What we’re watching in 2015: federal research funding

In this four-part series, we will take a look at important issues for the research community in 2015. Today’s topic is federal research funding. Last week’s topic, the 21st Century Cures Initiative, can be found here. Next week, we will look at the NIH and the NSF.

Funding for federal research agencies for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2014-Sep. 30, 2015) was finished in December. The fiscal 2016 budget process began many months ago with internal planning by the various federal agencies. (A summary of the entire budget process can be found here.) The public portion of the process will commence shortly with the release of the President Obama’s budget, which is due on Feb. 2. We already have a preview of what Obama will emphasize in his budget based on a White House memo released last year. His priorities include: advanced manufacturing and industries of the future; clean energy; Earth observations; global climate change; information technology and high-performance computing; innovation in life sciences, biology and neuroscience; national and homeland security; and research and development for informed policy making and management.

In addition, Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday introduced a new program, the Precision Medicine Initiative. Jo Handelsman, the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology, described precision medicine in a news release about the new initiative. “Precision medicine is an emerging approach to promoting health and treating disease that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles, making it possible to design highly effective, targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases.” No specific details about the program have yet been released, so it is unclear if additional funding will be requested.

After Obama’s budget proposal is released, the Congressional FY16 budget process will begin with the negotiation of a budget resolution, which establishes a framework for subsequent detailed conversations about funding. The budget resolution must pass both chambers by a simple majority, and then the two appropriations committees will begin divvying up the money into 12 spending bills. Under normal order, these follow the typical path of legislation.

Since both chambers of Congress are now controlled by Republicans, it is likely that a series of 12 spending bills will be produced. What will be contained in the bills and whether President Obama will sign them is hard to predict. However, sequestration instituted under the Budget Control Act of 2011 will resume in FY16 unless legislation is introduced to repeal or postpone it. It is worth noting that U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has recently been named the chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, which funds the NIH. Sen. Blunt historically has been very supportive of funding for the NIH and biomedical research.

Follow the blog to stay up to date on research funding and other science policy issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *