- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Obama's 2014 Science Budget: Research Gets Some Help, and Hurt
12 April 2013 2:20 pm
On 10 April, President Barack Obama submitted to Congress his spending plan for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. The document can be found at www.fdsys.gov. The stories below detail requests for specific agencies, programs, or initiatives and offer some insight into the Obama administration's vision for science. Plus, reactions from the research community and around the web.
- United States to Cap ITER Spending; Domestic Fusion Research Would Still Suffer
- Laser Fusion Facility Faces Dimmer Spending
- At CDC, Budget Drops and Priorities Shift
- NSF Basks in Double-Digit Increase
- NIST Manufactures Some Big Spending Dreams
- Smithsonian Outreach Gets a Boost
- Rock On! Asteroid Spending Hot Item for NASA
- More Love for USDA's Competitive Research
- NIH Gets Slight Relief From Sequester Pain
- USGS Sees Budget Boost as Vote for Expanding Mission
- A Fundamental Shift at the Pentagon
- EPA Loses Out in R&D Budget
- Nanotechnology Initiative Would Get Smaller
- Climate Change Research Gets a Warm Reception
- Big Bump-Up for Department of Energy Research
- Homeland Security Would Move Ahead With Controversial Agrosecurity Laboratory
- NASA Budget Includes Money to Send New Rover to Mars, Capture Asteroid
- Most Civilian Agencies Get a Boost
United States to Cap ITER Spending; Domestic Fusion Research Would Still Suffer
Adrian Cho, 2:20 p.m. on 12 April
To preserve fusion research at home, the United States will limit its annual contributions to the international fusion experiment ITER, now under construction in Cadarache, France, according to the budget proposed by the Obama administration for fiscal year 2014. That spending cap should prevent the ITER contributions from consuming the Department of Energy's (DOE's) entire budget for fusion research. But that tactic also means that the United States would pay more in the long run to build its parts for ITER. And the request still calls for closing one of three U.S.-based fusion projects.
The rejiggering of the United States's ITER payments comes in response to a budgetary train wreck that occurred last year. In its proposed budget for 2013, DOE reduced funding for its fusion energy science program by a mere 1.2%, from $401 million to $398 million. But that budget also called for ramping up spending on ITER from $105 million to $150 million, requiring a cut of $48 million, or 16%, from the domestic research program. That cut would require shutting down one of three fusion experiments, or tokamaks, in the United States—the Alcator C-MOD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. The precise 2013 budget for fusion remains in flux, however, as last month Congress simply extended the 2012 budget through the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends 30 September.
The proposed 2014 budget throws fusion researchers a lifeline. The total fusion budget would go up from the current level by 14%, to $458 million. Spending on ITER would climb to $225 million per year. However, instead of rising further as previously planned, in future years ITER funding would remain fixed at the 2014 level, according to a budget briefing given by Edmund Synakowski, DOE's associate director for fusion energy sciences in Germantown, Maryland.
To contain ITER costs, the United States will delay the delivery of certain parts from the time ITER is supposed to turn on, around 2020, to the time it attempts to achieve fusion between tritium and deuterium and realize a net gain in energy, around 2028, says Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. (Oak Ridge is home to the U.S. ITER project office.) The original plan would have seen the U.S. ITER contribution top out at $400 million per year, Mason says. "That's the optimal way to fund the project," he says, "but given the current budget situation, it's very difficult to see how that happens."
But even with the additional funding and the cap on ITER spending, the new budget wouldn't undo the cuts proposed a year ago. In fact, in the new budget, domestic spending falls another $15 million, or 6%, from the level proposed in 2013. So the new budget would not only pull the plug on C-MOD, it would also require a cut of between 100 and 120 of the 170 researchers and staff members at MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center, says Martin Greenwald, associate director at the center. "The first thing the director of the program will have to do is send out 100 to 120 layoff notices," Greenwald says. Given the lead time for such layoffs, the cuts may come well before Congress does (or does not) approve the budget. The notices could come "within weeks, I would think," Greenwald says.
The proposed budget also does not guarantee that spending on ITER won't climb in future years. Unlike an ordinary project at a similar stage of development, the U.S. ITER project has no official "baseline," a document that lays out the schedule, costs, and yearly funding profile. Instead, DOE officials will manage the U.S. ITER program as it goes, focusing on a 2-year time horizon, according to Synakowski's briefing. That lack of a concrete plan makes some researchers nervous. "There's nowhere you can go to get an official timeline for the project," Greenwald says. "That's appalling to me and other researchers."
Laser Fusion Facility Faces Dimmer Spending
David Malakoff, 4:00 p.m. on 11 April
A controversial and perpetually troubled laser fusion project would get a hefty funding reduction under the president's 2014 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE). The cuts to the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California appear to be a direct consequence of the project's failure to create a burning fusion plasma by its 2012 goal.
NIF has long had critics, who contended even before the multibillion-dollar machine was built that it would never work. After numerous delays and cost overruns, NIF finally began operations in 2009, and managers set a 30 September 2012 goal of achieving "ignition" by using its 192 lasers to crush a tiny capsule of hydrogen fuel. But the device fell substantially short of that goal, and late last year officials told Congress that they weren't sure NIF would ever be able create a burning plasma.
NIF advocates have argued that the project, even if it didn't achieve ignition, is useful for conducting experiments that would help engineers understand and maintain the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons. That is now NIF's focus, although some outside experts and members of Congress are skeptical of that use. They also question the wisdom of giving NIF any more time or money to achieve ignition.
The budget request appears to reflect some of that skepticism. To help pay for maintaining the nuclear stockpile during a time of austerity, "the Budget proposes to achieve savings by reducing investments in the National Ignition Facility, which failed to achieve ignition in 2012 as scheduled, and by implementing several management efficiencies," it states. In particular, the budget calls for ending NIF accounting practices that allowed Livermore officials to charge some of the project's costs to other programs—a practice that critics said effectively obscured NIF's true cost.
It's not clear exactly how big the proposed NIF cuts are, because the project receives funding from several programs within DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation's nuclear weapons program. A Livermore spokesperson tells ScienceInsider that NIF's operating budget request is $329 million for 2014, down 20% from 2012.
Other NIF-affiliated budget lines also appear to take a hit, but it's hard to calculate exact numbers, says Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, a watchdog group in Livermore that has been critical of the laser project. But NIF "is taking a smaller hit that I had anticipated; these are very modest cuts considering NIF's abject failure to achieve ignition," she says. Her group wants NIF to be managed by DOE's Office of Science for civilian research. "We should run it as an unclassified user facility for 5 years, and then do an analysis of what kind of science the nation is getting for its money, and then decide whether to pull the plug," she says.
At CDC, Budget Drops and Priorities Shift
Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, 3:25 p.m. on 11 April
For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2014 budget request offers a mixed picture. CDC's budget continues to trend downward, as it has over the last several years. President Barack Obama is requesting $6.6 billion for CDC, a drop of $270 million from 2012. But not every program will suffer: In particular, the administration touted extra money for emerging and zoonotic infectious disease initiatives, with a respectable increase of $70 million to $432 million. Forty million dollars would go to an "Advanced Molecular Detection Initiative," which aims to do a better and quicker job of detecting and responding to threatening pathogens.
An increase of $35 million for injury prevention and control includes money for gun violence prevention research, which was touted by Obama in January.
None of these dollars are new, however. "If you're putting additional money into one category, you're taking it from the other," says Richard Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that focuses on public health. Losers in CDC's budget include chronic disease prevention efforts and public health preparedness and response. The preparedness cuts would reduce funding to local and state health departments.
In a sense, the mix of increases and cuts suggests tension in how best to allocate resources when it comes to new infectious diseases, such as a novel coronavirus or worrying avian influenza cases in China. On the one hand, says Laura Kahn, an internist at Princeton University who works in public health, we need to quickly be able to identify new viruses and develop vaccines against them. She welcomes CDC's proposed additional funding for emerging infectious diseases, although wonders how exactly the funds will be allocated.
"Now on the other hand, of course," Kahn writes to Science in an e-mail, "is how to disseminate a new vaccine to a public without a well-funded public health infrastructure. That's the downside to the budget cuts."
NSF Basks in Double-Digit Increase
Jeffrey Mervis, 11:15 a.m. on 11 April
With enough money, many things are possible.
That's the happy position in which the National Science Foundation (NSF) finds itself after the president proposed giving the agency an increase of $741 million in 2014, to $7.62 billion. That amount is 10.8% more than NSF's current budget of $6.88 billion, although the administration describes it as an 8.4% boost over NSF's 2012 budget. No matter how it's painted, the request sets NSF apart from most federal agencies that are being asked to make do with level or reduced funding.
The double-digit increase, if endorsed by Congress, would allow NSF to expand activities across the foundation. The request would provide a 9.2% boost over 2012 levels for NSF's core disciplinary research activities, to $6.21 billion. That includes a doubling of its investment in cyberinfrastructure, to $155 million, reflecting NSF's lead role in a joint program on Big Data with the National Institutes of Health.
The 2014 request would also increase funding for several initiatives begun by Subra Suresh, who stepped down last month as NSF director to become president of Carnegie Mellon University. In particular, the Innovation Corps program to train would-be entrepreneurs would grow in size and geographic scope, and the INSPIRE program would be able to fund more unorthodox approaches to multidisciplinary research questions. A bigger budget would also let NSF start construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a $665 million facility in Cerro Pachon, Chile, to which the Department of Energy has committed $160 million. And it would allow NSF to grow its prestigious graduate research fellowship program by one-third, boosting the next class to 2700.
In addition to having friends in the White House, NSF received strong support this year from Capitol Hill to lessen the blow of the mandatory, across-the-board 5% sequester that took effect in March at every civilian agency. (National security funding was cut by 7.2%.) Last-minute increases from a Senate funding panel left NSF's 2013 budget only 2.1%, or $150 million, below its 2012 funding levels.
NSF's operating plan for 2013, which spells out how much money each activity will receive, isn't due to the White House until 22 April. So NSF officials aren't able to predict how the sequester would affect the number of grants to be awarded in 2013 and the overall success rate of proposals. But, given the additional funding it has received, the agency's original projection of 1000 fewer grants and a 3% dip in success rates is almost certainly too pessimistic.
NIST Manufactures Some Big Spending Dreams
David Malakoff, 6:20 p.m. on 10 April
The Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was one of the big research winners in today's 2014 budget request rollout, with the White House requesting a 23%, $177.5 million increase over its 2012 spending, to $928.3 million.
Within that total, NIST's intramural laboratories would get a 21% hike to $754 million.
The increases are in line with a 2010 law that endorsed a doubling of NIST's budget over a decade, but Congress hasn't always come up with the money to stay on track with that goal.
"The FY 2014 budget increases will allow NIST to address high-priority scientific and technical issues that are critical to U.S. economic competitiveness and innovative capacity," said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher in a statement. In all, he said, the proposal includes some $127 million in new research funding.
The administration is also proposing that NIST help coordinate a one-time $1 billion initiative to create a network of up to 15 manufacturing innovation institutes around the country. The National Network of Manufacturing Innovation would join companies, academic institutions, and government agencies in efforts to develop cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. The Obama administration has already set up one pilot center in an effort to demonstrate the value of the idea.
Smithsonian Outreach Gets a Boost
Elizabeth Pennisi, 6:15 p.m. on 10 April
President Barack Obama wants to tap the Smithsonian Institution's expertise in informal science education as part of his plan to streamline STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. As part of his 2014 budget request, Obama is proposing a $25 million boost to the institution's education efforts. "From Day 1, I knew that we could play a much bigger role in science education," says Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian. "We have attributes and resources that other agencies don't have."
The Smithsonian, which is home to 19 museums, a zoo, and six science research centers, would receive $869 million from the federal government under the 2014 request, a $93 million, 12% increase over $776 million in 2013.
For 2013, the continuing resolution that Congress approved in March added $5 million dollars to staff the African American museum that is under construction and $2 million for roof repairs from Hurricane Sandy to its 2012 allocation of $810 million. But as part of the sequester, the Smithsonian had to come up with $41 million in cuts to that amount.
Those belt-tightening measures included taking all new major science instrumentation projects off the table. But the proposed 2014 budget includes $500,000 to begin to modify a 12-meter radio antenna telescope and move it from Arizona to Greenland. The telescope, which is expected to be operational in 2017, will be used in conjunction with Smithsonian telescopes in Chile and Hawaii to study black holes.
Otherwise, any increases for science programs are primarily for covering salary, rent, and other expenses, such as providing parity in salaries for Panamanians working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, says Smithsonian senior budget analyst George Thomas.
Thus, the big win for Smithsonian science is for STEM education. President Obama's plan would shift $180 million from 90 STEM programs at 11 agencies to the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian. The first two agencies would work to improve K-12 and undergraduate and graduate education. With its $25 million, the Smithsonian would improve informal education as it relates to the classroom. "The boundary between informal and formal education is breaking down," Clough says.
The newly named Center for Learning and Digital Access will be expanding its efforts to provide teachers easy access to Smithsonian materials that are geared toward meeting education standards requirements. Already it has a database of 2000 documents, photos, podcasts, videos, and other material, says Michelle Smith, editorial director of the center.
Eventually that database will be expanded to include material from all over the federal government. "We would serve as the agent for other agencies," Clough says. When Clough first came to the Smithsonian in 2008, the Smithsonian was just starting to reach out to students and teachers online and there was not much coordination among its 250 educators. Now the education effort is much more coordinated, Clough says, and he expects that a similar transformation can happen across the federal government. "We can deliver education to anybody in any place at any time," he says.
Rock On! Asteroid Spending Hot Item for NASA
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, 5:50 p.m. on 10 April
Asteroids are hot in the president's 2014 budget for NASA. He wants the space agency to find them, move them, excavate them, and eventually dispatch astronauts to walk on them.
If NASA's budget proposal for the next fiscal year contains one shiny new initiative, it is the science fiction-y plan to capture an approximately 454-tonne asteroid with a giant bag and drag it close to the moon where it can be studied in detail. After it has accomplished that feat, the agency will send astronauts to visit the rock, traveling in an Orion space capsule that is now under development. If the plan succeeds by an anticipated date of 2021, President Barack Obama may be able to tweet out a humble brag that might read thus: #Woohoo! Realized promise made at #KennedySpaceCenter.
The promise—made in a speech in April 2010, in which Obama laid out his vision for space—was to land humans on an asteroid by 2025. For 2 years, lawmakers questioned NASA officials on the specifics of how it would be done. Lawmakers have slammed the agency for not having a clear sense of direction. Finally, the agency seems to have come up with an answer that kills both birds with one stone.
"This mission raises the bar for human exploration and discovery," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said this afternoon in a media telecon about the budget. The idea, which will be kicked off in 2014 with a total funding of $105 million divided between NASA's exploration, aeronautics, and science directorates, appears to have gained traction after the crash-landing of a meteorite over Russia in February. That event set off frenzied calls from lawmakers that asteroid detection and deflection should be a high priority for NASA.
The first step in the proposed capture and maneuver mission would be to find the right-sized asteroid. That's why the administration wants to double the current level of funding for asteroid detection to $40 million. This piece of the new initiative will likely please lawmakers who have already conducted hearings on what NASA and private companies should be doing to tackle the asteroid threat.
The second step of the mission would involve developing new technologies to achieve the task, which dovetails with NASA's stated goal of inspiring technological breakthroughs. And the final step would involve sending astronauts to the asteroid aboard the Orion space capsule, the development of which is another high priority. In other words, the mission helps tie together several disparate items on NASA's agenda.
The agency has a number of other programs that have to do with asteroids. One is a mission to return a sample from a known carbonaceous asteroid by 2023. That mission, called OSIRIS-REx, is planned for a 2016 launch.
More Love for USDA's Competitive Research
Erik Stokstad, 5:30 p.m. on 10 April
It's no secret that the White House likes competitively awarded, peer-reviewed funding for research. For 2013, the administration asked for a 23% boost to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) while keeping its requests for other research funding levels at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) relatively flat. But Congress didn't deliver, instead keeping AFRI's budget nearly constant at $266 million.
This year, the White House has doubled down and asked for a 44% boost to AFRI over 2013 levels, to $383 million.
"Great news!" extolled Karl Glasener, who directs science policy for the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. Whether Congress will go along remains to be seen.
AFRI is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA's extramural funding division. Existing programs at AFRI focus on food security, water and nutrient management, nutrition, food safety, biofuels, and climate change. They plan to add programs on agricultural education and outreach. While AFRI would see a big boost relative to its estimated FY 2013 budget, so-called formula funds, which are given to land-grant universities, would decline by 1% to $657 million.
As with previous years, the administration is asking for a small increase to R&D at the intramural Agricultural Research Service. As part of its request for a 1.6% increase over 2013 to $1.08 billion, USDA would boost efforts on food safety, human nutrition, and environmental stewardship while decreasing funding for agronomic research. In addition, USDA is asking for $155 million to fully renovate its Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia. The aging facility has a biosafety level 2 lab and three agricultural labs and was identified as the top priority for modernization in a 2012 review of ARS labs.
*Correction, 11:30 a.m. on 11 April: The administration is asking for a small increase to R&D at the intramural Agricultural Research Service for a 1.6% increase over 2013, not a 15% increase as originally reported.
NIH Gets Slight Relief From Sequester Pain
Jocelyn Kaiser, 5:10 p.m. on 10 April
The president's fiscal year 2014 budget offers the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only a modest 1.5% increase, to $31.3 billion, over 2012 levels. But that small boost would provide welcome relief from the staggering 5% cut that the agency received this year because of the mandatory across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
"Everything's relative," said NIH Director Francis Collins after a press briefing today. "Considering what we've been going through in FY '13, what's being proposed here is really gratifying." (Compared with NIH's final 2013 budget of $29.3 billion, the increase would be 6.8%.) NIH would fund 10,269 new and competing grants, an increase of 351 compared with 2012.
The $471 million in new funding includes $40 million for the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, a brain mapping project that the administration rolled out last week. (Other agencies are contributing about $70 million.) NIH also wants to spend $41 million on a "Big Data" initiative to improve ways to use and share large datasets, Collins said. Another $32 million would go toward a new program that would to attempt to bring more diversity to the biomedical workforce by encouraging minorities to pursue biomedical research careers.
Another favored area is Alzheimer's research, which would receive $80 million in new grants for drug development at the National Institute on Aging—accounting for the entire increase that the institute is slated to receive.
The Cures Acceleration Network, a program aimed at supporting drug development within NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, would receive $50 million, a $40 million increase.
Biomedical research groups cautiously praised the increase for NIH. "We don't want to sound unappreciative, but this continues the pattern of failing to keep pace with inflation" for a decade at NIH, said Dave Moore of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The budget also assumes that Congress finds a way out of the sequestration cuts mandated for the next 10 years, he adds. "It's a little bit of good news, but I think it's still very worrisome as to where this is all headed," Moore said.
USGS Sees Budget Boost as Vote for Expanding Mission
Erik Stokstad, 5:05 p.m. on 10 April
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) patted itself on the back today for a proposed 8% increase in the president's budget request, compared with its FY 2012-enacted budget. The $98.8 million boost would lift the agency's budget to about $1.2 billion.
"This is a really significant increase," said acting Director Suzette Kimball in a teleconference. "It's largely due to USGS being recognized among the large science agencies as part of the larger R&D effort" and not just a mission agency to the Department of the Interior, in which it exists.
A request of an 8% increase is exceptional for USGS, which last year was slated for an overall 3% increase in the president's request. Typically, the agency has seen increases on the order of 1% to 2%. The proposed budget would include a $13 million boost for research on hydraulic fracking, to $18.6 million. It would also raise the funding for stream gages, which monitor water levels and collect other data, by $7.2 million. That would buy about 400 new gages to supplement the existing network of some 3130. USGS has said that the budget cuts known as the sequester threaten the operation of about 350 existing gages. Other proposed increases include a 22% increase for climate change science, to $72 million. A 3D-elevation mapping program would get started as well. Research into mineral deposits and the Water Resource Research Institutes would be cut, but details were not immediately available.
A Fundamental Shift at the Pentagon
Eliot Marshall, 4:35 p.m. on 10 April
To sustain an edge in military technology, the White House aims to spend more on key military research programs—particularly fundamental basic research—even as it trims the overall Pentagon budget next year.
The plan calls for a total of $526.6 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. military in 2014, about 0.7% less than in 2012 and 2013. The administration foresees a sharp decline in the account that pays for weapons testing and evaluation, from $72 billion in 2012 to $68 billion next year. At the same time, it gives a boost to the blue-sky innovation agency known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency); its budget would increase by 1.8%, to $2.9 billion. Funding for basic science and technology accounts would remain steady at around $11.9 billion, with a shift of about $200 million inside this category to emphasize fundamental work—including the kind of research carried out at universities.
This is a good sign, says Matthew Owens, an analyst at the Association of American Universities, the lobby for major research institutions based in Washington, D.C. He believes the administration is sticking with a theme articulated by the previous two secretaries of defense—investing in research not just to acquire advanced technology but also to draw talented people into the field of national security.
EPA Loses Out in R&D Budget
Erik Stokstad, 4:25 p.m. on 10 April
If you don't have much nice to say, don't say much. That pretty much sums up the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) discussion of research when it rolled out its proposed budget for FY 2014, which includes a cut to the agency's science program.
The request "reflects the Obama Administration's commitment to drive strong economic growth by supporting innovative research" on pollution, climate change, and clean energy, the agency said in a statement. The agency's more detailed "EPA Budget in Brief," released today, stated that the R&D program "leverages expertise" to meet its challenges.
The agency overall would see a 4% whack from its funding under the 2013 continuing resolution to $8.2 billion, continuing its slide in recent years. The research program, which was funded at $568 million in FY 2012, would drop by 1.9% from that level in 2014. About $16 million would be taken from the popular STAR fellowships as part of an administration proposal to reorganize STEM programs across the government.
Research on drinking water would decline by $2.3 million, endocrine disruptors by $1.2 million, and four other programs by $1 million each. EPA would expand its cooperative research with the U.S. Geological Survey and DOE on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracking, and increase its funding on minimizing chemical hazards by $4.1 million and climate change by $3.2 million. Baseline funding for these programs was not immediately available.
Outside the science division, EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program would get a $2.4 million boost. And the Air, Climate, and Energy Research program would see a 7.9% increase to $105 million over FY 2012 levels for research on environmental and health impacts from air pollution, climate change, and biofuels.
Nanotechnology Initiative Would Get Smaller
David Malakoff, 4:05 p.m. on 10 April
A 13-year-old nanotechnology research initiative would take a cut of $159 million, or 8.5%, to $1.7 billion under the president's budget request to Congress.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), launched in 2001, coordinates an array of nanoscale science projects across about 15 federal departments and agencies. In 2013, the Obama administration requested a 4.1% increase for NNI, to $1.77 billion. This year's budget documents offer no explanation for the turnabout.
Historically, about two-thirds of NNI funding has gone to academic research, with the remainder supporting science at government and industry laboratories.
Climate Change Research Gets a Warm Reception
David Malakoff, 2:35 p.m. on 10 April
Spending on climate change research at 13 federal agencies would rise by a total of 6%, to $2.65 billion, over 2012 levels under the president's 2014 budget request to Congress.
The biggest winner would be NASA, which would get a $71 million, 5% increase to $1.49 billion. In contrast, the National Science Foundation would see a decrease of $7 million, or 2.1%, to $326 million.
The 13 agencies are part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), an initiative that cuts across the U.S. government.
More details on the USGCRP request can be found on this White House fact sheet.
Big Bump-Up for Department of Energy Research
Adrian Cho, 2:10 p.m. on 10 April
The details have not yet been released, but the proposed 2014 budget for the Department of Energy (DOE) appears to be a researcher's dream. DOE's basic research arm, the Office of Science would get a 5.7% increase from the level enacted for fiscal 2012—the last budget that Congress passed—to $5.15 billion. (Last month, Congress essentially extended the 2012 budget through the rest of fiscal year 2013, which ends on 30 September.)
Even more impressive, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would see its budget climb 38% from the 2012 level to $379 million. ARPA-E aims to cherry-pick the most promising ideas from energy-related basic research and quickly develop them into commercially viable technologies.
Within the Office of Science, the biggest winner by far is the fusion energy science program, which would see its budget soar 14% to $458 million. Such a boost is desperately needed, researchers say, as the U.S. contributions to the international fusion experiment ITER, under construction in Cadarache, France, threaten to consume much of the United States' domestic fusion research.
Otherwise, the trend toward research that is more applicable to clean energy continues. Funding would increase by 10.3% from the 2012 level to $1.862 billion for the basic energy science program—which funds materials science, condensed matter physics, chemistry, and related fields and runs many of DOE's x-ray sources and other "user facilities." Advanced scientific computing research would jump 5.7% to $466 million. Biological and environmental research would edge up 2.6% to $625 million. And nuclear physics would climb 4.2%, to $570 million.
In contrast, DOE's high-energy physics program, which funds work in elementary particle physics, would see its budget fall 1.7% from the 2012 level to $777 million.
All of this ignores the effects of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, which are required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Unless it is reversed, sequestration would knock DOE budget levels for 2014 down 7.2%, leaving the Office of Science a net loser instead of a winner.
Homeland Security Would Move Ahead With Controversial Agrosecurity Laboratory
David Malakoff, 1:45 p.m. on 10 April
The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) science and technology directorate would see its current budget roughly double, to $1.4 billion, if the president's request is enacted. Essentially all of the increase, $714 million, would go to building the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a controversial high-security laboratory slated for Manhattan, Kansas, that would study diseases that threaten humans and livestock. NBAF is supposed to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, which the budget request says "will soon reach the end of its useful life."
Last year, the White House surprised many by omitting funding for NBAF in its 2013 request. Officials said that they needed to take a fresh look at the project in light of safety and budget concerns, as well as opposition from some well-placed members of Congress. Several generally positive outside reviews conducted by the U.S. National Academies, however, appear to have helped persuade the White House to fully back the effort.
There is certain to be congressional opposition to building NBAF. Representatives Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) have vowed to block NBAF funding, saying the money would be better spent upgrading Plum Island in New York. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has also expressed concern about NBAF, reflecting fears among the livestock industry that disease could escape from the facility and threaten U.S. livestock herds.
The new budget requests $467 million for the directorate's primary research account, extending the program's recent rebound. In 2012, Congress slashed that account by 52%, to $265 million, as a result of an unrelated battle over disaster assistance spending and concerns about the program's effectiveness. If Congress approves the 2014 request, the account would return to 2011 levels. But that number would be more than $130 million below where spending stood in 2010.
NASA Budget Includes Money to Send New Rover to Mars, Capture Asteroid
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, 12:55 p.m. on 10 April
The administration wants to hold NASA's overall budget line for 2014 at nearly the same level as what the agency is getting this year. But it wants to make some key changes in how some of that $17.7 billion would be spent.
It wants the agency to launch a robotic mission to capture a small asteroid in space and drag it close to the moon. "Astronauts would later visit the asteroid and return samples to Earth," according to NASA budget highlights posted on the White House's Web site this morning. The budget provides $78 million to develop technologies for the mission.
The budget also provides money for "multiple missions focused on Mars exploration, including a new large rover to be launched in 2020." NASA has been considering various ideas for exploring Mars after last year's pullout from the European-led ExoMars program, and sending another rover to the Red Planet seems to be what the administration has settled on.
Another key change that the administration wants to make is to shrink the agency's budget for education and outreach by $47.5 million, which would be redirected to other agencies. "NASA's assets will be used more effectively through coordination with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education and the Smithsonian Institution to achieve the Administration's wider STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education goals," according to the White House's summary of highlights.
Most Civilian Agencies Get a Boost
Jeffrey Mervis, 12:40 p.m. on 10 April
President Obama today proposed a significant increase in federal spending on civilian research for 2014. His support for science comes as part of an otherwise flat budget that aims to shrink the federal deficit through clamping down on entitlement programs and raising money by altering the tax code.
The president has requested a total of $143 billion in 2014 for research and development. That's level with current spending and up 1% from 2012. But within that total, civilian research spending would jump by 9% over 2012.
The increases for research, if approved by Congress, would allow most research agencies to recover from the cuts to their current budgets under the across-the-board sequester that went into effect last month. But that's a huge if. And there are also some caveats in what the president has proposed.
As in past years, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive hefty boosts in line with a 2010 law that endorses a doubling of their budgets over a decade. NSF's budget would jump by 8.4%, for example, to $7.6 billion, and the Office of Science would rise by 5.7%, to $5.1 billion. In contrast, the budget for the National Institutes of Health would inch up by 1.6%, to $31.3 billion.
All of those numbers are based on a comparison with 2012 spending levels. That's because Congress didn't complete work on the 2013 spending bill until 21 March, too late to be included in the president's request. The proposed increases would be considerably larger if compared with 2013, because sequestration sliced 5% off every civilian agency's budget.
The president's budget also fails to take into account how much agencies would lose in 2014 under sequestration, the 2011 budget law that requires across-the-board cuts to lower the federal deficit over the next decade. For 2014, civilian agencies would suffer a cut of 7.9%. But the White House maintains that sequestration is bad policy and has urged Congress to repeal the law. Hence, it is not a factor in the president's request.
As the day goes on, we'll bring you more details on the president's science budget.