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January 11th, 2012

Final FY12 budget reveals happy new year for federally supported R&D

Published on January 11th, 2012 | By: Eileen De Guire

In December, President Obama signed the 2012 budget bill, breathing life into the federal fiscal year before the continuing resolution flowed into the new calendar year. Credit: adapted from the Congressional Budget Office.

Previously, we reported that indicators were looking positive for federal R&D funding based on the “minibus” approvals Congress made in November, which covered NSF, NIST, NASA and OSTP. The agencies — the so-called innovation agencies — all saw budget increases, even if only modest. (The OSTP budget was cut severely, however OSTP is a White House office and not charged with funding research.) Now that the full budget is approved, the science R&D community has cause to be pretty happy about the outcome. Overall, most funding agencies saw increases, or at least flat budgets.

The AAAS R&D Budget and Policy program has analyzed the final budget in detail, breaking it out into manageable pieces. According to an AAAS press release, total R&D spending for FY12 is down about 1.3% ($1.9 billion) from 2011, but most of the reduction was in defense. The AAAS analysis showed that defense R&D spending is down 3.2%, while non-defense R&D is up 0.5%.

In the release, Matt Hourihan, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy program, says, “It’s no doubt a tough fiscal environment, but the fact that we actually see some fairly sizeable increases in certain research areas suggests persistent support for science and innovation even now.”

In the DOD arena, the message was mixed. R&D budgets for operational systems development and classified programs were slashed 3.8% ($1.15 billion) and 7.6% ($1.33 billion), respectively, but basic science R&D (“6.1”) increased by 8.7% and applied research (“6.2”) increased 5.6%. This is welcome news for the DOD labs and their contractors, but where will that research go without operational systems research?

DOE R&D funding increased 8% overall, including an encouraging bump for ARPA-E to $275 million from $180 million in FY11. According to an article in Science (Dec. 23, 2011), legislators are impressed with ARPA-E’s approach to project reviews and have asked DOE to look into applying it more broadly.

The massive NIH $30.6 billion budget remained essentially flat with a 0.8% increase. That’s an increase of $241 million, almost the entire ARPA-E appropriation for 2012. For comparison, the FY12 budgets for NSF and the DOE Office of Science are about $7 billion and $5 billion, respectively.

The cross-agency support by Congress for R&D is a good sign, too, for the Materials Genome Initiative project. Last summer’s white paper (pdf) introducing the MGI included a request from the administration for $100 million. Because, the MGI is intentionally decentralized and managed for organic growth, there are no budget line items to point to. However, qualitatively, it looks like the agencies that have a natural role to play in the MGI — NSF, DOE and NIST — have received enough funding to advance MGI objectives.


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