“Tough Choices” in President’s FY 2013 Budget

February 15, 2012

by Paula Skedsvold

The President sent his budget request to Congress on Monday, Feb. 13, the "opening bid" in what is sure to be a contentious year. The Budget Control Act agreed to by the White House and Congress last year set discretionary spending caps, freezing discretionary spending at 2011 levels and requiring trade-offs, according to the Administration.

The FY 2013 budget request provides for "strategic increases" in U.S. Research and Development and "maintains the President's commitment to double the budgets of three key science agencies," the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

For NSF, the budget request includes an increase of $340 million or 4.8% over FY 2012 enacted levels, for a total of $7.373 billion. NSF also eliminated or consolidated around $67 million in lower priority projects. NSF's research account is slated for an increase of 5.2% under the President's request, while the Education and Human Resources Directorate would see an increase of 5.6%. NSF Director Subra Suresh commented at the budget rollout for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy that "every field supported by NSF will see increases in core research funding." Increases for the Directorate's range from 2.1% for SBE to 8.6% for CISE (Computer and Information Science and Engineering). Within SBE, the SES and BCS Divisions would receive 3.2% and 3% increases respectively.

The President's budget invests significantly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, providing $3 billion in programs across the Federal government, a 2.6% increase over 2012 enacted levels. NSF would see a 3.4% increase in STEM Ed funding, while the Department of Education increase is set for a 21.5% increase for STEM Ed programs. The Administration will release a 5-year Federal STEM Ed strategic plan in the spring.

With the budget, the Administration created a government-wide goal to increase college graduates with STEM degrees by one million, consistent with a recent report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The budget would also boost funding to effectively prepare 100,000 STEM teachers.

The Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences also fared well with a proposed increase of $27 million over FY 2012 levels for a total of $621 million. Department funding for STEM Ed programs is set at $260 million, including $30 million for an evidence-based math education initiative. An additional $30 million would be provided through NSF for the jointly administered initiative.

Sounding a positive tone, NIH Director Francis Collins stated the President is excited about the science funded by NIH, when discussing the proposed level funding for the agency in the FY 2013 budget request. Under the President's budget, NIH would receive $30.86 billion, the same level as in FY 2012. Collins noted that NIH's buying power is substantially lower than in 2003, but described how the agency would work with flat funding. For example, by cutting non-competing grants by 1%, NIH will be able to increase the number of new and competing research project grants, estimated to increase by 672 over the 2012 level. He also stated that by shrinking the number of years that grants could be funded, more "churn" will be created in the system and will help success rates, admitting these "will still be lower by a lot."

Collins reiterated NIH's commitment to basic research, noting over half of the NIH's budget is devoted to it and has remained relatively constant over the last decade. For FY 2013, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) would receive a $40 million boost. Additional priority areas in FY 2013 include Alzheimer's research, funding for the National Children's Study, and research to prevent and control tobacco use and tobacco-related cancers.

Other parts of the federal budget would see decreases for FY 2013 under the President's budget, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is cut by over $660 million and the Prevention and Public Health Fund which is cut by $4.5 billion. Discretionary funding for the base Department of Defense budget decreases by 1% or $5.1 billion, in line with the President's new defense strategy, while the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation account is reduced by $2 million.

Complicating the outlook for FY 2013 are the additional cuts scheduled for January 2013 required under the Budget Control Act. The cuts were automatically triggered when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction did not reach agreement last year. In his budget request, the President stated: "There is time for the Congress to pass a balanced, sensible plan to meet the deficit reduction goals of the BCA. And they should act to do so since cuts of this magnitude and done in an across-the-board fashion would be devastating both to defense and non-defense programs."

View NSF Budget Highlights »

Read SBE Budget Materials »

View a NIH Budget Table »