[Image above] Credit: frankieleon, Flickr CC BY 2.0 

Many science agencies can expect to see their federal budget numbers return to levels not seen since the fiscal year 2013 sequestration in FY 2016, even adjusting for inflation, according to a recent report published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The sequestration and the spending caps under the Budget Control Act signed into law by President Obama in 2011 to bring an end U.S. debt-ceiling crisis meant science agencies lost billions in funding since FY 2012.

But thanks to a strong boost from the recent omnibus package provided by the October 2015 budget deal passed by Congress—a package that enables several increases in R&D appropriations—the FY 2016 numbers for many major R&D agencies look strong, AAAS reports.

The positive outlook, however, didn’t always look so strong.

“It’s worth remembering that at the start of this appropriations cycle, discretionary spending was scheduled to be virtually flat in FY 2016. It was much the same in the prior year, dealing with FY 2015 appropriations, and most agencies saw little if any gain,” AAAS reports.

Here’s how the FY 2016 numbers break down by agency following the omnibus package, according to AAAS:

Department of Energy (DOE) applied technology programs: This includes fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy research, energy efficiency, grid-related research, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Each individual program’s budget is now at least 8.6 percent above FY 2012 levels.

Department of Defense (DOD): Basic research funding for science and technology is at 8 percent above FY 2012 levels after the omnibus. However, funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) fell by 4.1 percent compared to FY 2012.

National Science Foundation (NSF): The NSF actually saw strong budget growth post-sequestration and has since leveled off following the omnibus package. “NSF funding may be a casualty of debates over social sciences and geosciences funding and the feud between the agency and the House Science Committee,” AAAS reports.


National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): President Obama requested $1.1 billion for NIST in FY 2016—$255.8 million above the FY 2015 level—to help fund advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, disaster resilience, and “smart cities,” according to a recent NIST news release.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH seeks $31.3 billion in FY 2016—up 3.3 percent from FY 2015—to support “innovative biomedical and behavioral research that advances medical science and improves health while stimulating economic growth,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.

Congress loosened its grip on discretionary funding for now, but budgets will tighten back up. President Obama unveils his 2017 budget request today to lay out spending priorities after he’s left office.

In the meantime, check out this excellent article about what the president’s last budget request means for science written by Science/AAAS‘s Jeffrey Mervis. A first look at the budget reveals a $152 billion request for all federal R&D spending, a 4% boost over 2016 levels, according to the Research and Development chapter in the budget’s Analytical Perspectives section, Mervis reports. 

“The media are already calling Obama’s last budget a doorstop, implying that congressional Republicans are planning to ignore it and craft their own spending measure,” writes Mervis.