On December 18, Congress passed a $1.5 billion omnibus spending bill that funds the government through September 1, 2016. The bill increases funding for science at several federal agencies, which was made possible by the budget deal in late October that provided relief to sequestration for the discretionary parts of the federal budget (this includes all research programs).
With the budget settled, agencies can now move forward conducting business and making grant awards with the knowledge of how much money they have for the year. The chart below shows information for several programs and agencies of interest to the biophysics community.
Federal Funding for Science Agencies (in millions)
FY 2015 Enacted Level
FY 2016 Enacted Level
|Difference between FY 15 and FY 16
||Percent change between FY 15 and FY 16
National Institutes of Health
National Science Foundation
Department of Energy Office of Science
NIST Science and Tech Laboratories
|Department of Defense Basic Research
|Veteran’s Affairs Medical and Prosthetic Research
And, here are a few notes:
- The $2 billion increase for NIH is the largest increase for the agency since 2003. This is a huge win for the biomedical community! Within that amount $200 million is designated for the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI); $936 million for Alzheimer’s disease research (which is a $350 million increase); $150 million for the BRAIN Initiative (an increase of $85 million); and $100 million to National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for antimicrobial resistance research.
- Within the NSF budget, “Research and Related Activities”receives a $100 million increase over FY 2015; this is the account that from which funding for research grants comes. The “Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction” line decreased $45 million from FY 2015.
- The language that appeared in a House appropriations bill for NSF earlier in the year and that would have decimated the Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBE) and the Geosciences Directorates was removed. Instead, included language states that SBE should be funded at no more than the FY 2015 level. The House Science Commitee and NSF have been in an elongated battle over how NSF selects grants. NSF must continue to certify that all awards are in “the national interest.”
With 2016 wrapped up, its time to start the process for funding the government for 2017. The Administration have been working on their proposals since the summer. The process should be made a bit easier by the budget deal that was struck in October; it created a top line number for both 2016 and 2017. The President will lay out his vision for his last year in office during the State of the Union on January 12. He typically sends his budget request to Congress the first week of February.
It’s Thanksgiving Week and Congress is in recess. Perhaps the last you heard about the federal budget for FY 2016 was that there was a bipartisan deal at the end of October. Sounded like a good outcome. That is true, but that deal didn’t actually provide funding for the coming year; it just increased the amount of money that could be spent. Congress has until December 11 to figure out how it is going to divide up those additional dollars and pass a bill to fund the government for the coming year. So why haven’t you heard much?
After the October budget deal, Congress began working behind closed doors on how to appropriate the additional dollars. The appropriations chairmen let their subcommittees know how much money they had to divide up among the programs for which they were responsible. These numbers were not made public. The subcommittees were supposed to send their proposals back to the Congressional leadership by November 20. It is rumored that the conversations have not only focused on dollar amounts for each programs, but also on what policy riders will be included in the final bill. Policy riders are directives that require certain actions or disallow certain actions by federal agencies. The Democrats prefer a spending bill without riders; Republicans are pushing to include riders that reflect their priorities. An example of a potential policy rider that affects scientists would be one that would require the National Science Foundation to certify that all funded grants represent research that is the national interest by making the U.S. more secure or improving the economy. (This rider was in a spending bill approved by the House earlier this year, and could end up part of the ominbus bill currently being worked on.)
The rumors are that Congress will release an omnibus bill funding all federal agencies and programs on December 1, at which time we will be able to see how the agencies we care about have fared. It is expected that the next ten days will be spent working out the riders and final numbers.
What has BPS been up to?
While the Hill has not been forthcoming with information during the past month, the Society has remained active in advocating for science funding in the final bill. When the budget deal was reached, the Society sent a thank you letter to the White House and Congressional Leaders. The Society has also sent communications to the Hill as a member of several coalitions in which it participates. Many of these groups are also working on FY 2017 funding; a letter as sent by a coalition of coalitions, in support of raising science funding 5.2% across the board in 2017.
What can you do?
BPS has also been encouraging members to get involved. A call for members to write to their Senators and Representative to thank them for the budget deal and advocate for science in FY 2016 went out to all U.S. members in early November. Thus far, 54 advocates have sent 166 letters. If you haven’t written yet you can do so here.
Enjoy the quiet of Thanksgiving Week and stay tuned for more budget news in early December!
The Biophysical Society today joined 252 other organizations as well as leaders of American business, industry, higher education, science, and engineering in an urgent call to action for stronger federal policies and investment to drive domestic research and development. “Innovation: An American Imperative,” calls on federal decision makers and legislators to step up their support of policies that support science research and development. The Call underscores the findings—and warnings—contained in The American Academy of Arts & Sciences report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream.
According to Restoring the Foundation, “There is a deficit between what America is investing and what it should be investing to remain competitive, not only in research but in innovation and job creation.” The United States is failing to keep pace with competitor nations with regard to investments in basic research and development. America’s ascendency in the 20th century was due in large part—if not primarily—to its investments in science and engineering research. Basic research is behind every new product brought to market, every new medical device or drug, every new defense and space technology and many innovative business practices.
Over the last two decades, a steady decline in investment in research & development (R&D) in the United States has allowed our nation to fall to 10th place in R&D investment among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD) nations as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).
At this pace, China will surpass the United States in R&D intensity in about eight years.
These developments led a diverse coalition of those concerned with the future of research in America to join together in presenting the Innovation Imperative to federal policy makers and urging them to take action to:
- End sequestration’s deep cuts to federal investments in R&D
- Make permanent a strengthened federal R&D tax credit
- Improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM)
- Reform U.S. visa policy
- Streamline or eliminate costly and inefficient regulations
- Reaffirm merit-based peer review
- Stimulate further improvements in advanced manufacturing
Details on these action items, as well as a full list of signatories, are included in the full document.
As scientists, BPS members know about all the great reasons to fund basic research: it is the bedrock of our future cures, economic growth, and a better quality of living. Unfortunately, many members of the public do not realize this and wonder why public agencies should be spending money for researchers to ‘tinker’ in the lab.
The Society is constantly working on ways to communicate the value of science to the public (and Congress). Today we are asking for your help. Print the FundScience sign, fill in why you support funding for science, and snap a photo with your sign. Share it via social media with the hashtags #FUNDSCIENCE and #BPS15.
If you are at the BPS Annual Meeting, you can find instructions and supplies to make your sign in the Charles Street Lobby near the Society Booth.
We look forward to learning about your great reason to #FUNDSCIENCE!
Although it was a bit touch and go, Congress managed to approve a budget for the rest of Fiscal Year 2015 for all federal agencies except the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (DHS is funded through February, giving Republican’s opposed to President Obama’s executive action on immigration time to figure out ways to respond through the appropriations process.) While there are no major increases for science funding, for the most part, science also did not take too many hits. The final spending bill–which was over 1600 pages!– stuck to the spending caps agreed upon by the House and Senate a year ago, with some supplemental funding for disaster relief and the Ebola response provided in addition. Here’s breakdown for a few of the agencies most pertinent to biophysics research:
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The NIH is will receive $30.311 billion, with most institutes receiving a 0.3% increase over 2014 funding levels. Some additional funds are being targeted for cancer research, Alzheimer’s research, and the Brain Initiative. NIH will also receive $238 million for research related to Ebola from the supplemental funds. NIGMS was allocated $.372 billion a 0.5% increase over 2014 funding.
- National Science Foundation (NSF)
After a year of scrutiny from the House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and threats to eliminate funding for social science research, the NSF received a 2.4% boost in funding to $7.344 billion with no directives on how to spend it. While it is likely the negotiations between Chairman Smith and the NSF over NSF’s peer review process, the grants it funds, and the information it makes publicly available, the bill is a nice reprieve from that process in that it continues to allow scientists to determine what projects should be funded.
- Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science
The Department of Energy Office of Science will receive $5.071 billion, the same amount the Office received in 2014.
The agencies will be updating their operating plans for 2015 over the next few weeks now that they know their budgets for the year, and the Society will share that information with you in a future blog post. The agencies also will now be able to move ahead with any new programs they planned to undertake in 2015.