Research funding in president’s budget — underwhelming

For most research agencies, slight funding increases don't exceed inflation.

President Obama released his $3.9 trillion fiscal year 2015 budget proposal on March 4. The Obama budget would build on the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) reached late last year between House and Senate Budget Committee chairs Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Under the deal, which largely replaces for two years the deep domestic and defense cuts known as sequestration, agency spending levels are set through September 2015. The new normal — absent a congressional agreement for new revenues, which seems unlikely in an election year — is flat. Flat funding is an improvement over cuts, but underwhelming nonetheless. 

  • The president's request includes $7.255 billion for the National Science Foundation, 1 percent above FY 2014.
  • NIH would receive $30.4 trillion, a $211 million increase that amounts to 0.7 percent.
  • VA Medical and Prosthetic Research would receive $589 million, a 0.5 percent increase over FY 14.
  • Department of Defense basic and applied research would be cut 5.5 percent below FY 14 levels.
  • The president's budget cuts support for CDC by 3.5 percent, funding the agency at $6.606 billion, about $243 million below the FY 2014 level.
  • One bright spot: the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, PCORI, would receive a 13.8 percent increase over FY 2014.

In his budget, President Obama acknowledges that the BBA deal provides insufficient spending for needed national investments. In response he proposes $56 billion in additional funding to agencies, offset by $28 billion in alternative spending cuts and tax hikes, in a package called the Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative (OSGI).

The OSGI, which includes $5 billion for research, would give NIH an extra $970 million, with which the agency would fund 650 additional research grants and put $50 million more into development of a universal influenza vaccine. Alzheimer's disease research and the BRAIN Initiative would also receive more funding. OSGI would boost NSF by $552 million in order to fund 1,000 additional grants. While the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate would support the OSGI, Republican caucuses prefer to hold the line on government spending, at least any government spending backed by revenue increases, so the OSGI is unlikely to be enacted.