NSF FY2021 Request: AI and Quantum Research Get Priority but it’s Paid for with Cuts to Other Research Fields

On Monday, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) Budget Request. Despite administration signals and bipartisan calls for a budget request in line with the funding agreement made in July, the President decided to ignore that agreement and release a funding blueprint with deep reductions to domestic discretionary spending. The federal research portfolio, which is a part of domestic discretionary spending, didn’t escape cuts.

As we have done in years past, we’ll be writing a series of posts on the assorted agency budgets that are important to the computing research community. First up: the National Science Foundation.

Overall, NSF’s top-line doesn’t fare well in the President’s request. Under the Administration’s plan, the agency would see a 6.5 percent reduction compared to FY20, in overall funding. NSF would go from $8.28 billion in FY20 to $7.74 billion in FY21, a reduction of $540 million.

The majority of that reduction would come from Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for research grants. R&RA would decline from $6.74 billion in FY20 to $6.21 billion in FY21, a cut of $530 million. Comparatively, Education and Human Resources (EHR), the subaccount that contains the agency’s education programs, would see a reduction of $9 million, going from $940 million in FY20 to $931 million under the President’s plan.

FY19 FY20 FY21 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.08B $8.28B $7.74B -$540M -6.5%
R&RA $6.52B $6.74B $6.21B -$530M -7.9%
EHR $910M $940M $931M -$9M -1.0%

These reductions to NSF mask large new investments in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Information Sciences (QIS). According to the Administration, they are increasing AI R&D by more than 70 percent over FY20 and doubling the agency’s QIS investment. While good news for these specific sections of the computing research community, this is the literal definition of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” As CRA made clear in our statement on the Administration’s budget request, “failing to adequately fund a broad portfolio of research puts the nation at risk of missing key breakthroughs,” and, “it also threatens to constrain progress in the same critical fields the President has chosen to highlight.”

How likely is this request to being passed into law? Very unlikely. The budget process heads to Congress, where the President’s funding recommendations will likely will be largely ignored (especially by the Democratic controlled House of Representatives), as have the three previous budget requests the Administration has submitted. Still, it’s worrisome that even when this Administration prioritizes key research investments, it does so at the expense of all other fields. This is not a great place for the budget process to begin.

NSF FY2021 Request: AI and Quantum Research Get Priority but it’s Paid for with Cuts to Other Research Fields