Given the economy, federal research agencies seemed pleased that the Obama administration plans on giving to science. The president’s budget for fiscal 2011, released February 1, proposes $147.7 billion for federal research and development. Of that, nondefense-related funding would be $66 billion, a 5.9 percent increase over 2010 levels. Some programs, such as the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility and NASA’s Constellation program, met an early death. Most agencies saw modest increases.
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“Given that there’s an overall freeze, you had to hope that the president was going to be true to his promise to use a scalpel rather than a hatchet,” comments Albert Teich, director of science and policy programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. “That seems to be the case. Within the budget, science seems to be treated pretty well.”
Proposed Department of Energy initiatives include more than $108 million to expand research into renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power. (The non-R&D portion of the budget proposes eliminating fossil fuel subsidies). About $174 million would fund research intended to improve the reliability, efficiency and security — including cybersecurity — of the nation’s electrical transmission and distribution networks.
The FY 2011 budget request also includes $197 million to develop nuclear waste disposal alternatives while simultaneously shutting down the long-controversial effort to store nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain facility in southwestern Nevada.
“The [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has stipulated that the waste in dry-cask storage will be safe for a half century,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu noted at an afternoon press conference. “That means there’s time to take a deep breath … and to really look at this dispassionately and plot the best path forward.”
The National Institutes of Health, which receives the lion’s share of research and development money budgeted for the Department of Health and Human Services, will see an increase from $31 billion in FY 2010 to about $32 billion — an increase of 3.2 percent (not adjusted for inflation).
NIH will also continue to feel the glow of an extra $10 billion it received over fiscal years 2009 and 2010 as part of the Recovery Act. Some of that money is spread out in multiyear projects, says HSS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “so it doesn’t all end at the end of 2010.”
Funds from the Recovery Act will probably also trickle into other agencies, which may stagger grants so the money is spread out over a longer period, presidential science adviser John Holdren, said at a February 1 briefing. Recovery Act funding is not included in the proposed 2011 budget.
NASA’s budget will increase by $6 billion over the next five years under the proposed plan, a move that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called “an extraordinary show of support in these tough budgetary times.”
The budget plan earmarks $183 million to extend the lifetime of the International Space Station past its previously planned retirement date of 2016, and $600 million to complete the final five space shuttle flights. The plan also allots $3.2 billion for scientific research, including research grants, telescopes and missions to study the moon and Mars.
The biggest shake-up was the cancellation of the Constellation program, which was supposed to return American astronauts to the moon using existing technology by 2020 and has already cost $9 billion over the past four years. An independent panel commissioned by President Obama and chaired by Norman Augustine, retired chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp., found that the program was behind schedule and underfunded.
NASA will instead focus on developing new “game-changing” technologies to take humans beyond low-Earth orbit by increasing cooperation with and reliance on commercial space companies, said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, a move that will “unleash the economic potential of space.”
Science adviser Holdren said, “Simply put, we’re putting the science back into rocket science at NASA.”
Reactions from the scientific community have been of “cautious optimism,” said Jim Bell of Cornell University, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rovers’ Pancam instrument and president of The Planetary Society.
The proposed budget would expand the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s spending on programs addressing climate change and promoting clean energy. For instance, some $4 million would be added to fund the implementation of a new greenhouse gas–reporting rule. Another $43 million increase would go for new regulatory initiatives to control greenhouse gas emissions. This would include $25 million earmarked to aid states in regulating those emissions and $6 million to develop new performance standards for low carbon-emitting cars.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted that the largest increase in her agency’s research budget would bump up spending on Science to Achieve Results, also known as STAR research grants, to $87 million, an increase of more than 40 percent. The EPA is also slated to receive $26 million to study hormone-mimicking pollutants and what Jackson describes as “other emerging contaminants of concern,” which is $6 million more than in the 2010 budget.
The National Science Foundation budget would increase by some 8 percent in 2011 under the proposed budget, bringing NSF’s total funding to $7.4 billion. In addition to spending on basic research, NSF’s budget supports science education and training programs.
Of NSF’s funding, $369.9 million is allotted to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a multi-agency effort to monitor climate variability and move towards a green economy. The budgets of NASA, the EPA and several other agencies also include funds designated to this program, for a total of $2.56 billion.
NSF Director Arden Bement, Jr. says the 2011 budget “is designed very deliberately to keep the agency’s place at the forefront of science and engineering.”
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency within the Department of Commerce, would see a 7.3 percent increase in funding, bringing it to a total funding level of $918.9 million.
Half of NIST’s laboratory budget increase is going into competitive manufacturing and construction for a clean energy economy. The focus on green manufacturing is in part because of its enormous job creation potential, says NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.
The budget also proposes $5.6 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also part of the Department of Commerce. This would include $54 million for a national catch share program that aims to develop well-managed fisheries and $12.7 million for aquaculture. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco noted that 84 percent of U.S. seafood is imported and about half of that comes from aquaculture. The budget designates $7.1 million for the Chesapeake Bay monitoring and restoration program.
The 2011 fiscal year starts October 1, 2010. Before then, Congress will have to decide which parts of the budget it will approve.
“The administration’s taken a pretty positive approach towards science and technology,” notes Teich. “We have to hope that Congress does the same thing.”