President's Budget Proposal

On Thursday, March 16th, the Trump Administration introduced its initial budget proposal for FY2018, proposing a $54-billion hike in defense spending, while gutting domestic discretionary spending, including scientific programs. The budget landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, and elicited deep concerns from the scientific community. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) warned that "The Trump Administration's proposed budget would cripple the science and technology enterprise through short-sighted cuts to discovery science programs and critical mission agencies alike." Although ultimately Congress sets the federal budget, and much of this proposal stands little chance of being enacted as is, this budget outline provides a clear illustration of the Administration's priorities--and science is apparently not one of them.

This so-called "skinny budget" is an initial outline of the President's proposed budget, and a full proposal is expected in May. Consistent with President Trump's lack of interest in policy details and the general dysfunction of his administration, this budget outline is much "skinnier" on detail than most, despite arriving later than usual (see previous presidential budgets here). Notably, the document does not even mention the National Science Foundation (NSF), though it is presumably lumped together with the "Other Agencies" slated for a 10% decrease.

Here are some of the most significant proposed cuts to scientific programs:

  • 18% ($5.8 billion) cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The proposed budget would slash the NIH budget back to 2003 levels and possibly leave no funds available for new research grants in 2018--an incredibly chilling prospect for the US scientific enterprise. The proposal would also eliminate the Fogarty International Center, which promotes global health.
  • 31% ($2.6 billion) cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The proposed budget would have a crippling effect on the agency tasked with protecting the environment and the health of over 320 million Americans. In particular, the nation's premier environmental science research grant program, Science to Achieve Results (STAR), would be eliminated. STAR provides $50 million annually through a competitive process for research in air, water, ecosystems, health, climate change, sustainability, and safe chemicals, addressing practical environmental problems such as effective drought management and the links between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.
  • 6% ($1.7 billion) cut to the Department of Energy (DOE). The proposed budget would cut the Office of Science by 17% ($900 million), and would completely eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
  • 4% ($250 million) cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The proposal includes eliminating the $73-million Sea Grant program, which was established in 1966 and supports a range of activities, including monitoring weather satellites, regulating fisheries, and preparing for sea level rise due to global warming.
  • 1% ($200 million) cut to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The proposed budget includes a $102-million cut to NASA Earth science, including the elimination of four missions focused to some degree on studying climate change: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) experiment; the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder; and the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

Scientific Agencies Under Attack

On Monday, March 13th, the Trump Administration released an executive order on "a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch". Under this order, agency heads must submit a plan to reorganize their agencies within 180 days; then, after public comments, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must submit a plan to reorganize the executive branch, including the elimination of agencies, in whole or in part.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and other Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology continued their attacks on science, with several relevant developments occurring in recent weeks. On Thursday, March 9th, the committee passed two anti-science bills targeting the EPA, sending them on for full consideration by the House. The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act would prevent the EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating any guidance or regulation unless all of the underlying technical data is publicly available and reproducible--a standard that is crafted to sound reasonable but is designed to place an undue burden on scientists and EPA to slow down the regulatory process. The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act would forbid scientists who receive EPA grants from serving on its SAB, while allowing industry representatives to serve. "They're basically saying that people who are experts in environmental science, who have spent their careers working on this and may have received EPA grants to do their work, are inherently conflicted, whereas people who are working in the industry, who would be impacted by the board's advice, are not conflicted," Yogin Kothari of Union of Concerned Scientists told the told the New Republic.

The NSF also remains in Rep. Smith's sights. On March 9th, he held a hearing where he resurrected his "national interest" standard, which would require NSF to justify how each of its grants contributes to the "national interest". On March 10th, he sent a letter to the House Committee on the Budget laying out his plans to exert greater interference in the running of NSF, including that his committee "will require that NSF research funding be appropriated at the Directorate level with 70% of the research funding allocated to the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, the Biological Sciences Directorate and the Engineering Directorate." Notably absent from this list are the committee's less favored directorates: Education & Human Resources; Geosciences; and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.

Meanwhile, the House Science Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation continue to sit on the Scientific Integrity Act, introduced earlier in March and February, respectively. These bills would codify existing agency scientific integrity policies, which were created partly in response to Bush Administration manipulation of climate change data and other political interference in science, but without congressional intervention could be revoked by the Trump Administration.

Science & Technology Positions Remain Unfilled

A recent analysis by the The Washington Post found that the Trump Administration has only made a single nomination to fill any of the 46 key federal science and technology posts that require Senate confirmation. This is a worrying trend, given that so many of the key issues facing our nation involve scientific or technological components.

What You Can Do

  • Call your members of Congress and express concern over specific budget proposals by the Trump Administration. If possible, relay a story by email or letter, telling how you've been personally affected by these agencies. See the list above of cuts to science and technology programs.
  • Call your representatives and ask them to oppose the HONEST Act and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act (see discussion above). Both bills would undermine EPA's ability to conduct the science necessary to support sound, practical environmental protection. The HONEST Act would severely curtail the ability of the agency to produce science, and the SAB Reform Act would jeopardize the thorough and unbiased review of EPA science.
  • "Save the US EPA" has a helpful page that will locate your members of Congress. It also includes a list of members for key committees that affect the EPA. Their website includes scripts for calls and letters regarding the EPA.

Questions to Ask Your Member of Congress

  • What are your concerns about curtailing federal funding for scientific research? How will you ensure that funding available to continue supporting the development of new medical treatments, clean energy technology, and ensure that we have the data needed to monitor changes to our planet?
  • How will you stand up for EPA scientists and protect their ability to conduct sound science in support of the agency's mission, without unfounded interference?

Highlights from Partner Organizations

  • The March for Science is gaining traction. Over 100 groups have endorsed the march, set for April 22, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and professional associations across the natural, physical, and social sciences.
  • Join 500 Women Scientists in sending postcards to your EPA regional office this week to show support for the agency's mission of protecting human health and the environment. Post a picture of your postcard on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #OurEPA. Find addresses and more details here.

- Science & Technology Policy Working Group, RISE Stronger

Have comments or something to add? Contact the RISE Science & Technology Policy Working Group at [email protected]