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First Look at the President’s FY2015 S&T Budget Request

By IEEE-USA Staff

The White House released preliminary details of its FY 2015 federal budget request on 4 March, including highlights of its plans and priorities for S&T-related research and development.  The full details of the budget request will be announced later in March, after the deadline for this article.

The overall budget request is constrained by the 2015 spending levels set in the Bipartisan Budget Act passed by Congress last December, which limits FY 2015 discretionary spending to $1.014 trillion overall, or an increase of not more than 0.2% for all federal discretionary programs.  Within that constraint, the President is requesting $135.4 billion for federal R&D programs, an increase of  $1.7 billion or 1.2% over FY 2014 enacted levels (without adjusting for inflation).

The Budget calls for $65.9 billion for non-defense R&D, up 0.7 percent or $477 million, and $69.5 billion for defense R&D, up $1.2 billion or 1.7 percent.

Basic and applied research investments would total $64.7 billion, up $251 million or 0.4 percent from 2014.  Development-related funding would increase 2.3% to $68.0 billion.

Presidential S&T Advisor John Holdren released a prepared statement noting that �the 2015 budget reflects this Administration’s clear-eyed recognition that our Nation’s standing as a global leader today is built largely on a foundation of science and technology.

In a 4 March briefing to the S&T community, Holdren characterized the budget as a step in the right direction that keeps federal R&D funding on the path of recovery from deep sequestration cuts imposed by Congress, while noting his wish that more could be done.

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The S&T community’s public response to the proposed funding levels was mixed, with critics noting that the R&D request fails to keep pace with inflation and worsens the so-called Innovation Deficit.

According to Tom Tierney, IEEE-USA’s Vice President for Government Relations, the budget fails to keep pace with inflation, but does help recoup some of the losses due to budget sequestration.   He added, �it’s clear that Washington now views a flat budget as a plus-up.

The Association of American Universities, which is composed of 60 major U.S. research universities, warned that “when it comes to research, its modest spending increases in a few key research agencies are not sufficient to put this nation on an investment path that can ensure we remain the world’s innovation leader. AAU added, the unrealistic caps on discretionary spending have made the Administration’s job extremely difficult, and we appreciate the effort to fund additional research through a separate initiative, but we strongly believe research investments should receive greater priority under the caps.

A statement by Mary Woolley, CEO of ResearchAmerica, a not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance focused on health-related research, asserted that �these funding levels jeopardize our global leadership in science – in effect ceding leadership to other nations as they continue to invest in strong R&D infrastructures that have already begun to attract our best and brightest innovators.

Priorities and Programmatic Highlights

In a briefing webcast by AAAS, S&T Advisor Holgren described the “biggest winners” in the budget request as being the Department of Interior ($925 million in environmental and energy-related research); the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($688 million to support for Earth-observing satellites and other research), the National Institute of Standards and Technology ($690 million in 2015 R&D support for measurement science, standards, and technology); the BRAIN Initiative (which would double to $200 million in FY 2015 with work distributed across several federal agencies); and the Department of Homeland Security ($876 million for R&D to support work in cybersecurity, explosives detection, nuclear detection, and chemical/biological detection, and first-responder solutions).

The National Science Foundation’s acting Director Cora Marrett reported that the President’s request would provide NSF with an $83 million or 1.2 percent increase.   New and priority program initiatives at NSF would include Cognitive Science and Neuroscience ($29 million),  Cyber-Enabled Materials, Manufacturing, and Smart Systems (CEMMSS) ($213 million), development of a Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century  Science, Engineering, and Education (CIF21) ($125 million),  Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) ($139 million) and Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC)($100 million).

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The Department of Defense (DoD) budget request provides increases in development-related work funded in part through reductions in so-called tech-base funding.  Basic research (6.1), applied research (6.2) and advanced technology development (6.3) face a collective cut of $494 million or 4.1 percent.  The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would receive a $100 million increase to $2.9 billion   DoD technology-oriented mission priorities include: Projecting Power Despite Anti-access/Area-denial Challenges ($2.0 billion), Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction ($1.0 billion), Operating Effectively in Cyberspace and Space ($0.9 billion), Electronic Warfare ($0.5 billion), and High-speed Kinetic Strike ($0.3 billion).

Another significant winner in the budget request is the DOE’s Advanced Computing Program, which would increase 13.2% to $541 million.

In presenting the budget, the White House also provided fact sheets highlighting several budget themes as funding priorities.

  • Preparing American’s With STEM Skills:  Targeted investments of $2.9 billion, an increase of 3.7 percent over the 2014 enacted levels, in programs across the Federal Government on STEM education.

  • Building A Clean Energy Economy:  $5.2 billion to support clean energy technology activities at the Department of Energy, including $860 million for nuclear energy technology, over $700 million for cutting-edge sustainable transportation technologies, $157 million in Smart Grid R&D to help modernize the electrical grid, and a new demonstration project to accelerate pre-commercial development of more efficient turbine system technology for electrical generation.

  • Investing in American Innovation:  Increased R&D with an emphasis on advanced manufacturing, an expanded, simplified and permanent R&D tax credit, and energy-related investments designed to enhance the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies such as higher-performing electric drive motors, batteries, and ultra�light materials and composites to enable electric vehicles make renewable.

Other key themes were Understanding/Adapting to Global Climate Change and Doubling Support for the Brain Research though Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a multi-agency �grand challenge� to support the development and application of innovative, new technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function and its relationship to behavior, as a pathway to improving our ability to diagnose, treat, and even prevent diseases of the brain.

A more detailed breakdown of the funding requests by department, agency and program will be available later in the month.

The Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative                                                   

As part of the FY 2015 budget request,  the President is also proposing that Congress lift the current sequestration spending caps and add new revenue sources in order to fund a deficit-neutral $56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative to promote innovation and job creation.  The Opportunity Initiative proposes another $5.3 billion in FY 2015 funding for targeted R&D priorities.

If approved, this spending supplement would add nearly $1 billion more in R&D funding for the National Institutes of Health, over $500 million more for the National Science Foundation, and nearly $900 million for NASA, among other agencies.   It would also fund a national network of 45 manufacturing innovation institutes in partnership with industry.

The Initiative would also fund a new tax credit to catalyze investment in the necessary infrastructure to support deployment of advanced vehicles. This proposal would be fuel neutral, allowing the private sector to determine if biofuels, electrification, natural gas, hydrogen, or other alternative fuels would be the best fit in different communities.

Congressional Outlook

The conventional wisdom is that all Presidential budget requests are dead on arrival when they reach Congress, although in reality most of the budget represents funding requests for programs already authorized by Congress that will be funded at, or near the levels requested.

This year, however, the addition of the $5.3 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative coupled with the fact that 2014 is a mid-term election year, amplifies the budget politics.

When asked if the House Appropriations Committee would consider President Obama’s Opportunity Initiative, committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said The answer is no’.  Rogers added, “He knew, we knew that we’re going to do the number that’s written in law,” referring to the spending levels authorized in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.  In the Senate, Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) urged Congress to consider the proposal, while her Republican counterpart Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) accused the White House of violating the bipartisan agreement on spending limits.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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