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Major funding agencies would have essentially flat spending under the "base budget" scenario in the 2015 budget request, which does include additional money included in a special initiative likely to face opposition in Congress.

Flat future. Major funding agencies would have essentially flat spending under the "base budget" scenario in the 2015 budget request, which does include additional money included in a special initiative likely to face opposition in Congress.

M. Hourihan/AAAS

Major U.S. Science Agencies Face Flat Prospects

President Barack Obama on Tuesday released a $3.901 trillion budget request to Congress, including proposals for a host of federal research agencies. The unveiling is just the beginning of the annual budget process; Congress will now chew on the proposal and is likely to ignore many of the White House's suggestions. Still, the budget request offers insight into the White House's research priorities and can play an important role in negotiating final spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. 

ScienceInsider has been combing through the document, and the stories below report some of what we found on the first day. Come back for more stories this week on research spending.


NIH Faces Flat Funding and a Plan for High-Risk Research

There is little good news in the 2015 president’s budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would receive $30.4 billion in 2015, a mere $211 million, or 0.7%, increase. The agency would receive a much bigger, nearly $1 billion boost, however, if the president can get Congress to go along with his Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI)—but that is unlikely.

NIH Director Francis Collins told reporters that given the budget agreement reached by Republicans and Democrats in December, which imposes a strict overall limit on discretionary spending, “nobody would have expected … a big bump up for NIH.” He pointed out, however, that the slight increase for NIH was within a larger Department of Health and Human Services budget that went down. “I take that as a good sign,” Collins said, and a “coming back” from last year’s “gruesome year” due to a 5% cut to NIH’s budget from sequestration. And the $970 million that NIH would get if Congress approved OGSI shows that research is a priority for the administration, he said.

The small increase for NIH will support 9326 new and competing grants, 329 more than this year. While most of NIH’s institutes and centers would be flat funded, the budget includes boosts for a few programs at certain institutes. NIH wants to spend $100 million, more than twice the $40 million it invested this year, for its share of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the cross-agency brain-mapping initiative launched last year. The Cures Acceleration Network within the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences would get a $20 million boost to $30 million for speeding the development of “high need cures.”

The Common Fund, the pot of money within the NIH director’s office for launching cross-cutting initiatives, would receive a $50 million increase to $583 million. Some $30 million of that would go to cutting-edge projects awarded using a process similar to the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Like DARPA, NIH would make these awards not through a traditional request for proposals that takes a year or more. Instead, a program manager would identify “a bold, innovative strategy to tackle an important problem,” Collins said. The manager would then handpick teams of academic and industry partners best suited to the project.

Collins offered an example of one possible project: a sensor implanted in the body that could record health measurements, such as blood pressure, then send a signal to the peripheral nervous system to modulate blood pressure or, say, the immune system or pain levels. NIH recently held a workshop with DARPA and the drug company GlaxoSmithKline to discuss this so-called “electroceutical,” Collins said.

The president’s proposed $56 billion OGSI plan, which includes $5 billion for research, would be funded through tax hikes and other proposed measures that Congress is unlikely to approve (see story below). But if NIH received the extra $970 million from the initiative, the agency would fund 650 additional research grants and put $50 million more into a universal influenza vaccine. Alzheimer’s disease and BRAIN would also receive more funding. Collins summed up the initiative’s unlikely prospects: “In my dreams, it will be a great year,” he said.

Biomedical lobbying groups reacted with dismay to the NIH request. “We understand it given the budget environment, but it’s rather disappointing,” says Dave Moore, senior director of government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. “Once again we’re not even keeping pace with inflation.”

“It doesn’t point us where we need to be in terms of taking advantage of scientific opportunity or helping us climb out of the hole of sequestration,” said Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. “It’s status quo when the last thing we need is status quo.” FASEB believes that NIH needs $32 billion in 2015 as part of “as a first step toward a multi-year program of sustainable growth.” –Jocelyn Kaiser

Congress Will Determine Growth of Manufacturing Innovation Network

With money tight in Washington, federal research programs have been sorted into a pecking order today. Some programs were blessed by inclusion—or even increases—in the main budget, which had to fit under the $492 billion cap for discretionary spending agreed upon with congressional leaders last December. The programs at the bottom of the pecking order, however, were cut or omitted completely. But some fall into a middle tier, including a White House manufacturing initiative, which the Obama administration proposes to fund primarily through a $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI). But the OGSI, which includes $5 billion for science, faces long odds with budget hawks. (See “Obama Wants New $5 Billion for Science, but Will It Happen?” on this page, below.)

The budget proposal blesses advanced manufacturing R&D across various agencies with a proposed $2.2 billion for 2015, a 12% hike over this year. But President Barack Obama’s plans for the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation reside in the budget limbo of that third category, dependent on OGSI for funding. Announced by the president in his State of the Union address last year, the network seeks to connect manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges, and local government officials to pursue innovation in a network of 45 institutes built over a decade.

Four such hubs were created last year; Congress has already provided the funds to build five more this year. But none are explicitly funded in the White House’s main 2015 request. Instead, to continue creating the institutes, Congress will have to approve at least part of the OGSI funding, which has an as-of-yet unspecified portion devoted to continuing to build this network. The goal, says a fact sheet, is “Transforming Communities into World-Leading Centers of Advanced Manufacturing.” –Eli Kintisch

Academia Disgruntled by Budget Numbers

The Association of American Universities, composed of 60 major U.S. research universities, and two in Canada, has joined the ranks of those disgruntled by today’s budget request. An excerpt from their statement:

"The President’s FY15 budget does disappointingly little to close the nation’s innovation deficit.  When it comes to research, its modest spending increases in a few key research agencies are not sufficient to put this nation on an investment path that can ensure we remain the world’s innovation leader.  Indeed, basic research funding declines in this budget.

"The unrealistic caps on discretionary spending have made the Administration’s job extremely difficult, and we appreciate the effort to fund additional research through a separate initiative, but we strongly believe research investments should receive greater priority under the caps.

"We are especially disappointed that the proposed funding of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) still does not achieve the pre-sequestration FY12 level of funding and continues the after-inflation decline of support for NIH that we have seen since 2003.  We are also disappointed that the Defense budget contains a 6.9-percent cut in basic research.  For this nation’s fighting men and women to remain the world’s best equipped, most technically advanced force, we need to sustain the investment in Defense basic research.

"This Administration has provided great leadership in pursuit of needed investments in scientific research.  We hope that we can depend on its support as we work with Congress to increase the investments from the levels proposed in this budget."

Computing Wins, Fusion Loses in Energy Department's Science Wing

Once again, there are winners and losers in the proposed budget for 2015 the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, the single largest funder of the physical sciences in the United States. Overall, the Office of Science budget would creep up by just 0.9% from its current level to $5.111 billion. But whereas some research programs, such as advanced computing, would see double-digit increases, others, such as fusion, would take deep cuts.

The Office of Science funds 47% of research in the physical sciences in the United States through it six research programs: Advanced Scientific Computing Research; Basic Energy Sciences (BES), which funds research in materials science, chemistry, and related fields and runs most of DOE's big scientific user facilities; Biological and Environmental Research (BER), which among other things supports DOE's efforts in advanced biofuels; Fusion Energy Sciences; High Energy Physics; and Nuclear Physics.

In the proposed budget, advanced computing would see its funding soar 13.2% to $541 million. BES, the biggest DOE program, would get a boost of 5.5% to $1.807 billion. BER would get a 3% bump to $628 million, and nuclear physics would enjoy a 4.3% increase to $594 million.

In contrast, the fusion program would take a 17.6% cut to $416 million—$88 million less than it's getting this year. Although far from final, the numbers suggest another big dip for a program that has enjoyed a roller coaster ride in recent years. In its proposed 2013 budget, DOE called for slashing spending on domestic fusion research to help pay for the increasing U.S. contribution to the international fusion experiment, ITER, in Cadarache, France. That budget also called for closing one of three smaller fusion experiments, or tokamaks, in the United States: the Alcator C-Mod at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. But that budget never passed and last December, when Congress finally agreed to a budget for this year, it restored funding for C-Mod and gave the fusion program a handsome boost of nearly $200 million. The new budget request would give some of that increase back and suggests DOE officials see bigger priorities elsewhere.

The other big loser in the proposed 2015 budget would be high-energy physics, which studies matter and forces at their most fundamental level. Such research included U.S. participation at the world's largest atom smasher, Europe's Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. The high-energy physics budget would fall 6.6% to $744 million.

With the details yet to come, what remains unclear is how the Office of Science will fit everything into its essentially flat budget. According to slides from a briefing by Patricia Dehmer, acting director of the Office of Science, DOE officials intend to keep facilities like the C-Mod running—albeit for just 5 weeks out of the year—and even to start construction on a new accelerator nuclear physics called the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The only user facilities that would shut down would be the Lujan Neutron Scattering Center at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, which is being replaced by the far-bigger National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven. Obviously, to make it all fit, the budget must include numerous other cuts. –Adrian Cho

NASA Says “See Ya” to SOFIA Astronomy Mission in Flat Budget

The administration has requested $17.5 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2015, including $4.97 billion for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The request—if granted by Congress—would maintain NASA’s overall funding as well as its science budget line at about the same levels as the current fiscal year. And the James Webb Space Telescope would continue to receive the funding it needs to stay on track for a 2018 launch.

However, the proposed budget would not maintain status quo across the board. It would strike a blow to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)—an airplane observatory developed through a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA budget documents indicate that the agency—which has spent the lion’s share of the $1.25 billion SOFIA has cost so far—is proposing to put SOFIA “into storage due to its high operating cost and budget constraints.” NASA requested $87 million for SOFIA in 2014 and spent nearly that much on the project in the last fiscal year.

A White House summary of NASA’s budget notes that the savings achieved by reducing funding for SOFIA will enable “continued support for higher priority programs, including lower cost, competitive science missions, and extended operations for the Cassini Saturn mission.” A more detailed presentation of the space agency’s budget proposal, unveiled this afternoon by NASA, says the agency is in talks with its German partner to determine the best path forward for SOFIA.

The budget for science—which is just shy of this year’s enacted level of $5.15 billion—includes $607 million for astrophysics—nearly $60 million less than the current level. It also includes $1.8 billion for earth science, maintaining the agency’s robust funding of that directorate over the past few years.

Planetary science would get $1.28 billion—a pot that includes funding to continue planning the development of a new Mars rover, as well as money for developing a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The administration did not request any money for the Europa mission in last year’s budget proposal, but Congress provided $80 million in funding anyway. This year’s Europa request is “very exciting news,” says Robert Pappalardo, a researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who has been studying a concept for a Europa flyby mission.

The proposal also includes $130 million for further development of NASA’s controversial plan to grab and steer a small asteroid into lunar orbit, which has drawn opposition in Congress. –Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

On STEM Education Reorganization, Obama Retreats

Last year, the Obama administration proposed an aggressive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education reorganization plan that would involve a massive reshuffling of the 226 STEM programs run by a dozen departments at a cost of $3 billion a year. But scientific societies, educators, and researchers raised hackles in opposition to the plan, which would have consolidated the programs into the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Education, and the Smithsonian Institution. Congress sided with the community and repeatedly signaled its displeasure.

With today’s budget the administration signals a new approach. The new budget mentions instead:

“a fresh reorganization of Federal STEM education programs to enable more strategic investment in STEM education and more critical evaluation of outcomes. This proposal reduces fragmentation of STEM education programs across Government, and focuses on efforts around the five key areas identified by the Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan: K-12 instruction; undergraduate education; graduate education; broadening participation in STEM education and careers by women and minorities traditionally underrepresented in these fields; and education activities that typically take place outside the classroom.”

“We’re not talking about consolidation that would happen across the government,” NSF acting Director Cora Marrett tells ScienceInsider. “No moving people or money across agencies anymore.” An interagency group called CoSTEM has been meeting for the last year to envision how to improve agency cooperation on STEM education. “That will continue,” says Marrett, adding that consolidation will proceed within the agencies. At NSF, for example, bureaucrats have a proposed plan for consolidating its varied undergraduate research programs. More detail may be available next week when the agency releases its full 2015 budget proposal.

Meanwhile, Marrett says, a proposed 5% increase in NSF’s education spending—from $847 million this year to $890 million in 2015—would be aimed at increasing the stipend amounts for NSF’s graduate research fellowships, which provide 3-year fellowships with an annual stipend of $32,000, plus an allowance to universities. –Eli Kintisch

White House Scales Back Ag Research Ambitions

The White House has lessened its ambitions for promoting peer-reviewed research in food and agriculture, after 2 years in a row of requesting double-digit increases. Last year, for example, the administration asked Congress for a 44% increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA's) main source of competitive extramural grants, hoping to boost AFRI to a record $383 million. (Appropriators ponied up 17%.) Today, the request for the 2015 budget was a 2.8% increase over the current fiscal year, to $325 million.

The office that administers AFRI, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, would see an overall 6.7% increase, including a $75 million proposal for “innovation institutes” run as public-private partnerships. This idea was proposed in a 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Details are scarce, but one institute would invest $1 million in protecting pollinators, says Tom Van Arsdall, who lobbied on behalf of the Pollinator Partnership, a nongovernmental organization in San Francisco, California. Some of the funds for this effort may be coming from USDA’s intramural research arm, which would be trimmed by 2.1% to $1.2 billion. –Erik Stokstad

For Those Seeking Details, a Frustrating Budget Rollout

One of the odder aspects of this year’s installment of the annual budget dance is that the White House is actually releasing its request in two stages: the overall numbers this week, and most of the details next week. That can lead to some frustration, as this week’s documents often only hint at what’s to come.

For instance, the Department of Commerce, the parent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, notes that its proposed budget “closes one ocean science laboratory and consolidates another to improve efficiency and reduce costs.” But nobody at the department can offically tell ScienceInsider exactly which laboratories are on the hot seat. Do you know? –David Malakoff

NIH Request "Falls Short," Say Biomedical Advocates

Another disappointed review from United for Medical Research, a coalition of universities and scientific societies.

“President Obama’s FY 2015 budget proposal for biomedical research falls short of reversing the damage done by a decade of flat funding to the National Institutes of Health and recent cuts from sequestration. Our nation urgently needs a significant and sustained investment in lifesaving research to meet the unmatched need afforded by scientific opportunity and human health and to close the gaping innovation deficit.

“The United States once stood firmly at the forefront of the research revolution, but after a decade of budgets that have not kept pace with inflation and last year’s across-the-board sequestration cuts, NIH has seen a more than 20 percent decline in its purchasing power and can only fund one in every seven research grants it receives. As such, the U.S. is slipping in its position as the global leader in the life sciences.

“President Obama’s proposed NIH budget won’t meaningfully turn us in the right direction toward restoring hope to millions of patients, advancing scientific innovation and spurring further job growth. We call on the Administration and Congress to make a significant increase in NIH funding a reality.”

Plant Biologists Offer Warmer Reaction

The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) is just out with a somewhat kinder take on the request, saying it demonstrates President Barack Obama’s “commitment to the U.S. innovation enterprise.” It goes on to say:

“We appreciate the sustained investments in basic research that are proposed by President Obama’s FY 2015 budget proposal,” said ASPB President Alan M. Jones. “These investments,” Jones continued, “are a good starting point for the congressional consideration of FY 2015 funding levels.” However, the societal needs and scientific opportunities with regard to the provision of food, fuel, fiber, and new pharmaceuticals demand even stronger support if the nation is to maximize its research and development potential.

Research Lobbyists Voicing Displeasure With Request

Mary Woolley, the CEO and president of Research!America, a high-profile research lobbying organization near the nation’s capital, isn’t happy with the 2015 budget request. Here is her statement, just out:

"The president’s budget does not reflect the potential the U.S. has to advance scientific discovery. While welcome, the minor increases for the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration diminish our ability to accelerate the pace of medical innovation, which saves countless lives, helps our nation meet its solemn commitment to wounded warriors, and is a major driver of new businesses and jobs. These funding levels jeopardize our global leadership in science - in effect ceding leadership to other nations as they continue to invest in strong R&D infrastructures that have already begun to attract our best and brightest innovators. We simply cannot sustain our nation’s research ecosystem, combat costly and deadly diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and create quality jobs with anemic funding levels that threaten the health and prosperity of Americans. The administration and Congress must work together to boost funding for federal research and health agencies in FY15 and end the sequester in order to truly meet the level of scientific opportunity."

Looking Like a Flat Future for Big Science Funders

Matthew Hourihan just tweeted a graph that offers an at-a-glance roundup of the research agency requests in the 2015 budget. Hourihan is a budget analyst with AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider. The major funders—the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF)—would be essentially flat under the "base budget" scenario, which does not include the funding in the proposed Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI). Any new money, including nearly $1 billion proposed for NIH, and for 1000 new grants for NSF, would have to come from the OGSI, which is likely to face a rough road in Congress (see below). –David Malakoff

One Percent Increase for NSF Draws Lackluster Review

Physical scientists and others who rely on the basic science funding that comes out of the National Science Foundation (NSF) are bound to be disappointed with the administration request for the agency: $7.3 billion. That's a scant 1% increase over the 2014 budget of $7.2 billion. "I don't think anyone's going to be happy with a budget that doesn't meet needs and doesn't cover inflation," says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society.

Meanwhile, as part of the $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, NSF would receive funding for a "thousand additional" grants, but budget documents do not provide further details. But that initiative faces long odds in Congress (see below). "If Congress doesn't go along with this, it's an underwhelming request for NSF," says Matthew Hourihan, a budget analyst with AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider. –Eli Kintisch

Obama Wants New $5 Billion for Science, but Will It Happen?

Today’s budget request to Congress appears to contain some very good news for scientists: a proposed $5 billion in new money for an array of research-related programs, including hundreds of new grants for the National Institutes of Health (NIH); a new biosafety research laboratory; and a new high-risk, high-reward funding program for biomedical science modeled on the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

But don’t get your hopes up: The new money is essentially contingent on Congress making changes to the tax code and spending priorities that aren’t likely to happen this fiscal year.

Overall, the Obama administration is proposing to spend $56 billion on a new Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative that includes the research funding. One-half of the $56 billion would come from imposing new taxes on retirement funds owned by the wealthy; the other half from changes to politically sensitive crop insurance, unemployment, telecommunications, and airport security programs. Although many of these ideas have champions in Congress, each would spark major debate if lawmakers pushed them forward. And that is unlikely to happen with elections looming in November, and the broad outlines of a spending agreement already in place for the 2015 fiscal year (the result of last year’s government shutdown and budget face-off).

Still, the proposal offers a revealing look at the White House’s research priorities. Here is an excerpt from the budget document that provides a glimpse of the administration’s thinking:

Continuing our commitment to world-class sci­ence and research, the Budget provides $135 bil­lion for R&D overall, while targeting resources to those areas most likely to directly contribute to the creation of transformational technologies that can create the businesses and jobs of the fu­ture. The base Budget increases R&D relative to the 2014 enacted levels, with over $5 billion in additional funding in the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative to drive progress in key R&D priorities.

Research and Innovation

Re-establishing Global Leadership in Basic Research—providing 650 additional new National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants; increasing funding for an NIH Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-like initiative that will invest in breakthrough medical research; and increasing NIH’s contribution to the multiagency BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) that is helping to revolutionize our un­derstanding of the human brain; developing and scaling new manufacturing technologies; investing in a thousand additional National Science Foundation grants to expand knowledge across disciplines and accelerate innovation across industries; and building a new biosafety research laboratory.

Advancing Clean Energy Research and Development (R&D)—investing in applied research at the Department of Energy to accelerate the development and deployment of new energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies—such as higher-performing electric drive motors, batteries, and ultra-light materials and composites to enable electric vehicles to be as affordable and con­venient as the gasoline powered vehicles we drive today; and technological advances to make renewable electricity as inexpensive and accessible as fossil-fuel based electricity.

Launching a Race to the Top for Energy Efficiency and Grid Modernization—incentivizing States to make progress toward the goal of doubling American energy productivity in 20 years and toward modernizing their electricity grids, resulting in more cost-effective demand response, distributed generation, and improved grid reliability and resilience.

Making Other Investments—to maintain U.S. global leadership in basic research and help transition our economy to a clean energy future.

Infrastructure and Jobs

Developing Climate Resilience—investing in research and unlocking data and information to better understand the projected impacts of climate change and how to better prepare our communities and infrastructure; helping communities plan and prepare for the impacts of cli­mate change and encouraging local measures to reduce future risk; and funding breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure that will make us more resilient in the face of a chang­ing climate.

Public Health, Safety, and Security

Providing for the Public Health—accelerating development of a universal flu vaccine.

Leveraging Funds for Global Health—making additional matching funding available for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to encourage other donors to increase their pledges.

Nuclear R&D and Infrastructure

The Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative provides additional funding to support the infrastructure and human capital that underpin long-term, effective sustainment of the nucle­ar weapons stockpile and supporting enterprise. For example, the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative allows the National Nuclear Security Administration to begin important facili­ties construction and deferred maintenance projects and to undertake several R&D projects to keep nuclear weapons safe, reliable, and effective.

How Will U.S. Science Fare in Obama's 2015 Budget Request to Congress?

In his introduction to the budget, Obama touches on research funding issues several times. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” he writes. “This is an edge America cannot surrender. That is why the Budget includes investments in cutting-edge research and development, driving scientific and technological breakthroughs that will create jobs, improve lives, and open new opportunities for the American people. The Budget’s Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative will allow us to push our limits even further, supporting additional biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health that will help us fight Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases, climate research to develop climate change-resilient infrastructure, and agricultural research that will help increase agricultural productivity and improve health.”

Obama also touches on climate issues, writing that: “Climate change is a fact, and we have to act with more urgency to address it because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That is why I directed my Administration to work with States, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air, and why this Budget advances new approaches to address the growing cost and damage from wildfires.”