In case you avoid all political news like the plague (a wise choice) there’s currently a budget fight going on between the administration’s proposed budget and the Republican controlled House of Representative’s budget cuts. How do these compare in terms of science and research funding? Specifically funding that affects my research? Let’s take a look. For each agency we will first look at the 2010 fiscal year estimate, the President’s proposed budget, and then the House Appropriation Committee’s proposed changes to the administration’s budget. The data comes from the AAAS analysis of research and development dollars for both budget proposals. Numbers are in millions of dollars.

Agency 2010 Estimate 2011 Proposed Budget 2011 House Budget
Amount % Change
from 2010
Amount % Change
from 2010
NSF 5,445 5,547 1.8% 4,955 -9%
Department of Energy 10,836 11,219 3.5% 9,460 -12.7%
Office of Science 4,528 4,642 2.5% 3,642 -19.6%
Energy Efficiency and
Renewable Energy
2,545 2,430 -4.5% 1,672 -34.4%
Department of Commerce 1,344 1,716 27.7% 1,379 2.6%
National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
692 949 37.1% 782 13%
National Institutes of
Standards and Technology
588 705 19.9% 547 -7%
National Institutes of Health 30,155 31,394 4.1% 28,736 -8.5%
Total Nondefense R&D 62,683 65,875 5% 58,296 -6.7%

(Edit: added NIH funding to the table)

National Science Foundation

The good news here is that most science and research funding has a proposed increase in Obama’s proposed budgets. The National Science Foundation (NSF – which currently pays my tuition and stipend) would see a significant increase of 13% over 2010 levels to $7.8 billion. Included in this is:

–  $998 million for developing “Clean Energy Economy” technologies
–  $40 million for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) training for K-12 and undergraduate teachers

This looks promising, especially the money set aside for K-12 educators. As Bill Nye was saying, this is a critical area where we can get students interested in STEM fields early and hopefully keep them studying in these disciplines.

The Republican House budget however would reduce the NSF’s budget by nearly $500 million resulting in a 9% decrease from 2010 levels.

The Department of Energy

Secretary Chu wants your dollars

The other important area of scientific funding that directly impacts my research comes from the Department of Energy (DoE), specifically their Office of Science which directs all of the DoE’s research dollars and includes the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) division. My current research falls under BES and we are actually in the process of writing a proposal to renew our grant from the DoE. BES is defined as:

The basic energy sciences (BES) program supports fundamental research in material sciences,chemistry, geosciences, and aspects of biosciences to understand,predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels. BES core research awards permit individual scientists and small groups to pursue discovery driven research interests with broad energy relevance.

De-jargonified: BES projects explore fundamental principles and materials that can be used to create or understand new types of energy technologies. This means I don’t work directly on engineering new energy technologies, instead I try to gain a deeper understand of how and why they work the way that they do, and hopefully uncover more information that could lead to better devices or even entirely new types of energy devices.

While the budget proposal for the Office of Science gives a modest 2.5% increase, the Republican proposal would cut the Office of Science budget by nearly 20%, a huge decrease. Even worse, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office (EERE) budget is reduced by over a third! EERE supports projects and programs that have the most direct impact on reducing energy use and promoting new energy technologies. This level of cuts would gut many of their programs and significantly reduce the support the government gives to clean energy technologies.

Jobs and Economy

Republicans typically talk about reducing the deficit in order to stimulate the economy. In my humble opinion, reducing research and development across the board, and more tellingly in clean energy research, results in the opposite effect. Less money supporting R&D means that research projects and groups will reduce their spending on capital equipment – research tools, devices etc. – and in general decrease their economic activity. It also means less employment options for persons trained in the engineering and sciences. Lack of funding may also prevent successful technologies and ideas from leaving the lab and entering the marketplace to begin with, reducing the number of potential start-up businesses that would arise from R&D funding.

If we really want to invest in a secure future, create jobs, and support a growing economy, we should invest more in research and development, not less.


How are the two budget’s going to be reconciled? It’ll happen somewhere in the Senate, and although there’s been a counter-budget proposal from the Senate Appropriations that addresses many of the differences listed above compromise appears unlikely


2 responses »

  1. Chrismurf says:

    Hooray for NOAA getting more money too. NSF and NOAA are my primary sources…

  2. Pearl says:

    First and foremost…I’m not psyched to see funding cut for any of the agencies…they pay my stipend and tuition! That being said…

    Why are the Republicans looking to add money to NOAA? It seems weird that the climate skeptics would send money toward climate modelers (amongst other things). I wonder if there is a specific earmark in there.

    To be contrary, I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the NIH budget redistributed. Our research priorities are ridiculously skewed toward the health sciences/medicine. NSF spends in total, $6 billion. NIH spends $6 billion on cancer research alone.

    The EERE cuts in DOE are insane. Relatively speaking, it’s a very small office and there is some sort of vendetta being played out here. DOE itself, however, needs a major overhaul. I don’t want to see it gutted, I just want to see it completely reorganized. It is an agency without a mission with little regulatory control.

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