At the start of this week, the Trump administration’s second full budget proposal was unleashed on the public – but although it initially looked utterly dire for federal science, an additional document released by the White House just after the budget proposal came out reverses some of the budget’s initial cuts.
Originally, the funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were set for deep cuts; in general, there was a 20 percent cut proposed for basic science. Now – thanks to a spending cap increase agreed by Congress last week – it appears they’ll be kept at 2017 levels. Other agencies, however, are still in the crosshairs.
Let’s take a brief look at what the White House is proposing to change in American federal science and R&D programs.
As expected, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is once again the target of the most draconian cuts. Vox reported that the EPA was set for a 33.7 percent cut, but the addendum revises this downward slightly. It’s now somewhere along the lines of 23 percent, according to the Washington Post – still a record-low, if enacted.
At the same time, all the EPA’s in-house work on climate change is to be essentially eliminated.
Climate change research programs across the federal government are hit pretty heavily. One, the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI), is designed to support climate change resilience and mitigation plans in developing countries – and it’s set to be canceled. Other, similar programs run out of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) would have their funding wound down.
The Paris agreement is referred to in the proposal as “unfairly placing the US at a financial disadvantage,” something which is demonstrably untrue.
The United States Geological Survey will be slashed by around 21 percent. Most jarringly, its monitoring programs for earthquakes and volcanoes would also be cut by 21 percent. At the same time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would be cut by 20 percent, lose its grant and education programs, and it'd lose its Arctic research program, per ArsTechnica.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will suffer a 12 percent cut, the Verge notes that $13 billion has been allocated to combat America’s devastating opioid crisis, second in seriousness only to its obesity epidemic.
Originally set up for deep cuts, the Department of Energy will actually see its funding levels remain roughly the same as 2017. However, its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy project, which looks into developing cutting-edge energy programs, will be eliminated, along with several other research programs.
NASA gets a mixed reception in the budget. Its funding receives a very slight 1.3 percent increase from last year’s level.
However, five of its Earth Science missions – all of which are related to climate change – would be completely scrapped. The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, a next-generation infrared space observatory designed to investigate dark energy, is also set to be nixed. Nature News notes that astrophysics is cut by 12 percent, Earth Sciences by 6 percent, while planetary exploration jumps up by 22 percent. After 2024, federal funding for the ISS is to cease.
NASA’s Office of Education, which provides grants to museums, science centers, and colleges, would be eliminated. Speaking of education, this budget would also cut funding programs that help low-income students get into college, per The Hill.
Standing in juxtaposition to almost all of this, the military and the infamous border wall get enormous budget allocations and increases.
“Essentially, the budget undercuts the ability of the US to be a leader in many fields of science,” Dr Andrew Rosenberg, the Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told IFLScience. “Given our historic scientific capacity and talent that is really disheartening.”
“This budget misunderstands the role that science plays in our society and in serving the public interest. It is frankly shameful.”
This budget will ultimately need to be approved by Congress, and it’s certain that the final product is unlikely to match up to the original proposal, with both Democrats and Republicans opposed for a wide range of both overlapping and contrasting reasons. In fact, if last year is anything to go by, it'll be essentially ignored.