President Biden Releases His “Skinny” Budget; Topline Numbers for Multiple Science Agencies Do Well; NSF Gets Over 19% Increase!

Earlier today the Biden Administration released a high-level overview of their discretionary budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22). Nicknamed a “skinny budget,” due to the fact that it only contains topline numbers for key departments and agencies and does not have many details on specific program requests, it does provide a look into the priorities of the new Administration. And from what we see in this request, research agencies across the federal government will do quite well under the Biden Administration’s plan.

In one bullet titled, “Renews America’s Commitment to Research and Development,” the Administration says their budget request, “proposes historic increases in funding for foundational research and development across a range of scientific agencies—including the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy (DOE), NIST, and others—to help spur innovation across the economy and renew America’s global leadership.” Let’s get into some of the details of the request.

National Science Foundation – Topline $10.2 billion, an increase of $1.7 billion or 19.8 percent over FY21 levels. In a change of pace from recent years budget requests, NSF is the big winner among the science agencies. Within the 19.8 percent increase for the Foundation, the research and education accounts together will increase by $1.6 billion over FY21 levels. Specific levels for Research & Related Activities and Education & Human Resources aren’t given in the overview, so a more detailed comparison isn’t possible at the moment. The document goes on to explain that a number of education accounts will see increases as well, particularly those geared toward expanding diversity and equity among the scientific disciplines.

Additionally, the document calls for the establishment of a new directorate for, “technology, innovation, and partnerships … to expedite technology development in emerging areas that are crucial for U.S. technological leadership, including artificial intelligence, high performance computing, disaster response and resilience, quantum information systems, robotics, advanced communications technologies, biotechnology, and cybersecurity.” This is obviously in line with the current proposals under consideration in the House and Senate, not to mention the President’s own infrastructure plan.

Department of Energy, Office of Science – Topline $7.4 billion, an increase of $400 million or 5.3 percent over FY21 levels. No specific details for ARPA-E, but it is mentioned together with ARPA-Climate to receive a total of $1 billion (ARPA-E received $427 million in FY21).

National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) – No topline for the agency, but the Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS), where the majority of the research at the agency is housed, would receive $916 million, an increase of $128 million or 16.2 percent (STRS isn’t mentioned by name though). There are also a number of programs at NIST called out in the proposal, “to ensure the security and resilience of the Nation’s supply chain and foster a robust resurgence of American manufacturing,” and a specific proposal about, “restoring the United States as a global leader in the design and manufacture of semiconductors,” among other program details.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The second biggest winner among the science accounts, NIH would receive $51 billion, an increase of $8.1 billion, or 18.8 percent, over FY21. Within that increase, the proposal calls for the establishment of an ARPA-H to spur innovation and, “would drive transformational innovation in health research and speed application and implementation of health breakthroughs.” ARPA-H, modeled after DARPA at the Defense Department and ARPA-E at the Department of Energy, would receive $6.5 billion under the President’s plan.

Department of Defense (DOD) – Unfortunately, no details are provided for the defense research accounts. The document does provide a topline for the Defense Department: $715 billion, an increase of 1.6 percent over FY21 levels. That translates into either flat funding or an effective cut. There is a nice paragraph on the importance of R&D at DOD but no specifics. With flat funding, it’s likely we’ll see the department try to protect their highest priorities, which could translate into cuts in the research accounts. Time will tell.

NASA – Topline $24.7 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion or 6.3 percent over FY21 levels. There are a number of scientific and engineering missions called out in the budget document, but no specific breakdown of budget numbers below the top line. Still, this is likely to translate into some type of increase for the NASA Science budget line.

What happens now? We have to wait several more weeks for the Administration to get their detailed budget request out. That’s expected sometime in May, though it could slip later. In the meantime, Congress is likely to use this skinny budget to start the process of crafting their own proposals for these agencies and departments. Due to the late start, mainly caused by the change in Administrations, this is likely to be a long year for the federal budget process. But we’ll be keeping track and will report back any developments, so please check back for more information.

President Biden Releases His “Skinny” Budget; Topline Numbers for Multiple Science Agencies Do Well; NSF Gets Over 19% Increase!