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Good news for U.S. science in federal funding law

R&D support hits an all-time high in the legislation, which Congress passed and President Trump signed last week

by Andrea Widener , Britt Erickson , Cheryl Hogue
March 26, 2018

2018 U.S. budget boosts science

Legislation includes significant increases to science and technology spending compared with 2017.
Note: Funding for select science and technology agencies and programs, includes non-R&D spending. Total 2018 R&D funding is $176,810, a 12.8% increase over 2017.
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science
2018 U.S. budget boosts science

Legislation includes significant increases to science and technology spending compared with 2017.
Note: Funding for select science and technology agencies and programs, includes non-R&D spending. Total 2018 R&D funding is $176,810, a 12.8% increase over 2017.
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

The science community was both surprised and delighted by a new federal funding law that delivers average funding increases of over 10% for science across the U.S. government.

After a year of fighting for even the slightest acknowledgment for research, the fiscal 2018 law will bring R&D spending to $176.8 billion, its highest ever level when adjusted for inflation, and up 12.8% from 2017, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Budget & Policy Project, which tracks federal science spending.

“We are grateful for the increases in our key R&D science agencies as this puts them on a predictable and sustainable course that has been sorely lacking,” says ACS spokesperson Glenn Ruskin. “Federal R&D investment had sunk to 0.9% of U.S. gross domestic product, when it should more appropriately be closer to 4%.”

Among the big winners are the National Institutes of Health, which received an almost 9% increase to $37 billion. The Department of Energy (DOE) also fared well, with most programs receiving greater than 10% funding increases.

The science support was part of a single, massive budget bill, called an omnibus, that was pushed through Congress after both parties agreed to increases for both defense and nondefense spending. Despite a last-minute veto threat, President Donald J. Trump signed the bill on March 23. The fiscal year started on Oct. 1, and the legislation averted what would have been the third government shutdown this year .

The omnibus bill went against massive cuts that President Trump had called for at almost every agency in his fiscal 2018 and 2019 funding proposals. Congress tends to ignore every president’s proposals and set its own agenda, but the contrast between Trump’s proposals and what Congress passed was especially vast this year.

Energy and environment

Trump has been especially harsh in his proposed cuts for environment and energy programs, and supporters of those programs likely felt the most relief at seeing funding maintained.

Congress rejected steep cuts Trump proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency, keeping EPA’s total funding at its 2017 level, $8.1 billion.

Under that $8.1 billion umbrella, science and technology funding at EPA will remain flat at $706 million.

EPA will also receive $10 million for the remaining months of fiscal 2018 to implement the amended Toxic Substances Control Act, but the agency must collect that amount in industry-paid fees to pay back the funds. In February, EPA proposed to collect about the same amount from chemical manufacturers, or $20 million annually, to help pay for EPA’s review of chemical risks. That amount represents a significant increase over current fees.

Michael Walls, vice president for regulatory and technical affairs at the chemical industry’s primary trade group, the American Chemistry Council, criticized EPA’s proposed user fee rule last month, saying the increase in fees is too high for new chemicals.

“The proposed rule raises new chemicals fees by 540%—and potentially as high as 628%,” Walls said. He warned that the increase in costs could stifle innovation, “endanger the U.S. industry’s significant global competitive advantage, and create disincentives to bringing new chemistries to market first in the U.S.”

The spending law also authorizes EPA to continue collecting fees from pesticide manufacturers at levels set under the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2012. The agency had hoped to boost pesticide fees this year.

The legislation also includes $3.7 million for EPA to continue development of an electronic manifest system for hazardous waste. The chemical industry and hazardous waste haulers are eager for the electronic system to be fully deployed so that they can stop filing multiple copies of paper manifests.

And the law prohibits EPA from spending any money to require large livestock operations from having to get air pollution permits for emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, or carbon dioxide, including for systems for manure management.

Environment and energy programs outside of EPA received even more support from Congress. DOE science and technology programs garnered significant increases despite the president’s desire to cut them. DOE’s Office of Science is funded for $6.2 billion, up slightly more than 16% over 2017. And DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy is getting $2.3 billion, an increase of 11%.

DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which Trump also wants to eliminate, is getting $353 million, a boost of more than 15% over 2017.

“This was a complete repudiation of the president’s attempt to gut some of these programs and outright eliminate the nation’s early-stage clean energy innovation program,” says Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Research funding

NIH has always had bipartisan support in Congress, but the $3 billion funding increase over 2017 is larger than many people expected. Most institutes will see increases of around 5% in 2018, with more money going to both Alzheimer’s research and opioid funding. The 21st Century Cures Act, a law enacted in 2016 that aims to bring new drugs and other therapeutics to market faster, had proposed funding for three specific NIH programs—the BRAIN initiative, the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, and the Precision Medicine Initiative. They received a total of $496 million in the spending plan.

After facing flat or declining budgets, the National Science Foundation will get a 3.9% increase to $7.8 billion in 2018 under the new plan. Its Research & Related Activities fund, which supports most grants, will get a 5% boost to $300 million.

The National Institute of Standards & Technology had been slated for a large cut under Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, but instead it got a 26% increase. Although most of the money will go to research facilities construction, NIST’s core research labs programs get a 5% boost to $725 million. NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which supports small business manufacturing, was also eliminated in Trump’s budget proposal but was saved in the omnibus law.

The Department of Agriculture’s primary competitive research grants program, the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative, will receive $400 million, a 6.7% increase compared with fiscal 2017.

Other chemistry-related funding

The omnibus funding package gives the Food & Drug Administration $60 million to implement its part of the 21st Century Cures Act. FDA will also receive $1.5 million to work with USDA on consumer outreach and education related to genetically modified foods.

Lawmakers gave the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board $11 million for the current fiscal year, keeping its funding flat, despite Trump’s request to eliminate the agency .

And Congress allocated $7 million to the Pentagon for a nationwide study on the health effects from perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water. Championed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the study, which the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry will conduct, will focus on water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

The Department of Defense for decades used fire-fighting foams that contained these chemicals or substances that can degrade to PFOA or PFOS. These synthetic compounds, which persistent indefinitely in the environment and are associated with health problems, continue to be discovered in drinking water near military bases.


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