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Research Funding

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would gut science agencies

Average cuts of 16% would hit agencies that fund chemistry research and regulations

by Andrea Widener
May 24, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 22

Credit: Myles Cullen/White House
The fate of Trump’s budget proposal is in Congress’s hands.
A photo of Trump sitting at a desk signing a document with the American flag behind him.
Credit: Myles Cullen/White House
The fate of Trump’s budget proposal is in Congress’s hands.

President Donald J. Trump is asking Congress to make wide-ranging cuts to science agencies in his 2018 budget. If enacted, they could have a potentially devastating impact on science, including chemical research.

Overall, federal R&D would take a 16.8% hit, down $12.6 billion, according to estimates from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The “budget fails to recognize that federal R&D investment is the most critical step driving U.S. innovation,” says Glenn Ruskin, spokesperson for the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN. “Slashing federal research budgets will result in less innovation, less job creation, and less economic growth—all of which undermines our global competitiveness.”

Congress has widely ignored presidential budget requests in the past, and that might be the case for Trump’s 2018 budget as well. Many Republicans and Democrats rejected the proposal. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) declared it “dead on arrival.” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the top Democrat on the House Science, Space & Technology Committee, says, “I hope and expect that by the time the appropriations process is over, we will have achieved a saner outcome.”

Science slashed

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget would severely cut science and technology research funding for most federal agencies.
Note: DOE energy programs include renewables and efficiency, nuclear, fossil, grid research, and ARPA-E. Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science
A chart showing percent change for science and technology programs and offices in the White House 2018 fiscal budget request relative to enacted 2017 figures.
Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget would severely cut science and technology research funding for most federal agencies.
Note: DOE energy programs include renewables and efficiency, nuclear, fossil, grid research, and ARPA-E. Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Although the budget isn’t binding, it does show Trump’s science and technology priorities. NASA, a longtime Trump favorite, would be down just 2.8% to $19.1 billion. And both the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the agency’s nuclear weapons programs, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would get increases.

However, most agencies are facing double-digit declines in funding under the proposal. This largely mirrors cuts laid out in a preliminary budget Trump released in March, despite protests from science advocacy organizations and some members of Congress.

The National Institutes of Health is slated to lose about $7.4 billion, or 21.5%, down to $26.9 billion in 2018. The agency hasn’t seen funding levels this low since the early 2000s. The Trump Administration is planning to eliminate NIH’s Fogarty International Center, which focuses on global health and builds scientific expertise in developing countries to address pandemics.

Many in the biomedical community are appalled by the President’s request. “These proposed cuts are unconscionable and unjustified,” says Hudson H. Freeze, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Are we ready to abdicate our role as a world leader in research?”

DOE’s Office of Science, which funds basic physical science research, is facing cuts of 17.0% to $4.5 billion. Energy programs would be even harder hit, with an estimated loss of 60.3%, including the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, which was established by the America Competes Act of 2007.

The National Science Foundation is slated for an 11.0% decrease overall to $6.6 billion under Trump’s proposal, bringing it back to 2002 funding levels. Under those funding levels, the success rate for grant applications is estimated to fall to 19% from 24% in 2016, the most recent year data were available.

“We understand and appreciate the apprehension felt by many in the science community,” NSF Director France Córdova said at a budget briefing.

NSF’s Chemistry Division largely spread its cuts across programs while preserving its core individual investigator grants, which would take an 8% hit. Career grants for early career scientists would get a 10% cut, which might mean smaller grants for new scientists. The Centers for Chemical Innovation program, which supports topical research centers at universities, would be cut by 24%.

The National Institute of Standards & Technology, which has had strong Congressional support in recent years, faces a proposed decrease of 23.2% below 2017 levels to $725 million. The lab’s core science programs would be cut by 15% to $547 million. The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which supports small- and midsized manufacturers nationwide, would be killed under the 2018 budget proposal. The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation would get a $10 million reduction from 2017 levels to $15 million.

Among the hardest hit would be the Environmental Protection Agency, which would receive $5.7 billion in fiscal 2018, a 30% decrease from the 2017 level. EPA science and technology efforts would receive $397 million, a 44% decrease from 2017 funding.

However, the agency office that oversees commercial chemicals would get about 240 additional full-time employees to help implement the revised Toxic Substances Control Act. The office would receive $65 million, an increase of $6.6 million compared with 2017, for its chemical risk review program. Part of the increase would be paid for by industry fees.

The Department of Agriculture’s primary competitive research grants program, the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative, would receive $349 million, a loss of $26 million, or 6.9%, compared with 2017.

In addition, Trump’s budget would eliminate climate-change-related research and other programs across the government, including at EPA, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, DOE, NSF, and NASA.

On the chopping block

Trump is asking Congress to eliminate a number of federal programs tied to the scientific enterprise. They include:

The Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which investigates chemical-related industrial accidents. “While CSB has done some outstanding work on its investigations, more often than not, its overlap with other agency investigative authorities has generated unhelpful friction. In recent years, CSB’s recommendations have also been focused on the need for greater regulation of industry, which has frustrated both regulators and industry,” budget documents say.

Five NASA Earth-observing satellites. They were designed to improve detection of climate trends, determine distribution of carbon dioxide around the world, and measure Earth’s reflected sunlight and emitted thermal radiation.

U.S. contributions to an international fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon-emitting energy technologies. “America must put the energy needs of American families and businesses first,” the budget documents say.

EPA initiatives to restore the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Noting that these programs have received significant federal funding in years past, White House documents encourage state and local groups to manage cleanup of these water bodies

Additional reporting by Britt Erickson, Cheryl Hogue, and Jessica Morrison.


CORRECTION: This story was updated on June 12, 2017, to reflect that the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy was established by the America Competes Act of 2007.



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