Today’s White House outline for a “skinny budget” covering $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending aims a sharp blow at federally funded research on topics ranging from agriculture to zoonotic diseases – and is prompting sharp responses from researchers as a result.
Among those hardest hit would be the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. The EPA would be in for a 31 percent overall cutback, and research into climate would be eliminated. NIH’s $31.7 billion budget would be reduced by 18 percent.
Spending for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science would be reduced by nearly 20 percent. The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA-E, which is funding fusion research at Helion Energy in Redmond, Wash., would be completely eliminated.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program, which funds marine research and outreach at the University of Washington, would face the same grim fate.
The “America First” budget blueprint released by the Office of Management and Budget calls for reductions across a wide spectrum of agencies in order to balance big increases for defense and border enforcement, including a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
The plan doesn’t address mandatory spending, which accounts for the bulk of the $4 trillion federal budget, and it has lots of blank spots that need to be filled in by mid-May. In the realm of research, the outline doesn’t address agency-wide spending for NOAA or the National Science Foundation.
Even when those blanks are filled in, President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal is likely to face drastic rewrites as it moves through Congress. “This is not a take-it-or-leave-it budget,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters.
Some cuts in research funding are likely to be restored – and members of the Seattle area’s scientific community were quick to raise an outcry. Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, weighed in even though his funding comes from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen rather than the federal government.
“I’m very thankful that we are not affected by the budget … but I’m very concerned about the impact on my colleagues in academia,” Etzioni told GeekWire in an email. “Moreover, the Trump administration’s policies on immigration and budget undercut key foundations of American scientific success. It is the opposite of ‘Make America Great Again.'”
University of Washington’s president, Ana Mari Cauce, said in a statement that the proposed budget blueprint marks “a major step backward for American scientific research and innovation, and reduces opportunities for millions of deserving young people.”
She said she’d work with Washington’s congressional delegation “to advocate for policies that keep America the global leader in innovation and opportunity.”
Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the proposed cuts would “ultimately make America, and the world, less prosperous and less safe”:
US investments in health & development have created healthier, more stable societies at home & abroad. It's critical they remain a priority. pic.twitter.com/cX4F9YDwcO
— Sue Desmond-Hellmann (@SueDHellmann) March 16, 2017
Gary Gilliland, president of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, noted that federal revenue accounts for about 85 percent of the center’s total sponsored funding.
“We are at an inflection point in our efforts to develop cures for cancer and related diseases,” he said in a statement. “In that context, the proposed cuts are indefensible and would severely impede our progress. Patient lives are at stake.”
On a different front, NASA’s total budget would be trimmed by less than 1 percent, to $19 billion for fiscal 2018. However, the White House plan calls for scrapping four climate science missions as well as the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was a big part of the Obama administration’s space vision.
NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, acknowledged in a statement that the agency would not pursue the asteroid mission, which would have involved bringing back a piece of an asteroid for study in lunar orbit in the mid-2020s.
Asteroid exploration is a big deal for Redmond-based Planetary Resources, which plans to start mining near-Earth asteroids sometime in the next decade. The company’s president and CEO, Chris Lewicki, said in a statement emailed to GeekWire that he considered NASA a valuable partner even if the Asteroid Redirect Mission is no longer in the picture:
“Regardless of the status of the ARM mission, NASA’s core charter is to explore space. We expect NASA to replace ARM with a new exploration program leveraging both robotic and human endeavors, and hope they are aimed towards enabling a permanent human presence in space through public-private partnerships and cost-effective ways for advancing science. NASA is now one of many of groups exploring the solar system, and as humanity explores farther and longer into space, the resources provided by Planetary Resources will be required. Our mission remains unchanged.”
Here’s a sampling of other reactions registered on Twitter:
— philliplarson (@philliplarson) March 16, 2017
— AAAS (@aaas) March 16, 2017
— ASBMB (@ASBMB) March 16, 2017
We need to strengthen our country through strategic investments in education, research, clean energy & infrastructure, not reckless cuts.
— Rep. Suzan DelBene (@RepDelBene) March 16, 2017
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) March 16, 2017