For the third time in his presidency, Donald J. Trump has proposed major cuts to US science programs. The cuts would have a devastating effect on research if implemented in fiscal year 2020.
However, those cuts are likely to be ignored by Congress, which has the final say in setting federal budgets. For 2019, Trump also put forward deep cuts to science agencies across the board, but Congress instead increased funding for most agencies.
Just last month, Trump touted US dominance in science and technology, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, points out. “For the United States to remain a world leader in science and technology research and innovation, the budget should match the rhetoric,” he says. “We urge Congress to act in the public’s best interest and fund critical investments in research.”
Overall, the president proposed 9% cuts in non-defense discretionary spending, which includes most science research. In an unusual move, agencies' detailed budgets were not released with the President’s budget overview and are expected to come out over the next week. However, the overview released by the White House gives the big picture.
Trump’s budget asks Congress to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s overall budget by 31% to $6.1 billion in 2020, down from the $8.9 billion it is estimated to get this year.
The proposal would end a number of EPA programs. Those include the agency’s programs on global climate change research, green chemistry, and voluntary efforts with industry to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It would also axe EPA’s small but popular Science to Achieve Results Program, which funds research grants and graduate programs, and the US’s donation to an international fund to help developing countries stop using chemicals that deplete stratospheric ozone.
One effort at EPA, important to the chemical industry, would get a budgetary boost under the proposal—reviewing the risks from commercial substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Trump asked Congress to add 19% to this year’s estimated appropriation of $61.1 million for this program, bringing it to $66.4 million in 2020. This would supplement the fees chemical manufacturers and processors pay under TSCA, budget documents indicate.
On the research side, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) faces at least a 12% proposed cut from $38 billion to around $33 billion, with all of its institutes affected. Traditional funding darlings, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, both would be hit with over $750 million in cuts under the proposed budget. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which funds more chemists than any other NIH agency, would get snipped by 14%.
Other agencies are also under the cloud of major cuts in the proposal, including a 12% cut down to $7.1 billion for the National Science Foundation and a 30% cut at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to $688 million.
In a surprising turn, Trump proposes to give the Department of Agriculture’s grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a 20% increase. However, the larger Agricultural Research Service faces a 12% decrease.
Trump proposed zero funding for the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). Since he took office in 2017, Trump has proposed abolishing the board, which investigates chemical-related industrial accidents. CSB’s independent appropriations request asks Congress to boost its budget from $12 million in 2019 to $12.5 million next year to fill critical positions that are open.
Lawmakers will not just have to deal with the president’s proposed budget for 2020; congressional leaders will also have to avoid across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. Passed in 2011 in an attempt to control the deficit, sequestration required mandatory cuts to both defense and non-defense spending. Congress has pushed them off each year since then.
In his budget proposal, Trump implemented the cuts for the non-defense side of the budget but ignored them for defense programs.
CORRECTION: This story was updated on March 18, 2019, to correct the names of some agencies.