President Proposes Increases for Science Agencies, but Sequester Continues

April 19, 2013

by Paula Skedsvold

On April 10th, the President presented his budget proposal for FY 2014 to Congress, two months later than usual and following the passage of 2014 budget resolutions by both the House and Senate. The late arrival was triggered by the fact that a full-year 2013 spending bill was not enacted at the time the budget was prepared. Congress did not pass the FY 2013 spending bills until mid-March of this year. As a result, the President’s budget compares FY 2014 proposed agency spending levels with FY 2012 figures. In addition, the President’s budget does not account for cuts due to sequestration.

The President stated that his budget proposal is over halfway to the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction, an amount that economists say is needed to bring deficits below 3% of GDP. He attributes the progress to $1.4 trillion in spending cuts from discretionary programs that were included in the Budget Control Act and appropriations bills since 2011; over $600 billion in new revenues resulting from the American Taxpayer Relief Act; and interest savings. 

The budget plan includes $1.8 trillion in additional deficit reduction over 10 years, as well as additional revenues from tax reforms targeting the wealthy. The proposal, if implemented, would achieve deficit reduction without having to rely on sequestration cuts, and is considered a compromise, with deficit reduction figures falling between House and Senate plans.

The House and Senate, however, have approved their own budget proposals for FY 2014. The Senate plan would reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion, split evenly between spending cuts and revenue increases. The House plan would reduce the deficit by $4.6 trillion through spending cuts only, and most of these would be shifted to the non-defense discretionary side of the budget which includes the budgets of NIH, NSF, and other science agencies. The House and Senate will move their bills to a conference committee to iron out differences, but it will be a challenge to find common ground. See a graph comparing the budgets. 

Meanwhile, Administration officials are appearing on Capitol Hill to make the case for the President’s budget proposal. For FY 2014, the President seeks $31.3 billion for NIH, an increase of $471 million or 1.5% over FY 2012 levels. At that level, NIH could support a total of 36,610 research project grants, including 10,269 new and competing awards. RPG’s would account for $16.9 billion of NIH’s budget, a net increase of $382 million and 351 grants than in 2012. NIH priorities in FY 2014 are: funding basic research, including $40 million on the BRAIN Initiative and “Big Data” opportunities; advancing translational sciences; and recruiting and retaining a diverse scientific workforce.

For research training, $776 million is requested for 16,197 research scientists under the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards program, a decrease of 108 positions. The National Children’s Study would receive $165 million, a decrease of $28.1 million from 2012. The budget request for NIH Institutes and Centers can be seen on the NIH website (page 2). 

Other budget highlights related to health include $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, and a $130 million initiative to expand mental health services for youth and families.

Under the President’s proposal, NSF would receive $7.6 billion, an increase of $593 million or 8.4% over FY 2012. The Research and Related Activities account would get a bump of $523.29 million or 9.2% over FY 2012. The Education and Human Resources account would jump $51.29 million or 6.2% over 2012 levels, while the SBE Directorate would get a boost of 18.1 million or 7.1% over 2012 figures. The BIO and CISE Directorates would see a 6.8% and 9.8% increase, respectively. 

Under the President’s budget, research and development at the Department of Defense would decrease by $4.6 billion from 2012, with the decrease primarily in development activities. For basic research or the 6.1 account, the budget provides “a record commitment” of $2.1 billion. The focus is on high priority areas such as cybersecurity, robotics, advanced learning, big data, cleaner and more efficient energy, advanced manufacturing, and biodefense. The budget also provides $2.9 billion for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a 1.8% increase over 2012. Of this, DARPA will invest $50 million for the BRAIN Initiative. 

For the Institute of Education Sciences, the President seeks $671.1 million in FY 2014, an increase of $77.4 million over 2012. The increase would enable IES to spend $53.5 million in new research and development grants in early learning and elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, as well as $5 million for new research and development awards in special education. The National Center for Education Statistics would receive a boost of $14 million, and the Statewide Data Systems program would increase by $46.9 million. Funding for Regional Education Labs would remain at prior levels, while funds for the National Assessment of Educational Progress would decrease by $6 million.

While the President’s budget provides increases for many science agencies and research accounts, sequestration is still in effect, and unless it is rolled back, some agencies such as NIH will see a net loss in spending levels. 

As a whole, the President’s budget sets forth the compromise he is willing to take on deficit reduction, while also protecting key priorities of the Administration. However, with the House and Senate budget plans in place, the Administration’s budget may not have much effect. And while the House and Senate decide whether to proceed with a conference committee to reach agreement on a budget for FY 2014, appropriators could soon begin their work on spending bills, likely using vastly different overall funding levels as a starting point.