The 2011 Science Budget Roundup

This article has been updated to include information about the budgets of the National Science Foundation.

Science fared well in the 2011 budget proposal released yesterday by President Barack Obama. Here are the specifics:

By canceling NASA's moon mission, launched by former President George W. Bush in 2004, the White House pays heed to a report delivered last fall by the Norman Augustine commission, which declared that the goal of returning American astronauts to the moon by 2020 was unviable without a major boost to NASA's budget. Instead, the White House has proposed eliminating the Constellation program, a $3.5-billion-a-year initiative aimed at building rockets, spacecraft, and other systems for the moon mission. Get more details here.

With the Obama Administration continuing to push for funding in clean energy, green manufacturing, and advances in health care, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) finds itself in the welcome position of trying to grease the wheels of all three. NIST works to forge common standards and measurement tools for everything from the weight of a kilogram to the best way to make cell-derived drugs. Those common standards are critical to pushing the growth of new industries, says NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. Case in point, Gallagher says, is "smart grid" technology that's designed to integrate renewable power coming from wind turbines and solar cells with the nation's 9000 conventional power plants and 300,000 miles of transmission lines. Other NIST programs that got a favorable nod: green manufacturing (+$10 million), cyber security (+$10 million), disaster-resilient buildings (+$5 million), and measurement and standards for manufacturing biologics, or cell-derived drugs (+$10 million). Keep reading to find out the overall increase in NIST's budget.

With all the single- and double-digit budget increases among science programs and agencies in this year's budget, new funds for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) look comparatively meager. NNI is an amalgam of the nanotechnology research budgets within the 25 participating agencies. Overall, that collective research budget request is essentially unchanged from what the agencies were given for FY 2010, though it is up about 5% from the Administration's request last year of $1.7 billion. But drill down a bit and the pots of money are shifting. Read on to discover the big winner.

The U.S. Department of Defense proposes to spend $2 billion on basic research in 2011, an increase of $200 million, or 10%, over its current spending level. The request is consistent with a plan Pentagon officials drew up in 2007 to substantially increase basic research funded by the agency over a 5-year period. That plan had the backing of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Bush Cabinet member to have been retained by the Obama Administration. What reductions allowed the Pentagon to boost basic research?

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins says he's pleased with the $1 billion raise, to $32.1 billion, that NIH is slated to get in the president's 2011 budget. It may be a modest 3.2% raise, but aside from the $10.4 billion NIH got last year in Recovery Act money, the $1 billion is the largest increase proposed by an Administration for NIH in 8 years. "It could have been a lot worse," Collins says. "Clearly, this is a difficult time budgetarily. I am grateful that I work for a president who ... has been able to give support to science not just at NIH but across many agencies as well." Read on to find out how the budget fits with NIH's five themes.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would get a $550 million boost, nearly 8%, to $7.4 billion. Almost all of the increase would go to NSF's six research directorates, with a special emphasis on clean energy, the next generation of silicon technology, climate change, and sustainability. Its education and training programs would rise by 2%, to $892 million, including $19 million for graduate training and postdoctoral fellowships in a joint program on clean energy technology with the Department of Energy (DOE), which has budgeted $55 million.

The NSF budget also requests $20 million to begin building the $434 million National Ecological Observatory Network. A decade in the planning, NEON hopes to collect long-term, continent-wide measurements of the effects of climate change, land usage, and invasive species.

Competitive grants are catching on at two agencies—the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency—that haven't been big investors in such awards in the past.

The Smithsonian Institution, home to 500 scientists and an equal number of research fellows, today received the prospect of a boost for the four grand challenges launched in its September 2009 strategic plan. Most notably, the total proposed budget of $797.6 million includes $10 million for the strategic plan. Of that, $8 million would go toward promoting biodiversity and climate change research. These funds signal increased recognition of the need to support programmatic activities at the Smithsonian and not just bricks and mortar, says Scott Miller, the Smithsonian's deputy undersecretary for science. Further details are available here.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could get a substantial boost if Congress approves President Barack Obama's 2011 request for a 23% increase over its current budget, to a shade over $4 billion. Most of the increase—$601 million—would come from user fees charged to drug, device, tobacco, and other companies regulated by FDA, which have supplied FDA with billions of dollars in recent years. Another $146 million would come from the federal government. Like any federal support, the user fee increases require congressional approval. Follow the link for more on the FDA's budget.

DOE's Office of Science gets a healthy $226 million funding increase, to $5.12 billion, in the proposed 2011 budget. The lion's share of the 4.6% increase would be go to the basic energy sciences (BES) office, which funds research into condensed matter physics, materials science, chemistry, and related fields and runs DOE's x-ray synchrotrons and other user facilities. BES's budget climbs from $1.637 billion to $1.835 billion, an increase of $198 million, or 12.1%. How does fusion research fare in the new budget?

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