Science Policy & Funding News

White House Budget Plan Presents a Mixed Picture for Science

The administration’s blueprint, now with Congress, would spare some geoscience agencies because of a budget deal reached with Congress last week, but EPA, NOAA, and USGS would be hit hard.


The Trump administration’s proposed $4.4 trillion federal budget blueprint for fiscal year (FY) 2019 released on Monday will slash funding for some federal science agencies. It will also reduce or eliminate funding for a variety of science programs, including some related to climate change and renewable energy. However, the blueprint will spare other science agencies because of a bipartisan budget deal Congress and the administration reached last week for FY 2018 and 2019 that provides more money for both nondefense funding—including science funding—and defense funding.

If Congress approves the administration’s new budget proposal untouched, which is unlikely, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) each would take budget hits of more than 19% compared with the FY 2017 omnibus bill (see Table 1). That legislation was the most recent comprehensive spending bill passed by Congress.

Table 1. Proposed Federal Budget for Selected Earth and Space Science Agencies and Departments for FY 2019a
FY 2017 Omnibusb FY 2019 President’s Budget Request (PBR)b Change FY 2019 PBR Versus FY 2017b Percentage Change FY 2019 PBR Versus FY 2017
NOAA 5,675 4,561 −1,114 −19.6
NASA 19,653 19,892 239 1.2
NSF 7,472 7,472 0 0.0
EPA 8,058 6,124 −1,934 −24.0
USGS 1,085 860 −225 −20.8
DOE Office of Science 5,392 5,413 21 0.4
DOE ARPA-Ec 306 0 −306 −100.0

aSources: Budget of the U.S. Government: An American Budget, Fiscal Year 2019; American Geophysical Union Public Affairs Department analysis.
bIn millions of U.S. dollars, rounded to the nearest million.
cARPA-E = Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy.

Under the administration’s proposal, NASA’s budget would rise 1.22%, with a 20.1% increase for planetary science but a 7.1% drop for Earth science. Funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science would  barely nudge upward 0.39% from $5,392 billion to $5,413 billion. However, funding for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would dive 66.7%, from $2.09 billion to $696 million.

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) funding in FY 2019 would hold steady with what Congress enacted for FY 2017, or $7.4 billion, “and will reflect Administration priorities,” NSF spokesperson Aya Collins told Eos. “Additional details are forthcoming this week, but we are pleased that this level of funding will be able to support basic research across all fields of science and engineering that benefits the Nation and allows us to invest in various priority areas.”

Some Democratic lawmakers said the budget was dead on arrival (DOA) to Congress. “It’s impossible to reconcile this dead-on-arrival budget with the bipartisan funding bill Trump just touted last week,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney dismissed the claims that the budget proposal was DOA at a budget briefing Monday, saying that the president’s proposal “is a messaging document. The executive budget has always been a messaging document.”

Eleventh-Hour Course Change

“Several geoscience agencies fare better than expected in the Administration’s FY 19 budget request, largely due to increased spending levels provided by last week’s budget deal,” Kasey White, director for geoscience policy for the Geological Society of America, told Eos. She said that although most geoscience programs show up with large cuts in agency budget documents, an addendum to the budget request would mitigate those proposed decreases at NSF, NASA, and DOE. According to budget documents, NSF, for instance, would have been cut $2.2 billion, 29.5%, without the budget addendum. See Figure 1 for how the proposed funding compares (in percentage) to the FY 2017 omnibus bill.

Percentage change in NSF funding under proposed FY18 and FY19 compared with actual FY17 funding.
Fig. 1. Percentage change in funding of administrative divisions of the National Science Foundation under the Trump administration’s proposed FY 2018 (purple) and FY 2019 (gold) federal budgets compared with actual funding enacted under the FY 2017 omnibus spending bill.

“The administration was going to, again, leave a major hole in the basic research budget until circumstances intervened,” Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told Eos. “The administration deserves some credit for changing their mind and attempting to preserve basic science, even if it took a major spending deal and an 11th hour course change to do it.”

EPA Would Get Hammered

EPA’s science and technology budget would drop 40.6% from $713.82 million down to $424 million, whereas its $2.62 billion environmental programs and management budget would be cut to $1.69 billion.

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement that the administration’s budget proposal “is a blueprint for a less healthy, more polluted America. A budget shows your values—and this budget shows the administration doesn’t value clean air, clean water, or protecting Americans from toxic pollution.”

EPA “is grossly underfunded and understaffed. At this rate, the Trump Administration cannot guarantee clean air, land or water for anyone in the United States, except the rich,” John O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents about 9,000 EPA employees, told Eos. “There will be fewer U.S. EPA employees assisting the states, tribal authorities, and municipalities, and there will be less science, fewer facts, and more pollution.”

Problems for NOAA and USGS

Allyson Anderson Book, executive director of the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), told Eos that AGI is pleased that the addendum to the administration’s budget proposal would result in essentially flat funding for NSF and for DOE’s Office of Science rather than reductions. However, she added that AGI is “very concerned about the initial decision to cut these programs.” In addition, she said that “drastic reductions proposed to the majority of functions within USGS are deeply troubling.”

Book also raised alarms about proposed cuts at NOAA. Those include zeroing out of the National Sea Grant College Program, coastal management grants, the NOAA Office of Education, and many climate, weather, and air research programs. However, Joel Widder, cofounder and partner of Federal Science Partners, a government relations consulting firm based in Washington, D. C., told Eos that NOAA’s budget is a classic Washington budget because it proposes cuts to popular programs that the agency hopes influential constituencies and congressional champions will restore.

Figure 2 shows how funding for NOAA divisions fares in the Trump administration’s FY 2018 and FY 2019 budget proposals compared to the FY 2017 omnibus bill in terms of percentage change from 2017.

Percentage change in NOAA funding under proposed FY18 and FY19 compared with actual FY17 funding.
Fig. 2. Percentage change in funding of divisions, offices, and services of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under President Trump’s proposed FY 2018 (purple) and FY 2019 (gold) federal budgets compared with actual funding enacted under the FY 2017 omnibus spending bill.

Scientific Leadership

Tony Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), noted in a statement that although Congress agreed last week to increase spending levels, the administration’s budget proposal contains significantly lower spending levels in some areas. “While it is not yet clear what the government’s investment in science will be, UCAR’s message will not change. We believe it is essential that cuts do not occur in important research areas that could put U.S. scientific leadership at risk.”

Widder said the administration’s budget proposal is OK in some regards because it would bring select science agencies back to their FY 2017 funding levels. However, he questioned whether the blueprint is good enough. “You look at what science indicators has been telling us for the last two or three weeks that it has been on the street,” he said, referring to the National Science Board’s 18 January Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report that examined U.S. and global research and development (R&D). “Our international competitors are closer and closer to catching up to us in a variety of different parameters. Investing at such a rate that gets us level with 2017 doesn’t sound like the thing you ought to be doing if China and India and Korea are nipping at your heels in terms of leadership for R&D.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Christine McEntee, CEO and executive director of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the publisher of Eos, writes in AGU’s From the Prow blog that the Trump administration’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget “would damage the scientific enterprise and the nation.”

Please check Eos later this week and in the coming weeks and months for further coverage of the federal budget.

Citation: Showstack, R. (2018), White House budget plan presents a mixed picture for science, Eos, 99, Published on 14 February 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.