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Trump, Congress approve largest U.S. research spending increase in a decade

It took an extra 6 months, but Congress has finally completed its work on a spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year, which began last October. And the delay was good news for many federal science agencies.

President Donald Trump today signed into law a $1.3 trillion spending package that largely rejects deep cuts to research agencies proposed by the White House and, in many cases, provides substantial increases.

When it comes to federal research spending, there are “some silly good numbers in here,” tweeted Matt Hourihan, who analyzes U.S. science spending patterns for AAAS (publisher of ScienceInsider) in Washington, D.C., when the deal was released this past Wednesday.

In an analysis, Hourihan and his colleague David Parkes note that the research spending increase is the largest in more than a decade. They estimate R&D spending in 2018 will reach “$176.8 billion, an increase of 12.8% or $20.1 billion above FY 2017 estimated R&D. … [T]otal federal R&D spending would reach its highest point ever in inflation-adjusted dollars. … Basic and applied research funding would receive its largest year-over-year increase since” the 2009 economic stimulus package.

The increases were made possible, in large part, by an agreement reached earlier this year to raise mandatory caps on civilian and military spending that gave lawmakers an additional $300 billion to spend this year and next.

Here’s a look at some of the top line numbers for key science agencies:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, receives a $3 billion, 8.3% increase to $37 billion. That is well above the increase proposed by either the House of Representatives or the Senate in their versions of the spending bills, and a blunt rejection of the 22% cut proposed by the White House. Included is an additional $414 million for Alzheimer’s disease research, for a total of $1.8 billion, and a $27 million boost, to $543 million, for clinical and translational science funding. The NIH increase is “beyond words, folks,” tweeted Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Rockville, Maryland.
  • The National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, would get $7.8 billion, a 3.9% or $295 million increase. The agency’s research account would grow by about 5%, to $6.3 billion. The bill notes "this strong investment in basic research reflects the Congress' growing concern that China and other competitors are outpacing the United States in terms of research spending." It also endorses the Senate’s call to build three new oceanographic research vessels.
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science in Washington, D.C., would receive $6.26 billion, an $868 million increase. That is roughly a 15% increase, rather than the 15% cut the White House proposed. Lawmakers also rejected Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and instead gave it a $47 million boost, to $353 million.
  • A $457 million, 7.9% increase for NASA science programs, to $6.2 billion. The bill increases the agency’s planetary science program by some 21%, or $382 million, to $2.2 billion. NASA’s earth science programs remain flat at 2017 levels, but the bill rejects the proposed elimination of several earth science missions and maintains funding for the troubled Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. Overall, NASA gets $20.7 billion, $1.1 billion above 2017.
  • Spending at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland, would grow by $234 million, to $5.9 billion overall. Funding for climate research would remain flat, but the final bill rejects cuts proposed by Trump and the House.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology ​in Gaithersburg, Maryland, would get $1.2 billion, $247 million above 2017 levels.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia, gets $1.1 billion, $63 million above 2017 levels. The bill preserves the agency’s eight climate science centers; the White House had proposed cutting that number in half.
  • Research programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., would grow by $33 million, to $1.2 billion.
  • The budget of the Environmental Protection Agency ​in Washington, D.C., remains flat at $8.1 billion, as lawmakers rejected deep proposed cuts.

The agreement also contains language enabling agencies to move forward with research on the causes of gun violence.

*Update, 23 March, 8:30 a.m.: The story has been updated to clarify that the Trump administration had proposed cutting the number of U.S. Geological Survey climate science centers in half, from eight to four. It has also been corrected to include the correct amounts for USDA's research programs.