Trump administration proposes more cuts to FY17 research-funding spending

 

Earlier this week, the Trump administration released a proposal to reduce fiscal 2017 spending, and, as we reported on Tuesday, science funding agencies will not escape the belt-tightening. Since then, we’ve gotten our hands on more details, including what the administration has in mind for the National Science Foundation.

But, before we get into that, let’s back up.

At the end of 2016, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government until April 28.  Approved by the U.S. Senate at the very last moment, the continuing resolution flat-funded the government at fiscal 2016 levels, purportedly to allow then President-elect Donald Trump time to review the budget and set his own priorities.

Before contending with the FY17 budget, Trump jumped straight into FY18 budget planning. He released a so-called “skinny budget” (a nonbinding proposal) that included massive reductions in nondiscretionary research and development spending.

In that skinny budget, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science received a $5.9 billion and $900 million cut, respectively, while other science-funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation, were not mentioned at all, mirroring the budget blueprint produced by the Heritage Foundation last year.

Then, on March 16, the Trump administration sent a request to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., for $27.9 billion in appropriations for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to keep Trump’s campaign promises of building up the military and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump also requested $5.2 billion to fight ISIS. To offset a large portion of the abovementioned spending, Trump recommended that Congress impose an $18 billion cut to nondiscretionary funds for the remainder of FY17. That nondiscretionary spending covers science funding.

Those proposed FY17 reductions are to be spread across a number of federal agencies, including the NIH, NSF, NASA and DOE, many of which already are facing heavy cuts in Trump’s proposed FY18 skinny budget.

Potential impact on grants at the NSF and NIH

Agency Reduction Number of grants (by avg grant size)
NSF $350 million 1,976
NIH

 

$1.23 billion

($1.18 billion in grant funding)

2,677 (R01-equivalent)

 

While the ASBMB and other organizations have encouraged members of Congress to do their jobs and pass actual appropriation bills, the actual status of that legislation remains unclear.

What is clear is that, with six months left in the fiscal year, if Congress passes an appropriations package that reflects the president’s request, it is bound to hurt research labs that are already stuck in a funding limbo due to stagnant appropriations.

Though the cursory reduction justifications provide guidance, such as “reducing the number of grants” for the remainder of FY17, implementing these cuts will, at best, cause major disruptions in funding priorities.

The scientific community, which has been dealing with the realities of low funding rates and shifting R&D priorities, likely will be forced to accept another sucker punch from the administration’s continued efforts to gut research funding.

When the president approached Congress early in the month about reductions in nondefense discretionary funding, some lawmakers suggested that his proposed reductions so late in the year would be a nonstarter.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said that “it’s a little bit late,” for example. (Remember: At that time, the cuts were unaccompanied by specifics.) Other legislators echoed Cole’s sentiments. U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said, “I would say those cuts are highly improbable.”

Whether improbable or not, the administration has sent a clear message about its priorities.

As Trump continues to look for money to boost the military and build the wall, we urge Congress to provide the checks and balances it was designed to provide. We also urge Congress to push back against funding decisions and policies that will set back American innovation.

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