Science Policy & Funding News

White House Budget Calls for Increased Science Funding

The FY 2016 federal budget proposal released by the White House would increase science funding and end austerity-driven budget cuts.


The White House’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2016, released on 2 February, calls for a substantial increase for federal science agencies. The proposal also would provide significant funding for areas related to climate change, clean energy technology, Earth observations, basic research, space exploration, stewardship of natural resources, and infrastructure modernization.

The budget would provide $146 billion for research and development overall.

The budget would provide $146 billion for research and development overall, an $8 billion (6%) increase above 2015 enacted budget levels, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The budget also would provide $67 billion for basic and applied research, which represents a $2 billion (3%) increase above 2015 enacted levels, according to OSTP. FY 2016 runs from 1 October 2015 to 30 September 2016.

The budget request includes about $2.7 billion for programs to understand and respond to climate change and its impacts. In addition, the budget includes about $7.4 billion for clean energy technology programs; more than $3 billion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education programs (an increase of 3.6% from 2015); and funding to support investments in Earth observations—including Earth-observing satellites—aligned with the White House’s National Plan for Civil Earth Observations.

The budget proposal also calls for ending spending cuts known as “sequestration.” Those cuts were “damaging and short-sighted” and they resulted in hundreds of important scientific projects going unfunded, according to budget documents.

Budget Overview and Initial Reaction

At a 2 February budget briefing, OSTP director John Holdren focused on several key scientific challenges and opportunities, including climate change. Holdren said that Congress, which would need to approve the budget, should be supportive of the administration’s proposals focusing on climate change, Earth observations, and other areas.

“Climate change really ought to be a bipartisan proposition.”

“Climate change really ought to be a bipartisan proposition,” Holdren said, noting that measures to deal with it would be good for the economy, environment, national security, and public health. “None of those have historically been partisan propositions. I think we have a good case to make with the Congress on why people of both parties should support the initiatives that we are trying to advance,” he said.

Many Republicans, however, expressed disapproval of the budget proposal. For example, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House of Representatives’ Science, Space, and Technology Committee, commented, “Investments in science and technology have the potential to create jobs and yield future economic growth. Rather than focus on areas that have clear benefits for Americans, the president instead chose to push a partisan agenda.”

The White House’s budget, Smith continued, “includes new spending for costly ineffective energy subsidies and a new $500 million United Nations program to promote ‘climate change resiliency’ in other countries. I’m disappointed the president chose to play politics with taxpayers’ dollars instead of offering real solutions.”

NASA Budget Ups Earth Sciences and Other Areas

The proposed budget for NASA is $18.53 billion, up from the $18.01 billion in the 2015 enacted budget. The FY 2016 budget includes increases in many areas within the agency.

The Science Mission Directorate—which includes the Earth Science, Heliophysics, Planetary Science, and Astrophysics divisions and the Joint Agency Satellite Division—would see its funding increase to $5.289 billion (up from the FY 2015 enacted budget of $5.245 billion). Specific line items give budgets for Earth science at $1.95 billion (up from $1.82 billion in 2014), planetary science at $1.36 billion (up from of $1.35 billion in 2014), astrophysics at $709.1 million (up from $678.3 million in 2014),  and heliophysics at $651 million (up from $641 million in 2014).

In addition, funding for exploration would jump to $4.51 billion (from $4.37 billion in the enacted FY 2015 budget). However, funding for education would drop significantly from $119 million in FY 2015 to $88.9 million. Also, aeronautics would dip from $651 million in FY 2015 to $571.4 million.

The budget also continues the development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for deep-space missions. It also includes funding for the next Mars rover mission and funding for NASA to proceed with a project formulation for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Funding for the James Webb Space Telescope is $620 million, down from the FY 2015 enacted level of $645.4 million.

NSF Budget Includes Increase for All Geoscience Divisions

The administration’s request for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for FY 2016 is $7.7 billion, an increase of $379 million over FY 2015. Funding for research and related activities would rise to $6.19 billion from FY 2015’s estimated $5.93 billion; education and human resources would move to $962.6 million from $866 million, and major research equipment and facilities construction stay fairly flat at $200.3 million (FY 2015’s estimate is $200.8 million).

The budget for NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences would increase to $1.37 billion from $1.30 billion. The added funding spans all divisions within the directorate, including atmospheric and geospace sciences, Earth sciences, ocean science, polar programs, and integrative and collaborative education and research.

The overall NSF budget includes several key cross-disciplinary activities. The Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) project would be funded at $75 million. A Risk and Resilience initiative to address resilience in response to natural and man-made disasters would receive $58 million.

NSF director France Córdova said that the budget request “reflects the president’s vote of confidence in NSF’s ability to make investments in learning and discovery that will grow our economy, sustain our global competitiveness, and enable America to remain the world leader in innovation.”

Interior Budget Would Increase by Nearly 8%

The proposed budget for the Department of the Interior (DOI) is $13.2 billion, an increase of $752.6 million, almost 8%, above the FY 2015 enacted level.

Among the agency’s key priorities is implementing the president’s Climate Action Plan. To accomplish this, the budget includes $195.3 million to increase the resilience of communities and ecosystems to floods, sea level rise, and drought. Another priority is funding for responsible development of oil and gas resources, including supporting stronger oversight for oil and gas development on the nation’s outer continental shelf.

All of the bureaus within DOI would receive increases: the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $1.2 billion, an increase of $150 million. Acting USGS director Suzette Kimball commented, “This budget request recognizes our unique capabilities with multi-disciplinary Earth science research and will allow the USGS to meet societal needs for our nation now and in the future.”

DOI increases also would be slated for the Fish and Wildlife Service ($1.58 billion, up $131 million), the National Park Service ($3.04 billion, up $433 million), and the Bureau of Land Management ($1.25 billion, up $108 million). The budget for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would tick up $1 million for a total of $74 million.

NOAA Line Offices Would See Rise in Funding

The proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is part of the Department of Commerce, calls for $5.98 billion, an increase from the FY 2015 enacted level of $5.45 billion. Within the total budget, NOAA’s operations, research, and facilities account would rise to $3.41 billion from $3.27 billion, and the procurement, acquisition, and construction account would move to $2.5 billion from $2.18 billion.

Specifically, within NOAA, the National Ocean Service would receive $574 million (up from $535.7 in the FY 2015 enacted budget). The National Marine Fisheries Service would be slated to receive $990.1 million (up from $958.2 million), oceanic and atmospheric research would rise to $507 million (from $446.3 million), the National Weather Service (NWS) would inch up to $1.099 billion from $1.087 billion, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service would move to $2.38 billion from $2.22 billion.

The budget document indicates that the budget makes targeted investments in four agency priorities: building community and economic resilience, evolving the NWS, improving observational infrastructure, and achieving organizational excellence. “In particular, this budget requests major initiatives to fortify the NOAA fleet via an Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) and to advance next-generation polar satellite technology via the Polar Follow On,” according to the budget.

In an introduction to the agency’s budget summary, NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan, who also serves as undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, stated, “The FY 2016 budget request will improve NOAA’s ability to provide people, communities, businesses, and governments with information they can understand and use to make smart decisions, assess risk, and minimize losses.”

More Funding for the Department of Energy

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) budget would increase to $29.92 billion, up from the FY 2015 enacted level of $27.4 billion. DOE’s science and energy programs would receive $10.63 billion, up from $9.23 billion. The science line item would increase to $5.34 billion (up from $5.07 billion), energy efficiency and renewable energy would increase to $2.72 billion from $1.91 billion, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would receive $325 million (up from $278 million).

The budget also includes funding for a number of proposed crosscutting initiatives, including $244 million for subsurface engineering to support a variety of energy sources and $38 million for an energy-water nexus activity.

A Boost to the Environmental Protection Agency

Under the president’s proposed budget, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would receive $8.59 billion ($452 million above the FY 2015 enacted level). Those funds would be divided among five goals.

The first goal, addressing climate change and improving air quality, would receive $1.11 billion, 13% of the budget total and an increase of $120.2 million above the FY 2015 enacted level. Of that amount, $239 million would support EPA’s efforts to address climate change.

Another agency goal, protecting America’s waters, would receive $4.05 billion, 47.2% of the total. The budget for that area would increase modestly by $70 million. However, the subgoal to protect human health by achieving and maintaining standards for drinking water and other resources would increase by $304.4 million, offset by a nearly equal cut to programs that protect and restore watersheds and aquatic ecosystems.

The three remaining goals include cleaning up communities and advancing sustainable development would receive $1.95 billion (22.7% of the total, an increase of $177.9 million), ensuring the safety of chemicals and promoting pollution prevention would get $668 million (7.8% of the total, an increase of $47.4 million), and protecting human health and the environment by enforcing laws to achieve compliance would see $804 million (9% of the total, a $66.2 million increase).

EPA acting deputy administrator Stan Meiburg said that the funding allows EPA “to further our important work to combat the impacts of climate change and deliver on the President’s Climate Action Plan while improving air quality, protecting our water, executing rigorous scientific research, and ensuring the public safety from toxic chemicals.”

More in-depth Eos coverage of the administration’s proposed budget for federal agencies will come over the next few weeks.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), White House Budget Calls for Increased Science Funding, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO023097. Published on 3 February 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0