US President Donald Trump released a revised budget plan on May 23 that would slash science spending across the federal government in 2018. Biomedical, public-health and environmental research programs are among those that would be pared back.
Those cuts, along with deep reductions in programs for the poor, are balanced by a proposed 10% increase in military spending. That echoes the “skinny budget” outline that Trump released in March, which faced opposition in Congress. Earlier this month, lawmakers approved a 2017 budget deal that increased funding for key science agencies and ignored the president's push for cuts.
“This budget is terrible, and we’re confident that Congress will ignore it,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland.
Here, Nature breaks down the president's budget request. Check back as we update this story with analysis and reaction throughout the day.
- National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Food and Drug Administration
- National Science Foundation
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Energy
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- US Geological Survey
The National Institutes of Health would face a cut of 18% in the Trump plan, compared to its 2017 budget. This would be achieved by “structural changes” to reduce the amount of overhead that the agency pays to grant recipients, according to budget documents. Under the current system, individual research institutions negotiate with the government to set the rate at which they are reimbursed for expenses such as administration and facility construction and maintenance. The White House wants one rate for all grantees to “mitigate the risk for fraud and abuse”.
The budget would eliminate the $70 million Fogarty International Center, which coordinates with other NIH institutes to train researchers and health-care providers overseas. The rest of the cuts would be spread evenly across the NIH’s 26 remaining institutes and centres.
The White House plan would create the US$272 million National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality. The institute would study the outcomes of treatments and health services, taking on the role of the independent Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which would be eliminated.
The Trump budget also includes $86 million for the NIH’s arm of the Brain Research Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. And it sets aside $100 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative: a 10-year effort to track the health of 1 million Americans that is scheduled to launch later this year.
Congressman Tom Cole (Republican, Oklahoma) who chairs the US House of Representatives spending subcommittee that funds the NIH, has said that he does not expect that Congress will support Trump’s proposed cuts. Other lawmakers from both major political parties have also come out against the president’s plan for the NIH.
One bright spot for public health is Trump’s proposal to establish an “emergency response fund” within the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This would give the department the authority to move up to 1% of its budget to respond to emerging health threats, such as the recent outbreaks of the Ebola and Zika viruses. Much of this work would likely involve the CDC.
Public-health officials have called for such a fund for years. But Georges Benjamin, president of the American Public Health Association in Washington DC, says that Trump’s proposal “a shell game”. The White House wants to slash more than $1.2 billion from the CDC’s budget, with the largest cuts coming from public-health preparedness programs.
“They dramatically cut the actual operating funds and then create the capacity to go into your pocket, which has much less money in it,” Benjamin says. “It’s smoke and mirrors.”
The Trump plan would cut government funding for the US Food and Drug Administration by 31%, to $1.9 billion. That $855 million decrease would be offset by a $1.3 billion increase in the “user fees” that companies pay the agency to review their products. The law that sets the agency's user-fee rate expires in September, and Congress is working on reauthorizing it. Draft legislation released jointly by the House and Senate in April would raise user fees by only $400 million per year.
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget would be cut by about 11% from the 2016 level, to $6.7 billion. That would allow the agency to give out 8,000 new grants in fiscal year 2018, about 800 fewer than it awarded in 2016.
Among the NSF’s seven directorates, the largest cuts would come from social and behavioural sciences (down 10.4%, to $244 million), computer science (down 10.3%, to $839 million) and geosciences (down 10.1%, to $1.2 billion).
Biology would see the smallest reduction — 7.1%, to $672 million. The Office of Integrative Activities, which supports interdisciplinary research, would see the largest cut among the agency’s main accounts. Its budget would drop by 26%, to $316 million.
The agency’s Ocean Observatories Initiative, a collection of instrumented seafloor arrays, would be cut by almost 44%, to $31 million. The programme began full operations in June 2016, when real-time data began flowing in after nearly a decade of construction and development.
Trump requested $19.1 billion for NASA, a 2.8% decrease from the 2017 level. The agency's science directorate would receive $5.7 billion, a drop of nearly 1%.
Within the science directorate, funding for Earth science would drop 8.7%, from $1.92 billion to $1.75 billion. The budget would eliminate five Earth-observing missions, for reasons such as redundancy with other measurements and steep technological challenges. Four of these programmes were targeted for cuts in the March “skinny budget”:
- the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 to measure carbon dioxide from space;
- the Earth-viewing instruments on the DSCOVR satellite, whose primary mission is to track space weather;
- the CLARREO Pathfinder instrument to measure Earth reflectance from the International Space Station;
- and an ocean-colour and aerosols mission called PACE.
Trump's latest budget would also eliminate support for an instrument intended to measure reflected sunlight and the Earth's thermal radiation. The instrument is meant to fly on future weather satellites.
Congress has already rejected Trump's plan to eliminate the PACE mission. Lawmakers set aside $90 million for the mission in the 2017 funding law enacted earlier this month.
The White House proposal would increase support for planetary sciences by 4.5% compared to the 2017 level, to $1.93 billion. Notably, Trump included a $425-million request for a mission to fly by Jupiter’s moon Europa, a perennial darling of Congress. There is no mention of a follow-on lander mission, which some members of Congress have also argued for. The proposed budget also continues funding for ongoing missions such as the Mars 2020 rover, but no additional money to begin developing a follow-on Mars orbiter to replace aging ones currently in orbit.
“I’m disappointed to see that,” says Casey Dreier, director of space policy for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. “We’re underinvesting in the infrastructure at Mars."
Funding for NASA’s astrophysics division would increase by 2.3% from the 2017 level, keeping the James Webb Space Telescope on track for an October 2018 launch. Heliophysics funding would remain flat as the Sun-diving Solar Probe Plus spacecraft moves toward launch next year.
Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, noted that the proposed science budget would support 60 operating missions and 40 under development. “This budget still includes significant Earth-science efforts, including 18 Earth-observing missions in space as well as airborne missions,” he said in a statement.
Elsewhere, NASA would continue to work on its heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. Its education office would be zeroed out, however.
The White House proposal would make good on promises to shrink and reorganize the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which would see its budget cut by more than 30% to $5.7 billion. Trump would slash spending on pollution-control programmes and research and development, eliminating about 23% of the agency’s roughly 15,000 staff members along the way.
The budget would overhaul the EPA’s regulatory agenda. It would eliminate funding to implement the agency's strategy to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants — which is known as the Clean Power Plan — and dozens of other pollution-control programmes.
Health and environmental research programmes would see a 46% cut, to US$397 million. The biggest reductions would come from clean-air and climate-change research programmes, whose overall funding would drop from $249 million to $135 million. Science and technology programmes targeted at clean water, land preservation, ecosystems and healthy communities would all see their budgets slashed by tens of millions of dollars.
The budget would eliminate support for the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration initiatives, and cut programmes to help states and Native American tribes tackle pollution by more than 23% to $2.7 billion. Such efforts have been popular among lawmakers in Congress
This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on May 23, 2017.