What’s in Trump’s 2018 budget request for science?
President Donald Trump unveiled his full 2018 budget request to Congress today. The spending plan, for the fiscal year that begins 1 October, fleshes out the so-called skinny budget that the White House released this past March. That plan called for deep cuts to numerous research agencies. But it did not include numbers for some key research agencies, such as the National Science Foundation. ScienceInsider will be scouring today’s budget documents for fresh details. Come back to our rolling coverage for analysis and reaction.
NIH spending slashed by 22%, overhead payments squeezed
As expected, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) budget would be slashed to $26.9 billion in the full Trump 2018 budget request. That is $7.7 billion less than NIH’s final 2017 budget of $34.6 billion, or a 22% cut.
In a widely anticipated move that has already raised alarm bells at research institutes, a White House budget document states that “significant reductions” will come from slashing the overhead payments that NIH now pays to universities on top of the direct research costs for a project. These so-called indirect costs, which are paid at rates now negotiated between individual institutions and the government, currently comprise about 30% of NIH’s total grant funding. The variable indirect cost rates would be replaced with a uniform rate of 10% of total research costs for all NIH grants to reduce paperwork and “the risk for fraud and abuse,” states a budget document for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
A 10% cap would bring NIH’s indirect costs rate “more in line” with the rate paid by private foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the overall budget document notes. NIH will also work to reduce regulatory burdens on grantees.
As in the “skinny” budget released earlier, the full NIH budget proposal eliminates the Fogarty International Center, which has a $72 million budget this year. But $25 million would be set aside for other institutes to fund some of the center’s global health research and training.
In another structural change, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which received $324 million in direct funding this year, would be folded into NIH. It would become a new National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality funded at $272 million from NIH’s budget, with an additional $107 million from an existing trust fund for patient-centered outcomes research.
One bright spot is that the proposal includes funding mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act for the Obama administration’s Cancer Moonshot, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) neuroscience initiative, and Precision Medicine Initiative’s planned 1-million volunteer health study. As required by statute, those programs would receive $496 million in Cures funding in 2018, a 41% increase, from a mandatory funding stream separate from NIH’s regular appropriation.
Unlike in previous years, HHS did not hold a budget press briefing where HHS officials usually answer reporters’ questions about the proposal. At a House of Representatives hearing last week, one Democrat said the cuts would mean 5000 to 8000 fewer research grants in 2018.
United for Medical Research, a Washington, D.C.–based coalition which represents many biomedical research advocacy groups, decried the “drastic cuts” to NIH and called them “a significant blow to medical research.” Tannaz Rasouli, senior director, public policy and outreach for the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., says her group is also concerned that the plan to “dismantle” AHRQ then “rebuild it from scratch” could disrupt research. Any restructuring would likely require involvement from Congress, she notes.
Both Republicans and Democrats on the committees overseeing NIH’s budget have already called Trump’s proposed cuts to NIH a nonstarter. “Thank goodness we don’t expect Congress to take this budget seriously,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. – Jocelyn Kaiser
Basic research takes big hit overall, but would grow at NASA, defense department
The White House wants to cut federal spending on basic research by 13%, or $4.3 billion, to $28.9 billion, according to the request.
Historically, the federal government has provided the bulk of the nation’s spending on fundamental science, defined as studies undertaken without “specific applications towards processes or products in mind.” In recent years, however, the share of basic research funding provided by the federal government has been slipping, from roughly 70% in 1960s and 1970s to an estimated 44% in 2015.
Under the request, just four agencies would see increases in basic research spending. (There are two caveats. First, the comparisons are with the 2016 funding levels; the final 2017 budget was enacted in early May, too late for inclusion in the president’s request. Second, these numbers are smaller than the agency’s overall research budget because of definitional issues.)
- The military’s basic science account would get a 6%, $117 million boost to $2.24 billion. The Defense department is a major funding of academic basic research in mathematics, computer science, and engineering.
- Basic science at NASA would grow by 3%, or $100 million, to $3.71 billion.
- The Smithsonian Institution would get a 4%, or $8 million, boost to $226 million.
- The Veterans Affairs department would get a 1%, or $4 million jump to $394 million.
Other agencies would see cuts of between 11% and 19%. Some highlights:
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent agency of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), would lose $3.1 billion, a 19% drop to $12.8 billion. HHS is the nation’s single largest funder of basic science, primarily in the biomedical arena.
- The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) spending would drop by $690 million, or 15%, to about $4 billion. DOE is the nation’s largest funder of basic research in the physical sciences.
- At the National Science Foundation (NSF), basic science would fall by $620 million, or 13%, to $4.3 billion. NSF is a major funding of basic research outside of biomedical science.
- Department of Agriculture spending would fall by $121 million, or 11%, to $952 million. – David Malakoff
Reactions: What people are saying about Trump’s budget request
Scientific societies and other groups are weighing in on the budget request. Here’s a sampling of reactions.
Science Coalition opposes “extreme” cuts
“The extreme funding cuts to science agencies and related programs included in the budget released today would harm America’s research enterprise and our nation’s leadership in scientific discovery. Basic scientific research, conducted at universities in communities across the country, is the smallest slice of the nation’s R&D pie, yet it is the critical spark that ignites discovery and innovation in the United States.
“The return on the federal government’s investment in research surrounds us. From life changing discoveries to innovations that produce new industries, and from building a STEM workforce to creating new jobs, science-driven innovation has been a powerful driver of the U.S. economy for decades.”
UCAR worried about Earth science
“We are concerned that the administration’s proposed cuts to research into the Earth system sciences will undermine the continued scientific progress that is so vitally needed to better protect the nation in the future from costly natural disasters,” Antonio J. Busalacchi, the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “This would have serious repercussions for the U.S. economy and national security, and for the ability to protect life and property. Such funding cuts would be especially unfortunate at a time when the nation is moving to regain its position as the world leader in weather forecasting.”
“UCAR is extremely grateful to the bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate that voted to sustain research funding in the current fiscal year. We look forward to working with Congress in the months ahead to maintain the level of funding needed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to support essential Earth system science research.”
Lung association: “Reject this budget”
“Congress must reject this budget,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association in Chicago, Illinois, in a statement. “Rather than putting America’s health first, this budget instead puts the health and safety of all Americans—but especially our nation’s most vulnerable, such as lower-income Americans, children and those living with a lung disease like asthma—in jeopardy.”
ResearchAmerica!: “heavy handed”
“The president’s proposed FY18 budget is an imbalanced, heavy-handed approach to bolstering national defense at the expense of other American priorities, including the research and innovation crucial to national security,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America in Arlington, Virgnia. “Instead of weakening our nation with this approach, we urge the 115th Congress to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal that will ensure that both defense and non-defense priorities are sufficiently funded.”
“Steep funding cuts for the federal health agencies are counterproductive at a time when innovative research is moving us closer to identifying solutions for rare diseases, new prevention strategies to protect Americans from deadly and costly conditions, advances in gene therapy, new technologies for understanding the brain, and treatments that harness the ability of our immune system to fight cancer.”
UCS: “wrecking ball”
“President Trump’s proposed budget takes a wrecking ball to agencies that protect our health, safety and environment,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Cambridge, Massachussetts, in a statement. “His budget would gut the EPA, for example, taking our environmental cops off the beat and allowing those who would seek to pollute to get away with it. I also know from my experience heading a state environmental agency that states have neither the funds nor the staff to pick up the slack when federal enforcement is decimated.”
“His budget would also stall out U.S. technological innovation and scientific research, and the country’s capabilities to respond to extreme weather and national security threats. This is all while driving up the deficit to pay for massive military budget increases we don’t need. The Department of Energy, for example, has an office that’s breaking new ground on advanced energy technologies that could boost the U.S. economy significantly. But the president doesn’t have the foresight to see the benefit of these types of programs.”
AIBS: “stifles innovation”
“The Administration’s budget request stifles innovation, future economic growth, and job creation,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, co-executive director of The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) in Washington, D.C. “These deep cuts to scientific research and education programs will negatively impact our ability to improve public health and solve environmental problems for years to come.”
“For years, Congress has demonstrated bipartisan support for investing in science. I encourage them to continue to invest in our nation’s future by rejecting the President’s budget requests for scientific research and education programs. We should be investing in research and science education, which are the keys to opportunity,” Gropp added.