WASHINGTON – A tough budget year could have meant big cuts for science research funding, but as mapped out in the Obama administration’s plan for the 2011 fiscal year released Monday, it doesn’t.
Though President Obama vowed last week in his State of the Union address  to freeze discretionary domestic spending, his $3.8 trillion budget shifts priorities to find increases for science and technology research and education that well outpace the 1.1 percent rate of inflation expected over the next year. The budget proposes nondefense research expenditures totaling $61.6 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over 2010 levels .
“We are fortunate in this situation in which we find ourselves to have in President Obama a leader who 'gets it' with respect to the importance of science and technology for meeting so many of the major challenges facing our society,” said John P. Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, at a Monday briefing on the budget.
Funding for the National Institutes of Health, the single largest nonmilitary research entity, would total $31.3 billion, up roughly $1 billion over the 2010 level of spending. Darrell G. Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges applauded the boost. “At a time when we face extraordinary fiscal challenges, the president’s commitment to medical research is a wise investment that will yield long-term benefits for our nation’s health,” he said in a statement
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, also considered the proposed increase in NIH funding to be good news for his group's members. "In these tight fiscal times, President Obama’s recommendation to boost biomedical research funding by adding $1 billion to the National Institutes of Health budget ... is the right investment for the future."
The proposed budget continues the decade-long effort to double federal support for research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Energy Department's Office of Science, and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. The budget calls for$13.3 billion be divided between those three agencies in 2011, an increase of $824 million -- or 6.6 percent -- over 2010 funding levels. Of that total, $7.4 billion is set to go to the NSF, which is the primary source of federal funding for academic research outside the biomedical sciences
Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement that his group supported the non-biomedical research investments as "essential to our ability to maintain our global leadership in innovation and build an economy that addresses our national challenges and creates the high-paying jobs that are the foundations of economic prosperity."
In addition to funding research, the budget also maps out spending on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. It includes $3.71 billion in federal support for STEM education, about $30 million more than is projected to be spent in 2010. “In making the tough decisions embodied in the 2011 budget,” Holdren said, “[Obama] managed to preserve and expand what most needed to be preserved and expanded in the government’s investments in research and development, and in science, technology, engineering and math education.”
While the overall total of STEM spending is relatively stagnant, there are sizable changes in where those dollars go. Funding for the Department of Energy more than doubles to $113 million, while support for education efforts at NASA would fall 20 percent, to $146 million. “America is not going to be a leader in the 21st century if its citizens have 20th century educations,” Holdren said, “and the budget takes this truth very seriously.”
The budget apportions slightly more money to undergraduate and graduate STEM efforts, including $19 million in NSF and $55 million in Energy Department funding for RE-gaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge (RE-ENERGYSE), a program aimed at expanding undergraduate opportunities on clean energy. Congress rejected a larger proposal on clean energy education and training last year.
It also bumps up support for graduate research fellowships, by 16 percent to $158 million at the NSF, and by 5 percent to $824 million at the NIH.
| Higher education-related federal research spending |
(in millions of dollars)
|Agency||2009 Actual||2009 Recovery Act||2010 Estimate||2011 Budget Request|
|National Institutes of Health||$29,156||$8,863||$30,334||$31,265|
|Department of Energy Office of Science||6,805||1,386||6,993||7,731|
|National Science Foundation||4,770||1,808||4,634||5,119|
|Department of Agriculture||2,121||0||2,231||2,234|
|National Institute of Standards and Technology||398||111||439||513|
|Department of Education||192||0||211||232|