Trump budget delivers a seismic shock to science

How bad is it – and how likely are the proposed cuts to be enacted?

Although the American Psychological Association (APA) and our sister scientific associations had expected budget cuts, it was a shock to see the “skinny budget” proposal in black and white: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), strongly supported by members of Congress from both parties and only months ago the recipient of extra money via the 21st Century Cures bill, cut by 18% or nearly $6 billion in one fiscal year.

In addition to the proposed cut, the budget language ominously foreshadows attention to NIH’s scientific priorities:  “The Budget includes a major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities, including: eliminating the Fogarty International Center; consolidating the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within NIH; and other consolidations and structural changes across NIH organizations and activities. The Budget also reduces administrative costs and rebalances Federal contributions to research funding.”  This attention from Congress and the Office of Management and Budget is unlikely to be positive.

As bad as the NIH news is, other scientific agencies fared as badly or worse. Here’s a sampling:

  • Environmental Protection Agency — Funding for the agency would be reduced by 31%, with 50 programs eliminated and 3,200 jobs cut. International climate change programs would be stopped and the Office of Research and Development would be cut by 50%.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — Funding would be cut by 26%, mostly in research on climate change.  The Commerce Department agency would lose $250 million from coastal research programs focused on climate change; its Sea Grant program ($73 million) providing grants to 33 states would be eliminated.
  • Department of Energy — $900 million would be cut from the Office for Science, nearly 20% of its $5 billion budget, even as some department programs receive increases.

These aren’t programs that APA normally tracks because they tend not to fund behavioral and social science research, but APA encourages federal agencies to support strong science programs so that federal policies can be based on good data. When the federal government cuts back its investment in science, it isn’t only scientists who should be worried.

Is there any good news for science in this budget? The answer is – possibly. It isn’t clear whether any of the proposed budget increases would benefit science programs in the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would receive only a one percent cut (to the Office of Education and earth science programs).

The budget doesn’t specify how some important science agencies would fare. There were no details about the National Science Foundation or the Office of Justice Programs which funds research at the Department of Justice.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be reorganized and the depth of proposed cuts to specific programs there is unknown.

How likely are these cuts to be enacted? Well, how likely was this entire scenario? Washington conventional wisdom isn’t so prescient these days. If past is prologue, enactment of the president’s budget in total is very unlikely. A strike against this budget is that it technically violates the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established hard spending caps for defense and non-defense programs. The Trump budget breaks—pulverizes—the defense spending cap with its $54 billion increase.  However, the administration and its congressional allies will keep looking for ways to pay for a big increase in defense and homeland security even if this budget is not the vehicle. There may not be much appetite in Congress for cuts to NIH, but a $32 billion agency takes up a lot of room on the non-defense discretionary side of the budget—better to be cautious.

APA and its members must prepare to fight these cuts and to speak out, starting now. We and sister organizations are circulating action alerts, including sample messages to email your members of Congress. Take a minute and take action.

Last thought – if any of this makes you want to lace up and March for Science, APA is now a sponsor! Check out our APA Marches for Science webpage. We are pulling together useful resources and opportunities for you to get involved.There will be more information coming out from APA very soon. Follow @apascience on Twitter for the latest updates!