President Proposes Big Cuts to National Science Foundation

By Mark Vieth, Senior Vice President

This is the third in a series of reports about the President’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request

As details emerged on March 11 about the President’s fiscal year 2020 budget, it became increasingly clear that science funding would once again be targeted for significant spending cuts.

 In particular, the National Science Foundation (NSF) – the nation’s cornerstone basic science research agency – would bear a huge brunt of the proposed cuts.  Under the President’s budget, fiscal year 2020 spending would be reduced from $8.1 billion to $7.1 billion, a $1 billion cut (12 percent reduction).  This would reduce the agency to a level below its fiscal year 2015 budget, decreasing the scale of direct research and outside grants the agency can undertake.

 According to analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), “the total number of new NSF research grants would drop by at least 11 percent from previous levels, with over 1,000 fewer grants. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program would support 1,600 new fellows, versus the 2,000 that NSF has annually supported in recent years.”

 The NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Research Directorate -- the smallest research directorate and periodic target of proposed cuts – would be cut to $230 million.  In fiscal year 2016, the SBE budget was as high as $272 million.

 Other science agencies are also targeted for proposed reductions, including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy’s science programs, and EPA Science and Technology.  According to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) data, total federal R&D would decline by 4.6 percent in FY 2020, with basic research down by 10.5 percent, and applied research down by 14.4 percent.

 Congress is already working to reject these proposed cuts, and even seek increases in science and technology research.  For example, a bipartisan letter circulated by Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV) and signed by 174 Members of Congress calls for an increase in NSF’s overall budget to $9 billion.

 The ultimate fate of NSF’s budget lies with the ability of Congress and the Administration to reach a larger deal on lifting the budget caps for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, and the House Budget Committee is advancing legislation to this effect.  But without an agreement with the Republican Senate leadership and the White House, NSF – and nearly all federal investments – will  likely experience deep cuts through sequestration.