Trends in federal research and development budgets. Credit: OSTP.

Last Monday, President Obama delivered his FY’13 budget proposal to Congress, and today, OSTP chief John Holdren is appearing before the House’s Committee on Science, Space and Technology to offer comments about the civilian science and technology pieces of the proposed budget.

The OSTP has posted a summary (pdf) of the R&D requests in the budget. In a concurrent press release (pdf), the OSTP outlines seven administration goals for “building and fueling America’s engines of discovery”: to expand the frontiers of human knowledge, promote economic growth with a focus on manufacturing, cultivate domestic clean energy, improve healthcare outcomes, address global climate change, manage environmental resources and strengthen national security.

The FY’13 budget requests $140.8 billion for federally supported R&D, which represents an increase of 1.4 percent ($2.0 billion) over the FY’12 enacted level. In today’s testimony (pdf), Holdren says the proposed budget is “designed to ensure that America will continue, in the President’s words, to ‘out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world’.”

Three agencies have been identified as critical to fulfilling the nation’s mission to maintain and advance its economic position: the NSF, DOE and NIST. (Holdren describes them as “jewel-in-the-crown” agencies — an ironic description for agencies that are tasked with driving the economy of a country founded on militant rejection of all things regal, but I digress.) Holdren’s testimony notes that the administration has been working to continue efforts begun under the Bush administration (as part of the America COMPETES Act) to gradually double the budgets (pdf) of these three agencies. The Budget Control Act of 2011 will slow, but not halt, that priority.

Culling through the R&D summary posted on OSTP’s website, provides a glimpse of how things may shake out for the materials science community based on the proposed R&D budgets for agencies that fund the largest chunks of materials science research:

National Science Foundation — $7.4 billion, an increase of 4.8 percent over 2012 enacted levels.

Department of Defense — $71.2 billion for R&D, a $1.5 billion decrease from 2012. The funding request includes $11.9 billion for early-stage science and technology programs, $2.8 billion for DARPA and maintains basic research (6.1) at $2.1 billiion.

NASA — $9.6 billion for R&D on an overall budget on $17.7 biliion, a 2.2 percent ($203 million) bump for R&D, but probably not enough to bring NASA technology up to levels recently recommended by the National Research Council.

DOE — $11.9 billion, an 8.0 percent ($884 million) increase in R&D over 2012 enacted levels. ARPA-E is written in for $350 million, and the DOE budget targets $290 million specifically “to expand activities on innovative manufacturing processes and advanced materials.”

NIST — $708 million for NIST’s intramural labs, a tidy 13.8 percent over 2012 enacted levels, reflecting the administration’s efforts to double its budget. The agency is home to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership ($128 million request) and the new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program ($21 million request).

Department of Homeland Security — $729 million, up 26.3 percent from enacted 2012. The huge increase is to restore cuts imposed in 2012. DHS efforts touch the materials community through R&D on nuclear materials, explosives detection and chemical/biological response systems.

Department of Education — $398 million. This R&D funding addresses the president’s goal of training 100,000 STEM teachers in the next decade and developing educational strategies.

The R&D budget includes budgets for three multi-agency initiatives, including the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NNI member agencies “focus on R&D of materials, devices and systems that exploit the unique … properties that emerge in materials at the nanoscale.” The requested budget is for $1.8 billion, an increase of $70 million over the 2012 enacted budget.

Finally, the contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is getting some attention in the budget with collaborative funding streams through DOE, EPA and the Department of the Interior to “understand and minimize the potential environmental, health, and safety impacts of natural gas and oil production.” That’s a broad-ranging mission statement, but materials science has a role to play, for example, with engineered proppants.

For play-by-play commentary, stay tuned to the AAAS website, “R&D Budget and Policy Program.” They do a good job tracking developments and slicing out the parts that are relevant to the science and technology communities. Since 1976, AAAS has issued a comprehensive analysis of the federal R&D budget. Last year it was available in May, so look for a similar report about FY’13 in a few months. The OSTP website, of course, stays abreast of budget developments.