President Donald J. Trump

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A grim budget day for U.S. science: analysis and reaction to Trump's plan

President Donald Trump rolled out his first budget request to Congress today. It is for the 2018 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. It calls for deep cuts to some federal science agencies (read our initial coverage to get some of the numbers), and is likely to draw fierce opposition from the scientific community and many lawmakers in Congress.

ScienceInsider is providing analysis and reaction to the budget all day.

Come back to see our latest items (most recent at the top).

Trump's science vision, in a single graph

The budget released today is often scant on details, including how cuts to various science agencies will be distributed. But science budget expert Matt Hourihan of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS (publisher of ScienceInsider) made some informed estimates of how the cuts would play out (assuming Congress approves all of the cuts, which is a big "if"). The result is this graph, which shows how select science agencies would fare:

NIH cuts could mean no new grants in 2018

The biomedical research community is reacting with shock and outrage to the Trump administration’s proposed 18% cut to the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many are also worried about plans to reorganize the agency, in part by eliminating its institute dedicated to training scientists in developing countries.

The Trump budget would cut $5.8 billion from NIH’s current funding level of $31.7 billion in the stopgap congressional funding measure that funds most federal agencies through 28 April. That would bring its budget back to the lowest level in 15 years without taking into account biomedical inflation.

“Obviously we’re outraged. This is just unacceptable. This doesn’t make any sense. We should be investing more in biomedical research,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The Association of American Medical Colleges said the cuts would “cripple the nation’s ability to support and deliver” biomedical research.

The damage could even worse than it sounds because the $25.9 billion for NIH apparently includes $496 million that NIH was slated to receive from the 21st Century Cures Act that became law in December 2016, suggests Kathy Hudson of Washington, D.C., a former NIH deputy director who left the agency in December. Cures money was once envisioned as being an add-on to the agency’s budget, not a replacement for withdrawn funding. (The Cures money has a separate funding stream that is not subject to the annual appropriations process.) NIH would also have to dig into its budget to maintain studies funded by the $334 million (in 2016) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), whose activities NIH would be expected to absorb, Hudson says.

Across NIH, because most of the agency’s budget goes to annual payments for ongoing grants, a nearly 20% cut could leave virtually no funding for new awards in fiscal year 2018, Hudson says. “The nation would lose research and researchers in a way that would not be recoverable,” Hudson says. “It is pretty terrifying.”

The Trump budget proposal also “includes a major reorganization” of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers “to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities,” the document says. In addition to folding AHRQ into NIH, that includes “eliminating the Fogarty International Center” at NIH.

The Fogarty is a tiny piece of NIH, funded at $70 million in 2016. But it has an outsize impact because its mission is “entirely to train people” to do research mostly in low-income countries, says bioethicist Nancy Kass of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, a Fogarty grantee.

Although the Fogarty may have come into the White House’s crosshairs because of “international” in its title, the work it does helps guard the health of Americans from emerging diseases, Kass says. “One of the best protectants is to have people in Africa trained in science and ethics who can detect, measure, and do research on a new infection,” Kass says. “They are our first eyes and ears on the ground.” The Infectious Diseases Society of America issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about the proposal to abolish the Fogarty center.

The Trump administration is not the first to propose an NIH reorganization—in the late 1990s, former NIH Director Harold Varmus decried its sprawling array of disease-oriented institutes and called for a more streamlined structure. A 2006 law caps the number of institutes at 27 and lays out a process for adding or removing institutes. That process entails “all sorts of lengthy, time-consuming, neuron-absorbing steps,” says Hudson, who was involved in creating a translational research institute (and dismantling another). Spending committees in Congress, which allocate individual institutes’ funding, would also have to sign off on any reorganization.

But Congress, where NIH has long had bipartisan support and received substantial raises the past 2 years, is unlikely to go along with the NIH proposal, NIH watchers say. “I don't think this has any chance of getting through Congress,” Zeitzer says. She adds that perhaps the White House budget office “did us a favor” by proposing massive cuts to NIH. “If it was a small cut, it would be hard to stay outraged.” — Jocelyn Kaiser

Nevada nuclear waste dump site gets $120 million reboot

The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump site in Nevada gets a $120 million reboot on licensing for the project in the White House’s 2018 budget blueprint for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The funding would be used to “initiate a robust interim storage program,” the request says, which would demonstrate how the Trump administration will address the country’s lack of repository sites, a hindrance for existing nuclear power plants.

A disposal site on Yucca Mountain would need to hold up to 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste for up to 1 million years. A 2014 assessment from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission deemed the site environmentally safe to do so.

Billions of dollars have been spent to evaluate Yucca Mountain as disposal site for radioactive waste since the 1970s. Licensing was halted in 2010 by former President Barack Obama. The site has long faced pushback from state lawmakers, environmental groups, and local stakeholders.

The state of Nevada is officially opposed to a repository site on Yucca Mountain, according to the state’s attorney general’s office, citing “unresolved scientific issues,” space limitations, risks during transportation of waste, and national security vulnerability.

Nevada legislators from both parties fired back Thursday morning.

“As has been stated in the past, Yucca is dead and this reckless proposal will not revive it,” Senator Dean Heller (R–NV) said in a statement. “This project was ill-conceived from the beginning and has already flushed billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain.”

“This is unacceptable. Time and again, Nevadans have made it clear that we will not accept any plan to revive Yucca Mountain,” Senator Cortez Masto (D–NV), wrote in a Tweet.

The overall proposed budget for the Department of Energy took a 5.6% hit. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, the president’s energy secretary, remained cautious, but said he would not keep discussions of Yucca Mountain off the table at this senate hearing in January. — Rachael Lallensack

In mystery interior budget, USGS number came as surprise

The White House’s 2018 budget would take about 11.7% from the Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) 2016 enacted budget, dropping it from $13.2 billion to $11.6 billion. But that one number is the only concrete clue so far to the administration’s plans for DOI. Only DOI’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) received a loose estimate of its 2018 budget in the blueprint released today; USGS will receive “more than 900 million”—and even that amount may have been added at the 11th hour. “As of late yesterday afternoon we didn’t even think there was a dollar amount [in the budget request], so this was a bit of a surprise for us,” says USGS spokesperson A.B. Wade.

A $900 million budget, if it is that round number, would be a 15% decrease relative to USGS’s 2016 enacted budget of $1.062 billion. The 2018 request includes funding for the ground system for Landsat 9, the joint USGS-NASA satellite program to monitor land-use changes on Earth’s surface. Other USGS funding priorities, without dollar amounts attached, include natural hazard risk reduction and “responsible resource management.” However, there are currently six programs within USGS’ Natural Hazards Mission Area, focusing on risks from earthquakes to volcanoes. And “We’re not sure exactly what responsible resource management refers to specifically,” Wade says. Whether the cuts to USGS will include personnel is still unclear, she says, but “15% is a significant hit.”

For other agencies and programs within DOI, details are even scarcer. More than $1 billion will go to water resources management in the western United States—likely under the aegis of the Bureau of Reclamation. The DOI budget will support “stewardship capacity” for the National Park Service (NPS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—but “streamlines operations.” Meanwhile, funding for the Office of Natural Resources Revenue will be sustained, the budget notes, and wildfire suppression costs, estimated based on a “10-year rolling average,” will be met in full.

One “lower priority” activity that will be cut is funding for new acquisitions of federal lands, an interest of multiple DOI agencies, including BLM, FWS, and NPS. The land acquisition budget stands to lose $120 million relative to 2016 enacted levels. Other programs on the chopping block include National Heritage Areas—many of which the White House says are more appropriately funded locally—and payments to the National Wildlife Refuge Fund that are “duplicative” of other payment programs.

Beyond that, the blueprint suggests the DOI priorities will include “environmentally responsible development of energy on public lands and offshore waters,” as well as streamlining permits and promoting energy. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in a statement released today, expressed support for the budget—although 2 weeks ago he had told DOI employees that he would push back against the cuts. “I can say for certain that this budget allows the Interior Department to meet our core mission and also prioritizes the safety and security of the American people,” he said today. — Carolyn Gramling

National Endowment for the Humanities faces elimination

One of several organizations to have its funding eliminated completely in the 2018 budget proposal was the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). NEH, which was established in 1965 and received $148 million in 2016, provides grants supporting research, education, and outreach in the humanities and social sciences. In linguistics, for example, the Documenting Endangered Languages program, managed jointly by NEH and the National Science Foundation (NSF), has played a role in preserving and revitalizing many endangered languages.

William D. Adams, Chairman of NEH, released a statement earlier today on the agency's proposed elimination. Here are some excerpts:

We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as NEH has made significant contributions to the public good over its 50-year history.  But as an agency of the executive branch, we answer to the President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Therefore, we must abide by this budget request as this initial stage of the federal budget process gets under way. …

Since its creation in 1965, NEH has established a significant record of achievement through its grant-making programs.  Over these five decades, NEH has awarded more than $5.3 billion for humanities projects through more than 63,000 grants.  That public investment has led to the creation of books, films, museum exhibits, and exciting discoveries. …

Through these projects and thousands of others, the National Endowment for the Humanities has inspired and supported what is best in America.

— Brice Russ

An ominously sparse FDA section

The White House has not specified the size of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) budget, but does propose a major increase in user fees, which are collected from drug and medical device companies submitting products for FDA review. The agency brought in roughly $1.3 billion—nearly a third of its budget—in medical product user fees last year.

Today’s proposal  to increase those fees by $1 billion may not sound ominous in itself, but it implies an impending, equivalent cut to federal funding, says Steven Grossman, deputy executive director at the Alliance for a Stronger FDA in Washington, D.C. That’s an unrealistic expectation, he adds, because drug companies have already gone through negotiations and reached an agreement with FDA on user fee increases. (The agreed-upon number isn’t publicly available.)

The Biotech Industry Organization, also in Washington, D.C., addressed the potential shake-up in an e-mailed statement: “As regards to user fee programs, we look forward to working with the President and Congress to preserve the commitments reflected in the carefully negotiated [Prescription Drug User Fee Act] goals letter.” — Kelly Servick

 

Biomedical research coalition calls on Congress to block NIH cuts

United for Medical Research (UMR), a politically potent coalition of leading research universities, industry groups, and patient advocates based in Washington, D.C., isn’t happy with Trump’s proposed 20% cut to the $32 billion NIH, the nation's major funder of basic biomedical science. Here are excerpts from a statement issued by UMR President Lizbet Boroughs:

UMR is deeply troubled by the proposed $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH ) …  A cut of such magnitude would have serious repercussions on medical research, jobs and the economy. It would stymie major progress toward treatment and cures of diseases, and be felt by all Americans …

NIH research fuels the pipeline of discovery and innovation necessary to prevent, treat and cure our most vexing diseases and it has a significant economic impact, supporting more than 350,000 jobs across the United States and contributing some $60 billion annually in economic activity ….

We call on the strong bipartisan Congressional supporters of NIH to reject the Administration’s drastic and unwise cuts to NIH and maintain a course of steady, sustained and predictable funding for America’s premier health agency.

NASA chief reacts: positive "overall"

NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot has put out a statement reacting to the White House budget request, which calls for a 1% cut overall to his agency, and a 5% cut to NASA’s earth science programs. “This is a positive budget overall for NASA,” he said. A few excerpts:

The President mentioned in his speech to both houses of Congress that, ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.’ NASA is already working toward that goal, and we look forward to exciting achievements that this budget will help us reach …

While the budget and appropriation process still has a long way to go, this budget enables us to continue our work with industry to enhance government capabilities, send humans deeper into space, continue our innovative aeronautics efforts and explore our universe …

The budget also bolsters our ongoing work to send humans deeper into space and the technologies that will require …

Overall science funding is stable, although some missions in development will not go forward and others will see increases. We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us—a budget not far from where we have been in recent years, and which enables our wide ranging science work on many fronts …

While this budget no longer funds a formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through our missions and channel education efforts in a more focused way through the robust portfolio of our Science Mission Directorate. We will also continue to use every opportunity to support the next generation through engagement in our missions and the many ways that our work encourages the public to discover more.

We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget. This doesn’t mean, however, that the hard work of the teams already working on ARM will be lost. We will continue the solar electric propulsion efforts benefitting from those developments for future in space transportation initiatives. I have had personal involvement with this team and their progress for the past few years, and am I extremely proud of their efforts to advance this mission …

NSF wonders whether budget's silence is golden

At first glance, the research components of today’s 2018 budget blueprint appear to reflect Trump’s lack of attention, to date, to science and the federal research enterprise. The best example may be the budget’s silence on NSF, the federal government’s major funder of several fields of academic research.

NSF is not mentioned in the 62-page document, so it’s impossible to know what the new president thinks about its broad $7.5 billion portfolio of research and education. Presumably, the agency is one component of a single line labeled “other agencies” that is scheduled for a 10% cut. But NSF never received a “landing team” from the incoming Trump administration and had no interactions with White House budget officials as the so-called skinny budget was assembled over the past few weeks.

NSF’s support for the social sciences and its environmental and climate programs have been the target of congressional Republicans. But despite deep cuts in these areas at other agencies, NSF’s activities so far have been spared.

So is silence golden? NSF officials may not know the answer until Trump submits his full 2018 budget request to Congress in May. — Jeffrey Mervis

 

NOAA Sea Grant programs leads list of cuts

A little-known grant program that supports academic research to help communities adapt to climate change and manage their coastal and lakeshore resources is on the chopping block in the Trump administration's budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The elimination of the $73 million Sea Grant program would account for the single largest chunk of the $250 million the White House wants to cut from the $5.8 billion agency, which does everything from manage weather satellites to regulate fisheries.

Sea Grant, established by Congress in 1966, supports research at 33 centers, largely on the coasts but also on the Great Lakes, involving more than 3000 scientists and 300 academic institutions. Sea Grant has also emerged as an important venue for guiding communities on their response to global warming, including regional sea level rise.

Overall, the budget proposal would reduce NOAA’s budget by 4%. Beyond Sea Grant, the cuts would target grants and programs "supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education," which are a lower priority, the budget request states, than functions maintained in the budget like "surveys, charting, and fisheries management." But the budget does not make clear what specific programs these other cuts would target, and provides no numbers for influential programs like the Office of Atmospheric Research, NOAA’s main science arm.

The proposal would retain support for NOAA's troubled $11.3 billion Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), a series of two advanced weather satellites, the first of which is set for launch late this summer, and its $11.3 billion line of four new geostationary satellites, the first of which, GOES-16, launched late last year.

The fate of two further planned polar satellites, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4, remain uncertain in the proposal, which says NOAA will obtain cost savings in the program by "better reflecting the actual risk of a gap in polar satellite coverage," along with opening up more opportunities for startup commercial weather satellites to provide data. That is likely a reference to companies like Spire Global, which has launched a series of CubeSats to collect weather data by GPS radio occultation. Congress has already pressured NOAA to sign pilot contracts with these companies.

The proposal promises to maintain the forecasting capabilities of the National Weather Service by investing "more than $1 billion," potentially in line with the service's enacted $1.1 billion in spending for the 2016 financial year.

 Paul Voosen

 

Environmental think tank bashes EPA, State Department cuts

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a prominent Washington, D.C.–based environmental think tank, doesn't have much good to say about the proposed 31% cut to the Enviornmental Protection Agency, 29% cut to State Department climate and aid programs, and reductions at research agencies. Here is some of what WRI's Manish Bapna, a managing director at the group, said in a statement:
 
The latest budget continues the administration’s shocking disregard for priorities that are critical for people’s health and the economy. The U.S. government must have the resources to protect air, water and people’s health at home. It must also have the tools to advance U.S. diplomatic and strategic interests overseas.
 
By slashing funding for communities most in need, the administration risks jeopardizing America’s security in strategically critical parts of the world. Funding to the State Department and USAID are essential not only for people’s well-being but also for advancing U.S. priorities in conflict-prone and fragile regions. As we face one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II, with nearly 20 million people at risk of starvation, this is no time to be turning our backs on the world.
 
The government should also invest in American innovation, especially to accelerate the clean energy revolution that is already reducing pollution and creating more domestic jobs.

The administration should respect science and continue to respond to the growing impacts of climate change, which is understood by the scientific and security communities alike. Human-caused climate change is already contributing to severe droughts and food shortages and accelerating the migration of people. Slashing climate and clean energy funds will undermine U.S. business and diplomatic interests and lead to greater security risks for us all.
 
It’s now up to Congress to restore funding, recognizing that America’s economic and security interests are intertwined with the well-being of people and the planet.

 

At NASA, a shift away from the home planet

Europa is still in the country's sights, but Earth a bit less so in the administration's new budget. Compared with other science agencies, NASA would fare well under the proposed budget, but a quartet of earth science missions would face elimination under the plan.

Overall, the budget requests $19.1 billion for NASA in the 2018 fiscal year, a 1% drop from its current levels—but that number is also larger than the request that the Obama administration made for 2017.

Earth science would face a cut of $102 million, to $1.8 billion, with three missions under preparation—and one currently in operation—canceled, along with an unspecified reduction in earth science research grants.

Notably, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, an active mission launched in 2015 to provide planetwide observations of Earth that has long ties to former Vice President Al Gore, would be terminated before its 5-year mission was up.

Also facing elimination are the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, which would observe carbon dioxide flows; a mission to the space station that would have supported tests of a spectrometer intended to measure solar reflection; and Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem, a satellite that would measure the colors of the ocean to gauge the global flow of algae and the influence of ocean aerosols on cloud formation.

Planetary science would be boosted by 16% under the budget, to $1.9 billion, with explicit support for Europa Clipper, the agency's mission to make multiple flybys past Jupiter's icy moon, and the 2020 Mars rover. The budget would not support a separate mission to land on Europa, and also encourages the agency to support initiatives to explore the use of smaller, less expensive satellites for its science.

The budget maintains support for continued development of the Space Launch System, NASA's next-generation rocket set for launch in the next few years, and the Orion crew vehicle for human exploration. As expected, it seeks to cancel the Obama administration's Asteroid Redirect Mission, citing its expense, but offers no replacement near-term target for astronauts, such as the moon, or whether Mars remains its priority.

The budget also gives no hint of the administration’s view of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a space-based infrared observatory set to target dark energy next decade. The James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch next year, has chewed up the budget of the astrophysics division, and there’s concern that WFIRST could do likewise.

The request also seeks to eliminate the $115 million Office of Education, opting for "a more focused education effort" through NASA's science directorate.

— Paul Voosen

Voices: reaction to the budget proposal

“Deeply troubled.” “Very concerned.” “Unprecedented.” “Unwise.”

Scientific societies, patient groups, and research organizations are reacting with alarm to the many cuts to science programs in President Donald Trump’s budget request. A sampling of voices:

  • "This budget proposal would cripple American innovation and economic growth," said a statement from Association of American Universities President Mary Sue Coleman, and would "lead to a U.S. innovation deficit, as it comes at a time when China and other economic competitors continue their investment surge in research and higher education."
  • “The magnitude of this reduction in funding [for NIH] is unprecedented and will slow scientific discovery against chronic and infectious diseases,” the American Society for Microbiology said in a statement. The group did give the White House some credit for funding the Department of Agriculture’s competitive research grants program, and said that “while we applaud” decisions to continue to fund The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, “the proposed elimination of the NIH’s Fogarty International Center would only serve to weaken public health in America by preventing vital scientific collaboration around the globe.”
  • The budget, “if enacted, would be a step backward for scientific progress, jeopardize the U.S.’s role as a leader in innovation, and harm the American public,” said Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.We are disheartened and significantly concerned by the … proposal, which clearly devalues science and research.”
  • “The President cites a lack of evidence as the reason for many of his budget cuts, which demonstrates a strong interest in ensuring federal policymaking relies on sound, science-based evidence,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America in Arlington, Virginia. “However, many programs that are valued by Americans, particularly those designed to protect the most vulnerable among us, are based on evidence and should be given the opportunity to prove their effectiveness.”
  • “Unfortunately, the Administration’s FY18 budget would erode the investment needed to maintain America's status as the global innovation leader, said Executive Director Stewart Young of the Task Force on American Innovation, a Washington, D.C.–based coalition of companies, university associations, and professional societies. “With the cuts to basic research offered in the FY18 budget, our nation risks creating an innovation deficit, which would diminish our ability to compete globally, to grow our economy, and to safeguard our nation.”
  • “There are certain investments the United States can’t afford to not make,” said Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson in a lengthy statement. The Washington, D.C.–based group predicted the cuts would “severely negatively impact the lives of many Americans and blunt economic growth.”
  • The Arlington, Virginia–based National Science Teachers Association is “extremely disappointed with the education budget released this morning by the Trump Administration. … Eliminating Title II grants under the Every Students Succeeds Act (Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants) will mean the loss of content-rich professional development for thousands of science teachers nationwide who want to strengthen their content knowledge and classroom instruction.”
  • "The Trump administration’s proposed budget would cripple the science and technology enterprise through short-sighted cuts,” said Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS (publisher of ScienceInsider) in Washington, D.C. “Congress has a long bipartisan history of protecting research investments. We encourage Congress to act in the nation’s best interest and support sustainable funding for federal R&D—for both defense and non-defense programs—as it works to address the FY 2018 budget."
  • “[W]e are grateful and encouraged that members of Congress have already spoken out about the importance of keeping NIH funding at healthy levels,” said David F. Arons, chief executive officer of the National Brain Tumor Society in Newton, Massachusetts, which was “disappointed” by the NIH cuts. “It would be a tremendous disappointment if we backed away now from all the gains that have been made and all those that are within reach."
  • “[T]he preliminary evidence suggests that the administration is taking its cues from a deeply flawed framework put forward by the Heritage Foundation,” wrote Joe Kennedy of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C. “It is proposing to slash federal investments in critical areas that contribute significantly to economic growth.”
  • “The unprecedented budget cuts proposed by President Trump for FY 2018 would cripple the nation’s ability to support and deliver the important biomedical research that provides hope to all,” said Association of American Medical Colleges President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch. “National security is a priority for us all, but it cannot be achieved without a commitment to the nation’s health security.”