Published On: Mon, Feb 12th, 2018

Trump Budget Gives Last-Minute Reprieve to Science Funding

On February 12, US President Donald Trump released his budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October 2018. Nature’s US news team will update this story throughout the day with information on what Trump’s budget would mean for US government science agencies.

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) $ 34.8 billion budget would be roughly equal to the 2017 level, but about $ 2 billion below the 2018 level approved by Congress on 8 February. The 2019 proposal includes $ 9.2 billion added after Congress lifted mandatory spending caps for 2018 and 2019 last week.

But the 2019 budget may not be as steady as it seems, because the White House is calling for the creation of three new institutes within the NIH. They include a National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality, which would replace the $ 324-million Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Trump plan would also transfer the National Institute of Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research from the HHS’s Administration for Community Living, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to the NIH from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The White House is also seeking to cap, at 90%, the percentage of salary that a scientist can draw from an NIH grant, and reduce the total salary amount that researchers can draw from federal grants. Last year, the Trump administration sought to limit the amount of overhead (known as indirect costs) that the NIH pays to grant recipients, but Congress rejected the idea.

The president’s plan would give the NIH an additional $ 750 million for research on the opioid crisis, $ 400 million of which must be spent on public-private partnerships to develop new treatments for pain and overdose.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The proposal would slash the CDC’s budget by 12%, to $ 5.6 billion, compared to the 2017 level. Part of this cut would be achieved by moving programmes into other agencies, such as transferring the CDC’s occupational-health activities to the NIH. But other agency programs would see funding levels slashed, including a 43% cut to the agency’s $ 1.4 billion Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program.

National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $ 7.47 billion in 2019, keeping its funding flat compared to the 2017 level. But that figure includes $ 2.2 billion the White House added to its NSF proposal at the last minute, after Congress agreed on 8 February to lift mandatory spending caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Trump’s original 2019 plan for NSF would have slashed the agency’s budget by nearly 30%, to $ 5.3 billion.

The White House says that extra $ 2.2 billion would support basic scientific research, education programmes, upgrades to research facilities in Antarctica and elsewhere, and two new, unspecified cross-disciplinary research activities. But it has not provided a detailed explanation of how that money would be spread across various programmes.

Trump’s modified proposal for 2019 would boost spending across the NSF’s seven research directorates by 2%, to $ 6.151 billion. The original plan proposed cutting funding for that account by about 30%, to $ 4.231 billion, compared to the 2017 level of $ 6.006 billion. The Office of Polar programs would have seen the smallest reduction—about 27%, to $ 342 million. The agency’s Office of Integrative Activities, which supports cross-disciplinary research, would have seen the largest cut. Its budget would have been slashed by nearly 38%, to $ 262 million.

The revised budget also proposes a 56% cut to the NSF account that supports construction of research platforms and the acquisition of scientific instrumentation, including the agency’s suite of telescopes. That would reduce its funding from $ 215 million in 2017 to $ 95 million in 2019.

NASA

Trump would give NASA $ 19.9 billion in 2019, a 1.3% increase from the 2017 level. The agency’s science directorate would receive $ 5.865 billion, a 1.7% increase.

The White House wants to terminate funding for the International Space Station after 2024, when the current US commitment to the 15-nation project expires. That plan is unlikely to fly with many members of Congress; Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator from Florida, has said such a move would decimate his state’s commercial space industry and hinder experiments in low-Earth orbit. The Trump administration wants to explore turning space-station operations over to private industry starting in 2025, but it’s unclear how that transition might happen.

The proposed budget would also cancel the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is designed to hunt for exoplanets and dark matter. It has been planned as NASA’s next big astrophysics mission after the James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to launch next year. “Developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $ 8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the Administration,” budget documents say.

A recent independent review found that costs for the WFIRST project could not be kept beneath the $ 3.2-billion cap set by NASA, and the agency has been working to revise the design to reduce the mission’s price. US astronomers ranked WFIRST the top large mission in a 2010 survey of science priorities for the next decade. ”It’s a bit of a shock,” says David Spergel, an astrophysicist at Princeton University in New Jersey who is co-chair of the WFIRST science team. “If a few people in the White House can override these decisions, why do a decadal survey at all?” Spergel says he plans to mobilize astronomers to petition lawmakers to restore funds for WFIRST. NASA will continue to work on the mission as the appropriations process plays out.

Also up for cancellation are five Earth-science missions or instruments that the Trump administration tried but failed to nix last year, after Congress disagreed. They include the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) Earth-observing mission, which is planned for a 2022 launch. The White House would also turn off the Earth-observing instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft, which capture full-disk images of Earth from about 1.6 million miles away. DSCOVR also provides alerts of incoming solar storms, but its Earth-imaging cameras – championed by former vice-president Al Gore – have long been a political football. The other missions proposed for termination are the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder, and the Radiation Budget Instrument that NASA has already terminated. Altogether the cancellations would save $ 133 million in fiscal year 2019.

The budget proposes $ 1.784 billion for Earth science, a cut of 6%. It includes missions to launch this year such as the next set of GRACE gravity-measuring satellites, and ICESat-2 to measure polar ice.

Planetary sciences would get $ 2.235 billion, a 22% increase. That would include a robotic lunar discovery and exploration programme “that supports commercial partnerships and innovative approaches to achieving human and science exploration goals”, as well continued support for a mission in 2020 to sample rocks on Mars, and another to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Astrophysics would get $ 1.185 billion, a 12% cut. The White House plan would redirect money that would have been spent on WFIRST towards future missions and research. Heliophysics would get $ 691 million, a 2% increase.

Trump announced in December that he wanted to send astronauts back to the Moon, but the NASA budget does not contain enough of a boost to make that happen in the foreseeable future. The agency also currently does not have an administrator; Trump’s nomination of Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, is being held up in the Senate.

US Geological Survey

The US Geological Survey would receive nearly $ 860 million, a drop of roughly 21% below the 2017 level.

The White House would slash support for programmes that track natural hazards. Funding for programmes that monitor earthquakes and volcanoes would drop by 21%, to $ 51 million and $ 22.3 million, respectively. The USGS water-resources programme, which includes the national stream-gauge network, would be reduced by 23%, to $ 165 million.

In contrast, mineral and energy resources would get $ 84.1 million, a 15% increase from the 2017 level. The budget describes a new initiative to help spur mineral resource development for economic and national-security needs.

The agency’s current climate and land-use change programmes would be restructured into groups focusing on land imaging, land-change science, and climate adaptation science.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on February 12, 2018.

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Trump Budget Gives Last-Minute Reprieve to Science Funding