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President Donald Trump is calling for significant cuts in science spending. (Flickr / Gage Skidmore)

President Donald Trump sent his budget request for the next fiscal year to Congress today, giving the science community a glimpse of what may be to come – and many don’t like what they see.

The budget proposal cuts funding for most research and development programs in favor of defense and homeland security spending. The National Institute of Health’s budget would be reduced 22 percent, from $34.6 billion to $25.9 billion. The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency would drop 31 percent, from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion, and reduce the agency’s employee count by 3,200.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science estimates that total research funding would be cut by 16.8 percent, or $12.6 billion, in the 2018 fiscal year. “No administration appears to have proposed cuts to research this large in over 40 years,” the AAAS said in its analysis.


The general outlines of the reductions have been known since March, when Trump released his “skinny” budget blueprint, but the request released today fills in more of the details.

Some in the science community raised concerns about attracting and training new talent for the nation’s workforce. Rush Holt, the AAAS’ CEO and a former member of Congress, is worried the cuts could slow technological advancements and have adverse effects on the economy.

“Slashing funding of critically important federal agencies threatens our nation’s ability to advance cures for disease, develop new energy technologies, improve public health, train the next generation of scientists and engineers and grow the American economy,” Holt said in a statement from the AAAS.

Even some Republicans voiced disapproval of the cuts.

Representative Tom Cole, R-Okla., who oversees NIH’s budget, feared that research grant cuts could “potentially discourage promising young scientists” from researching advancements in biomedicine.

In a tweet, Peter deMenocal‏, dean of science at Columbia University, called the budget “anti-science.” He drew a graphic contrast between the decline in R&D funding and the rise in global temperatures, which has been attributed to a climate trend that Trump has called a “hoax”:

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., spoke out against Trump’s cuts to the EPA and other organizations – saying that they show a “lack of understanding” of issues that are important to Western states, such as water and salmon conservation.

“This budget shows a callous disregard for the problems that keep Washingtonians up at night,” she said.

Four of NASA’s Earth science missions would be terminated, and Earth science research grants would be reduced, but funding would be continued for deep-space missions such as the 2020 Mars rover and a flyby of the icy Jovian moon Europa.

During his State of NASA address, acting administrator Robert Lightfoot spoke about the proposed $19.1 billion in spending, saying that his agency now has “flesh on the bones” of a once-skinny budget.

He said while NASA researchers can’t do everything they had hoped to do under Trump’s budget plan, they can “certainly do a lot,” all while supporting national priorities.

Lightfoot voiced concern about future generations of researchers and noted that NASA will eliminate the Office of Education, which gave many research grants, internships and camps to students.

However, Lightfoot said, “NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through its missions and the many ways that our work excites and encourages discovery by learners and educators.”

Keith Cowing, the editor of the independent NASA Watch website, criticized the plan to eliminate the education office. “Somehow we are supposed to think that doing less education stuff can actually result in more inspiring of the next generation,” he wrote in a blog posting.

Although today’s White House proposal is a major step in the budget process, it’s up to Congress to approve the official spending plan – and Trump’s proposal is likely to undergo significant tweaking in the months ahead.

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