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December 19th, 2011

Federal budget 2012—Congress starts committing to R&D funding

Published on December 19th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

Congress has finalized the first three of twelve parts of the FY’12 federal budget. So far, things look relatively promising for STEM R&D. Credit: Congressional Budget Office.

In November Congress approved three parts of President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget request for FY 2012, which began Oct. 1, 2011.

Why only three? To make the budget job more manageable, the budget is divided into 12 chunks, which the Congress considers in no particular order. A story (see article summary) in Science by Jeffrey Mervis (Nov. 25, “First Spending Bill Giveth—And Taketh Away”) breaks down what the approved-to-date budget means for the STEM R&D community.

The overall $3.5 trillion request included $148 billion for federal support of R&D, but that is spread across about two dozen federal entities. November’s three “minibus” appropriations funded the departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing, as well as the independent agencies NSF, NASA and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

While the behemoth budgets for DOE and DOD have yet to be worked on, these first three approvals bode well (enough) for the materials science R&D community. The budgets of NIST (a Commerce agency), NASA and NSF all saw increases over FY 2011. NIST’s research programs received a nice 12% increase (from $507 M to $567 M), while NSF got only a 2.5% bump (from $6.86 B to $7.03 B, but that’s enough to fund more than a few research programs).

In a surprising outcome, the OSTP, which had a puny $6.6 M FY’11 budget, took a 32% hit and received only $4.5 M for FY’12. According to Mervis’ story, this seems to be a tit-for-tat move on the part of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), who has been squabbling with OSTP over the Obama Administration’s interactions with China regarding high-technology sectors, including space.

Mervis quotes Charles Vest, president of the US National Academy of Engineering, “OSTP sits at the center of the federal government’s thinking and planning for science and technology that are at the absolute heart of what our nation has to do to remain competitive and to lead in the 21st century.”

What it means for OSTP and its 90 employees is unclear. In the article, OSTP’s director, John Holdren, says the smaller budget “will mean a lot of belt tightening and, inevitably, some reduction in the range of domains in which OSTP maintains a major presence.”

Since they were unveiled last summer, OSTP has been the leading voice for new White House initiatives that are of keen interest to the materials science and engineering community—the Materials Genome Initiative and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.

Cyrus Wadia, OSTP assistant director for clean energy and materials R&D, said in an email, “We do not foresee the budget cut having an impact on the MGI.” He may be right. Both the MGI and the AMP were envisioned as multi-agency, decentralized efforts, which should work to OSTP’s advantage as it adjusts to doing its job with a whole lot less.

 


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