In this week's C&EN (article by Britt E. Erickson):
Scientific research in the US faces an uphill battle for new funding under an agreement reached between President Joe Biden and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the speaker of the House of Representatives, to raise the US debt limit. The deal prevents the US government from defaulting on its loans until Jan. 1, 2025, but it dampens prospects that federal agencies will get increases in the next 2 years to support science and technology initiatives.
The House voted in favor of the deal on May 31, sending the legislation to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before the June 5 deadline to increase the government’s borrowing ability.
The deal essentially freezes nondefense discretionary spending, which includes funding for scientific R&D, at current levels for fiscal 2024 and allows a 1% increase for fiscal 2025. But when inflation is factored in, budgets will actually decrease. Any increases for science would have to be offset by cuts to other domestic programs.
Congress will also have to pass appropriations bills on time. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1. If the process is not completed by Jan. 1, an across-the-board cut of 1% will be made.
The deal is particularly bad news for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Congress authorized, but has yet to appropriate, big funding increases—$170 billion over 5 years—for those agencies under the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act in 2022. The legislation aims to boost the global competitiveness of US research and promote domestic manufacturing.
The CHIPS and Science Act provided more than $50 billion to beef up semiconductor research and manufacturing in the US to reduce dependence on computer chips made in countries that are a national security concern. Congress appropriated that money, but not the $170 billion for R&D at federal agencies.
The NSF had hoped to see its budget rise 19% in fiscal 2024 to $11.3 billion, in line with the president’s proposal released in March. The agency’s current budget is about $9.5 billion. The NSF was counting on an increase to support its new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, which aims to translate research results into technologies and products.
The DOE’s Office of Science hoped for a 9% increase for 2024 to help fund projects on quantum information, clean energy, and climate science. NIST was looking for extra money to support advanced manufacturing, public-private manufacturing partnerships, and growing the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.
I guess this deal beats default, but it sure would be nice if we could get stable funding for the scientific agencies.