How science agencies fare in Biden’s budget
President Biden spoke at the White House last month. Credit: Adam Schultz/The White House
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a March 16 article on FYI, which reports on federal science policy. FYI and Physics Today are published by the American Institute of Physics.
President Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2024 seeks increases across most science agencies and maintains the focus of his previous requests on research related to emerging technologies and climate change. It also prioritizes major initiatives such as the NSF’s Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). And, in a new move, it would dramatically increase funding for the development of fusion power technology.
The budget’s ambitions fall short of those set out in last year’s CHIPS and Science Act. The request is $4.3 billion below the NSF’s legislated funding goal and nearly $750 million below the Department of Energy’s Office of Science goal. . And the budget asks Congress to fund the Commerce Department’s statutorily authorized regional technology hub program through a special multi-year appropriation of $4 billion, well below the $10 billion goal of the law.
The administration’s proposals face very uncertain political dynamics in Congress, as it is the first request since Democrats lost control of the House. Although Biden’s previous appropriations required Republican buy-in to remove the threat of a filibuster in the Senate, House Republicans will now be empowered to push their agenda to cut non-defense spending. Budget negotiations for the year are just beginning, but the political headwinds against funding increases are expected to be strong.
Here is an overview of the proposals for scientific agencies:
DOE Office of Science
The administration aims to increase the Office of Science’s budget by 9% over its 2023 funding, to $8.8 billion. Of the bureau’s programs, the one receiving by far the largest proposed increase is Fusion Energy Sciences. The request supports the “bold 10-year vision” of developing pilot smelters that the administration announced last year. The more than $1 billion sought for the program would accelerate efforts to support private smelting companies and fund new R&D centers focused on plant-building issues. Other priority initiatives include the launch of scientific research centers in microelectronics authorized by CHIPS and the scientific law, the continuation of efforts to develop alternative sources of isotopes that are currently only available in Russia and an increase the amount of grants to enable graduate students to receive stipends. of $45,000.
DOE Applied Energy
The administration continues to seek significant increases for certain energy R&D activities, including a 38% increase for the Agency for Advanced Research Projects – Energy, which would bring its budget to $650 million. Renewable energy proposals include an 83% increase, to $216 million, for geothermal power and a nearly tripling $385 million budget for wind power, primarily spent on two power generation initiatives offshore. A reduction for the Nuclear Energy Board is largely due to the phasing out of a project focused on small modular reactors. The administration is asking for $35 million to plan a new national lab that would be located at a historically black college or university or other minority-serving institution and tasked with conducting multidisciplinary research on regional and local energy issues.
The NSF budget would rise about 15%, to $11.3 billion, building on the 12% increase Congress provided last year through an additional $1 billion appropriation. . With a funding increase of about one-third, to $1.19 billion, the newly created TIP directorate would receive the largest percentage increase among NSF directorates; the mathematical and physical sciences branch would receive the smallest increase, rising 9% to $1.84 billion. Priority research areas identified in the directions include climate change, advanced manufacturing, advanced wireless communications, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, microelectronics, and quantum information science. The NSF is proposing to launch a major new construction project: a leading-class computing facility initiative, at an estimated cost of $620 million, that would improve research supercomputing infrastructure in five cities.
In the previous appropriations round, Congress increased NIST’s budget by 32%, to $1.63 billion, although about half of the increase was earmarked for university construction and projects research tangential to the agency’s mission. The administration is now seeking to increase NIST’s core business budget to $1.63 billion, which is close to the goal set in the CHIPS and Science Act. NIST’s top priorities include expanding its manufacturing programs and addressing a significant maintenance and recapitalization backlog at its Colorado and Maryland campuses. The administration is proposing to double NIST’s facilities maintenance budget to $262 million. NIST has estimated that fixing the problem completely will require $300–400 million in construction funding per year for the next 12 years, along with $120–150 million per year in maintenance for at least that long.
A proposed 6% increase for the Science Mission Directorate would bring its budget to nearly $8.3 billion, with the largest increases going to the Earth Science and Planetary Science Divisions. Within Planetary Science, $949 million is being requested for the Mars Sample Return mission, far exceeding the annual budget of all of the branch’s other projects. NASA warns that mission cost estimates are rising and the agency expects to either have to scope out the mission or divert funding from other efforts. After funding was diverted last year from the Near-Earth Object Surveyor, that mission’s annual budget is now poised to reach higher levels than expected to account for its own rising costs. As a new cost-control measure, the administration is proposing to cut the Heliophysics Division’s budget by 7%, to $751 million, primarily by halting work on the Geospace Dynamics constellation, a major high school survey mission. Earth’s atmosphere which is just beginning to accelerate. .
National Nuclear Security Administration
The NNSA’s budget would increase by 8%, to $23.8 billion, with its inventory research, technology and engineering portfolio also increasing by 8%, to just under $3.2 billion. . Within that amount, the administration is proposing to cut the Inertial Containment Fusion program by 5%, to $602 million, largely attributing the move to “reprioritizing resources to support higher priority programmatic efforts at NNSA.” However, the administration plans to increase funding for the merger over the next few years. Additionally, the historic completion of fusion ignition at NNSA’s National Ignition Facility last December occurred late in the budget formulation process, so it may have a greater influence on future requests.
The administration is proposing to increase funding for the DOD’s research, development, test, and evaluation accounts by 2%, to $147 billion. This would continue a trend that has already more than doubled RDT&E funding since the start of the Trump administration. However, the relatively small percentage increase would result in cuts to early-stage R&D accounts, including a 15% reduction in basic research funding to $2.5 billion, close to its level in the United States. fiscal year 2019. The annual budget of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would increase by 8%, to $4.39 billion.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NOAA’s budget would increase by 10%, to $6.8 billion, in line with the request. The administration says the high level of funding partly reflects “a new 10-year, $25 billion cost profile for NOAA’s weather satellites.” The agency is completing the acquisition of new geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites and planning future constellations for geostationary observations and space weather monitoring.
United States Geological Survey
Echoing its ambitious proposals from the previous two years, the administration is asking for a 19% increase, to $1.79 billion, for the USGS. Additional funding would both expand existing programs and establish new initiatives, particularly around research on the emission and absorption of greenhouse gases and the impacts of climate change.
National Institutes of Health
Within NIH, the ARPA-H budget would increase by 66%, to $2.5 billion, while the budget for the rest of NIH would increase only about 2%, to $48.6 billion. dollars, with many of its institutes and centers scheduled for fixed funding. . The administration is requesting a multi-year special appropriation of $20 billion for a pandemic preparedness and biodefense initiative, of which the NIH would receive $2.7 billion. The administration last year proposed an equally ambitious preparedness initiative that Congress has refused to fund.
Other Proposals The Department of Education is seeking $350 million to expand R&D infrastructure at four-year minority-serving institutions such as historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities. The State Department is asking for $150 million to help the United States rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, from which it withdrew in 2019. The National Telecommunications Information Administration is asking for $20 million. million to create two programs focused on identifying ways to share and reuse portions of the radio frequency spectrum. It is also asking for $8 million for upgrades and repairs to the Table Mountain field site and radio silence zone. The Department of Transportation is requesting $19 million to establish the ARPA for Infrastructure (ARPA-I) that Congress authorized through the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act of 2021.