the President’s science adviser.

Partnerships carry beyond manufacturing to the Departments of Agriculture and Health & Human Services, which would start up similar public-private endeavors under the new budget. The President’s plan also includes a $30 million proposed National Institutes of Health program modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The health-focused replica would get additional funds as part of OGSI.

Another DARPA replica, DOE’s ARPA-Energy, is tagged to get a 16% boost to $325 million in the 2015 request, showing Obama’s emphasis on shifting away from the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. Other proposed investments in DOE programs also support that shift, including increases to programs for new vehicle technologies; solar, wind, and geothermal energy; and weatherization assistance. However, the proposed budget for DOE’s Office of Science, which does much of DOE’s basic research, is basically flat, up less than 1% to $5.1 billion.

Creating workers of the future through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education gets $2.9 billion in 2015, an increase of 3.7% from 2014. The request includes a scaled-back reorganization of STEM education programs within agencies, following a universally panned, broad, cross-agency reorganization attempt last year.

The President’s 2015 budget request now goes to the House of Representatives and Senate Appropriations Committees for their consideration. Congress must pass a budget measure by Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 2014.


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