Congress did its best this week on basic research, announcing a $1.7 trillion overdue spending bill that keeps the U.S. government working for the next 9 months. But legislators’ desire to increase the defense budget has kept them from getting the big promised boost to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and has subject several other civilian agencies to small increases.
The draft law expected to be finalized in 2014 Science went to the press, it will give the National Institutes of Health another solid year of growth. The $5.6% increase of $2.5 billion will increase the 2023 budget – by far the largest federal research institution – to $47.5 billion. This increase is 10 times more than President Joe Biden requested. But Congress approved only $1.5 billion of its $5 billion request for the new Advanced Research Projects Health Agency; this is a modest increase of $500 million for its second year of operation.
NSF will increase 8% to $9.54 billion. The additional $700 million is less than half of the 20% increase Biden requested and that legislators promised the NSF earlier this year in a major bill to support the US semiconductor industry.
Thanks to a budget ploy, Congress gives NSF an additional $1 billion over 2 years and classifies the increase as mandatory spending that falls outside the normal spending limit. The research account received another $818 million and education programs received $210 million and most of the money came in the current fiscal year.
While NASA’s overall budget will increase 6% to $25.4 billion, the science division will grow only 2% to $7.8 billion. Earth science will increase 6% as lawmakers request plans for the first four satellites at NASA’s Earth System Observatory, a multibillion-dollar fleet that will monitor clouds, aerosols and other phenomena affecting climate change. Congress also allowed NASA to close the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a telescope carried on a Boeing 747, and gave NASA $30 million for a “orderly closure.”
Animal welfare advocates had a victory when legislators authorized the Food and Drug Administration to approve new drugs and biologics that were not tested on animals. Legislation recommends alternative methods, including organ chips and cell-based assays. “Deauthorizing these tests opens the door to a more modern approach that reflects current science,” says Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treat of Animals, a group lobbying for change.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget rose 17% to $6.35 billion, below the $6.9 billion Biden had requested. The climate science budget will increase 12% to $224 million. The extra money will help fund a $12 million initiative to explore water in the drought-stricken western United States.
Lawmakers more than doubled Biden’s request for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Science Office, the nation’s largest funder to the physical sciences. The 8.4% increase, reaching $8.1 billion, will go mostly to research grants and activities in the office’s six core disciplines. A separate bill passed over the summer transferred $1.5 billion to more than a dozen construction projects for new large user facilities at DOE’s national laboratories.
The U.S. Geological Survey reached $1.5 billion, up 7%, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s science arm totaled $802 million. The agriculture department’s competitive research grant program increased 2% to $455 million.
The massive spending bill also includes billions of dollars—many of them at universities—for projects chosen by legislators but not requested by institutions. These allocations can come at the expense of growing an agency’s regular research activities. At the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for example, allocations consume more than half of the agency’s $103 million boost for its in-house research account, and about a quarter of NIST’s overall $1.6 billion budget.
This is a developing story and will be updated.