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President Joe Biden, speaking here at a COVID-19 vaccine plant in March, today unveiled a budget that would increase biomedical research spending dramatically.

Official White House Photo/Adam Schultz

Biden seeks big increases for science budgets

President Joe Biden today asked Congress to give big budget increases to most civilian science agencies. But military research would take a cut under his administration’s first spending request to Congress, which lawmakers are certain to revise.

The $6 trillion request calls for sweeping investments in infrastructure and social welfare programs in the 2022 fiscal year that begins 1 October. It also includes a 9% increase, or $13.5 billion, in total federal spending on R&D, bringing the total to $171 billion. Spending on basic research would rise by 10%, or $4.4 billion, to $47.4 billion, whereas applied research would get a  14% bump ($6.3 billion) to $51.1 billion.

The budget “proposes historic increases in funding for foundational R&D across a range of scientific agencies,” Biden said in a statement, including what he asserts is “the biggest increase in non-defense research and development spending on record.”

But not all agencies would see their research budgets rise under the plan. One big loser is the Department of Defense, which would see its basic research spending shrink by 11%, to $2.3 billion, and its applied science budget drop by 16%, to $5.6 billion.

In contrast, Biden wants to more than double basic research spending at the Department of the Interior, to $171 million, and ramp up fundamental agricultural research by 26%, to $1.4 billion.

Here are some other R&D highlights from today’s budget request, which provides greater detail than the budget outline that Biden released last month:

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
NIH would receive a 21% boost to $52 billion, much of which will go to a new $6.5 billion Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) that “will make pivotal investments to drive transformational innovation in health research.” NIH, which has recently benefited from supplemental appropriations for COVID-19-related research, would see its base budget rise by 6%, or $2.5 billion, to $43 billion. That includes a $672 million increase for research on opioid addiction, for a total of $2.2 billion. Research on the health effects of climate change would grow 11-fold to $110 million. Health disparities research would rise by $330 million or about 10%, much of it going to NIH’s minority health institute, some of it directed to studies of structural racism. Research on preventing firearms violence would double to $25 million. Maternal health, AIDs, and primate facilities are also tagged for increases. Most of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers that aren’t funding these areas would receive raises of about 3% to 5%. 

National Science Foundation (NSF)
NSF’s overall budget would grow by 20%, a $1.7 billion jump to nearly $10.2 billion. The biggest change is the addition of a seventh research directorate intended to move research more quickly into the marketplace. The new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) directorate would start with a $865 million budget, including the transfer of some $350 million in existing programs. NSF’s education and workforce training programs would get a 16% boost, including increasing the number of new prestigious graduate research fellowships from 2000 to 2500. If NSF gets the additional dollars, the agency projects it would make 20% more awards to individual scientists, with average grant size rising by nearly 15% and success rates inching up from 27% to 29%.

Department of Energy (DOE)
The  Office of Science would get a 5.3%, $374 million increase to $7.4 billion. Among its six research programs, biological and environmental research is the biggest beneficiary, getting a 10%, $75 million increase to $828 million. Other programs focused on physics, fusion energy, and advanced computing would get smaller boosts of less than 2.5%. The office would also get $78 million to help launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C), which aims to accelerate the development of climate-friendly technologies. (Other agencies would also participate in ARPA-C). DOE’s existing ARPA-Energy would get a 17%, $73 million boost to $500 million. The budget request also calls for DOE to establish a new Office of Clean Energy Demonstration that would get $400 million to begin testing large, “commercial scale” solutions to industry challenges, starting with developing better technologies for storing energy.

The request proposes increases for earth and planetary science, two NASA research divisions that have been pitted against each other in recent years. “It's the largest budget request for NASA science, ever,” Bill Nelson, the recently confirmed NASA administrator, said in announcing the proposal. “The Biden administration is proving that science is back.”

The earth science portfolio would increase 12%, by $250 million, with much of that spending focused on preparing for the Earth System Observatory, a series of satellites that will offer insights into two long-standing wild cards of climate change—clouds and aerosols—while providing new details about the temperatures and chemistry of the planet’s changing surface. The proposal expects NASA to spend nearly $700 million annually on the observatory satellites by 2026, with the first launch in 2027. Science first reported the Biden administration’s acceleration of this program earlier this month.

NASA also proposed beginning a new class of competitive missions, the Earth System Explorers, which would allow scientists to propose medium-size satellite missions in one of seven thematic areas recommended by the most recent decadal survey of earth science: atmospheric winds; greenhouse gases; ice elevation; ocean surface winds and currents; ozone and trace gases; snow depth and snow water equivalent; and terrestrial ecosystem structure. NASA expects to announce the first mission opportunity in fiscal 2022, with a final selection by 2024. Further selections are expected every 3 years.

NASA’s planetary science program also saw an unexpectedly large boost in the budget proposal, increasing 18% to $3.2 billion.  One big increase would go to the Mars Sample Return missions that will fly to Mars and retrieve rock samples collected by the Perseverance rover, returning them to Earth. The budget continues and increases spending on missions proposed during former President Donald Trump’s administration, including the Near-Earth Objects Surveyor, which is a space-based infrared telescope that will detect dangerous asteroids, and the Mars Ice Mapper, which will identify valuable ice deposits on the neighboring planet’s surface.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The public health agency receives a striking 22%, $1.7 billion, increase to $9.5 billion—the kind of increase not requested for the agency in recent memory. “This is a very, very, very good CDC budget by a standard of … budget requests for the last 20 years,” says one lobbyist who represents a score of clients that depend on the agency. The new money includes $400 million for building public health infrastructure in the United States and $100 million for attendant data modernization. Abroad, it boosts funding for global public health—helping other nations build their infrastructure, fight infectious diseases, detect new pandemics and fight the current one—to $303 million, a $100 million increase. Biden would double research spending on preventing firearm injuries and deaths to $25 million, continuing a movement toward restoring U.S. support for such research after a nearly 30-year drought.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
In-house research at USDA fares well in the request, with a 24%, $358 million increase to $1.85 billion. Climate science would get $92 million of the boost, and a tad more would go to projects with ARPA-C. Competitive grants, given by the Agricultural Food and Research Initiative (AFRI), would see a 60% rise to $700 million with a focus on clean energy and what’s known as "climate-smart" farming.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
In a change from the Trump administration, the Biden team is requesting a sizable 25% increase for USGS, which would bring the environmental and ecological science agency to $1.64 billion. The bulk of the increase, $205 million, would go to climate science, including $60 million for ARPA-C. USGS's own Climate Adaptation Science Centers would more than double to $84 million. Clean energy would become a focus within the Energy and Mineral resources programs, slated for a 56%, $50 million boost, mostly for green energy assessments and minerals related to clean tech. USGS would also receive an extra $15 million to "address inequities in the sciences, support scientific integrity, and strengthen the information systems" for R&D. 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
After years of flat-lined budgets, EPA would see its science and technology (S&T) budget increase by 14%. The $101 million rise in new funding, taking S&T spending to $830 million, is dominated by a $60 million injection for climate change research, more than doubling EPA's existing efforts. Half the boost goes to collaborative research on climate adaption and resilience with ARPA-C. Elsewhere in EPA, new programs in environmental justice would skyrocket from $13 million to $300 million, with about half of the increase going to community grants. About 171 new positions would be created at the agency, which is more broadly facing a retirement exodus: about 30% of EPA staff are eligible for retirement now or within 1 year. To keep the scientific ranks filled, the administration is asking to expand the agency's authority to recruit top scientists for term appointments that typically last a few years.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The administration is requesting an additional $322 million for FDA, which would bring government funding of the agency that has played a crucial role during the pandemic to $3.6 billion.  More than half of the new money, $185 million, would be used to update FDA’s ailing infrastructure, from renovating aging buildings to agency-wide data modernization.  Growth in user fees paid by drug and device companies and others will bring the agency’s total budget to $6.5 billion, an 8% overall increase.

Smithsonian Institution
The nation’s network of museums, which conduct research on everything from endangered species to tropical forests, would get an 8%, $22 million boost to $310 million.

Historically, Congress pays only limited attention to White House budget requests. Under Trump, for example, lawmakers routinely ignored his proposals to impose deep cuts to research budgets. Whether lawmakers will back some of Biden’s proposed increases likely won’t be known until much later this year, when Congress completes work on the 2022 budget.

With reporting by Jocelyn Kaiser, David Malakoff, Jeffrey Mervis, Erik Stokstad, Paul Voosen, and Meredith Wadman.