The Trump administration’s proposed $4.75 trillion budget for the federal government for fiscal year (FY) 2020, which would slash funding for many federal science agencies, was met with scorn and dismissal by Democrats in Congress, environmental groups, union leaders, and others who said the proposal would take the country in the wrong direction.
“President Trump and his Administration have once again rejected reality with this FY 20 budget request,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. “This proposal is simply absurd and shows a complete disregard for the importance of civilian R&D [research and development] and science and technology programs. If the President would like Congress to take his request seriously, he should make an effort to work together to craft a meaningful budget proposal.”
The administration’s budget calls for a 24.3% decrease for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reducing its budget from $8.06 billion to $6.1 billion in rounded numbers. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would be cut 12.1%, with its budget chopped from $8.08 billion to $7.1 billion. NASA’s budget would be trimmed 2.3%, from $21.5 billion to $21 billion.
The budget also would cut the overall Department of Energy (DOE) budget by 11.2% (dropping from $35.7 billion to $31.7 billion), with the DOE Office of Science taking a 16.5% hit (going from $6.6 billion to $5.5 billion). Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey budget would dive 15.2%, from $1.16 billion to $983.5 million. Numbers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were not available as this story went to press.
The administration’s budget is “continuing the trend of devaluing the unique role that Federal investments have on advancing our economy, competitiveness, and the future of our nation,” Johnson said.
In a letter included in the budget documents, President Donald Trump wrote that the funding proposal “seeks to make the United States of America wealthier, stronger, safer, and greater for every American family and neighborhood.”
However, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, commented that the budget proposal “isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” Grijalva added, “It’s dead on arrival in Congress, and printing it was a waste of time.”
Congress Unlikely to Embrace the Budget
With those and other similar reactions to the budget, the administration’s proposal may not find much support in Congress.
“Congress had not embraced the Trump Administration’s past attempts to cut back on research and innovation, and they aren’t likely to embrace this one,” Matt Hourihan, research and development budget director for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), told Eos. An analysis prepared by the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program shows that Congress has ignored the administration’s previous budget requests for federal science agencies.
The administration’s proposal “is unlikely to find significant support in Congress,” Chris McEntee, executive director and CEO of AGU, said in a statement. (AGU publishes Eos.) McEntee added, “President Trump asserts that his fiscal year 2020 budget is an investment in America’s students and workers, and that it aspires to turbocharge ‘the industries of the future.’ However, those claims quickly fall flat when you realize that his proposal imposes damaging cuts to the science programs, which can protect our environment, public health and national security, as well as secure and grow our economy.”
Budget Is “Silent” on Climate Change
Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, criticized the administration for not mentioning climate change in the budget. “The president would rather put on blinders than assert any sort of leadership” on climate change, Holstein told Eos. “In the year since his last budget to Congress, there have been several major science reviews, including one by his own administration, that have warned of the growing dangers of climate change and the shrinking amount of time we have to do anything effective about it. For him to send up a budget that is silent on climate change is deeply disturbing.”
Holstein and others also criticized the administration’s attack on EPA’s funding, which includes substantial cuts to the agency’s science and technology program, environmental program and management budget, and other areas.
The proposal to slash EPA funding “is devastating to the agency’s ability to accomplish its mission of protecting human health and the environment,” Nicole Cantello, chief steward of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704, told Eos. The union represents about 900 EPA employees in the Midwest.
Cantello said the proposal would eliminate nearly 2,000 scientist and engineer positions within EPA nationwide. The budget proposal “is yet another demonstration of Trump’s plan to burn the EPA to the ground,” she said.
Basic Research Budget Headed in the Wrong Direction
Many details about the budget, including for NSF, are expected to be released on 18 March. However, Dave Verardo, president of AFGE Local 3403, the union that represents 1,000 NSF employees, has already seen enough to be concerned. The FY 2020 budget request “is headed in the wrong direction for basic research in STEM,” he told Eos, referring to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Federal investment “is critical for stability,” said Verardo, who is also the program director for NSF’s paleoclimate program but spoke to Eos in his capacity as union president. He explained that the private sector cannot take up much basic research because industry is accountable to investors and shareholders, and industrial research often focuses on developing a product rather than increasing fundamental knowledge. Verardo said that a 12.1% cut for the agency, coupled with “perennially late budgets past October 1, complicates stability, which complicates international and other collaboration.”
Funding for Every NASA Science Division Drops
The overall NASA budget comes through relatively unscathed compared with other science agency budgets. However, details reveal that the science budget would drop 8.7% from $6.9 billion to $6.3 billion. Within NASA science, Earth science is cut 7.8%, moving from $1.93 billion to $1.78 billion.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called the agency’s budget “one of the strongest on record” and said that it “is a huge vote of confidence” for NASA. He said that the NASA budget “represents a nearly 6 percent increase over last year’s request” by the administration. However, the FY 2020 budget proposal is less than what Congress appropriated for the agency’s FY 2019 budget.
Casey Dreier, senior space policy adviser at The Planetary Society, a nonprofit working to advance space science and exploration, had a different perspective on the budget. “While this is an improved request compared to recent years, a cut is still a cut. NASA stands to lose nearly half a billion dollars next year,” Dreier told Eos.
“Every science division would see a decrease. The STEM/Education division would disappear. The top priority of the astrophysics community—WFIRST [Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope]—would die. This is not how NASA should enter the 2020s.”
Dreier said that The Planetary Society and others have argued for regular 5% increases to NASA and that Congress has, on average, added 4% to the agency’s budget every year since 2014. “This can and should continue,” Dreier said. “It will help ensure the President’s goals are met at the Moon without sacrificing important science and education efforts at the agency.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer
Correction, 13 March 2019: This article was updated to reflect Casey Dreier’s correct title.