Although President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget almost certainly won’t be enacted as written, his request reaffirms the administration’s commitment to science and technology. But with the sharp partisan divide over how to reduce budget deficits, and with sequestration’s across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to increase, it appears likely that next year’s science and technology budget will decline.

The White House plan puts total spending for basic and applied research at $68.1 billion, an increase of $4.8 billion, or 7.5%, over FY 2012 levels. (Comparisons are to FY 2012 because the FY 2013 budget process remained incomplete as the request was finalized.) Overall, nondefense R&D would increase 9.2%, to $69.6 billion, but defense R&D would fall 5.2%, to $73.2 billion. By far the largest component of defense R&D consists of weapons systems development. The request would add a total of $1 billion, or 8%, to the budgets of three key federal supporters of basic physical sciences research: the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, NSF, and the laboratory programs of NIST. Obama has carried forward an initiative begun under President George W. Bush to double the budgets of those three agencies.

The FY 2014 budget request, submitted to Congress on 10 April, more than two months late, exceeds the cap on discretionary spending established under the 2011 Budget Control Act. The president has proposed a combination of tax increases and cuts to entitlement programs to pay for the increased spending. Leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has made clear its opposition to tax increases.

“We’re very pleased” with the request, says Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “The strategy of going back to 2012 as a starting point will help us to navigate past the sequestration. The recommitment to NIST, DOE, and NSF is very encouraging. It also sends a very important message to the next generation of young researchers that there is a national commitment to scientific discovery and innovation.” But when asked about the chances for the budget’s enactment, Leshner said, “Will it happen? I have no idea.”

Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, also lauded the request. “AAU and its member research universities have frequently expressed our view that the nation can and should reduce budget deficits but maintain strong investments in research and education,” he said in a statement. “Such spending is critical to the nation’s long-term economic growth, health, and national security.”

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) complained that “the Administration continues to favor subsidies associated with its green energy agenda over basic research that helps keep America competitive.” In a statement, Smith said, “The bankruptcies of Solyndra, Abound Solar, and Beacon Power have demonstrated a lack of accountability within the President’s green energy initiatives. The President now wants more money to fund more pet projects, when it is clear that his administration has not been responsible with the taxpayer dollars that have already been spent.”

Smith’s reference was to the 55%, nearly $1 billion, increase sought for DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, for a total of $2.8 billion. Congress has repeatedly pared big increases for that program, notes Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society. He predicts the House will again push back against big increases to the DOE program and other applied research initiatives. He says the administration would be more likely to gain bipartisan support for big increases in basic research.

The budget request includes a surprise new mission for NASA—to robotically find, capture, and tow an asteroid into an orbit 64 000 km (40 000 miles) outside the Moon’s. Once there, the asteroid would be visited by astronauts who would study it and return samples to Earth. The asteroid mission perplexed some members of the Science Committee. At a 17 April hearing, Smith told presidential science adviser John Holdren that the proposal hadn’t been vetted by any NASA advisory panel; Smith said that most of the scientific community would prefer that NASA pursue a manned mission to the Moon instead.

Holdren replied that NASA “has developed an extraordinarily ingenious and cost-effective new approach to that mission.” Besides, the space agency had already planned to visit the orbit to which the asteroid would be towed because it is an “equilibration point and a way station for heading to Mars,” Holdren said. He added that many scientists who were initially unhappy with the idea of exploring an asteroid have since become enthusiastic about it.

The overall budget for NASA would remain essentially unchanged from FY 2012 at $17.7 billion. The agency’s science programs, at just over $5 billion, also are flat. Planetary science would decline by 19%, to $1.2 billion, with the biggest reductions made to the Lunar Quest and Mars Exploration programs. Funding for the International Space Station would rise to $3 billion from $2.8 billion, and human exploration would grow to $3.9 billion from $3.7 billion.

The Office of Science at DOE would receive a 5.7% boost, to $5.2 billion. Basic energy sciences, its largest component, would grow 13.2%, to $1.9 billion. Scientific user facilities, most of which are funded through basic energy sciences, would see an increase to $990 million, from $839 million in FY 2012. The Linac Coherent Light Source-II at SLAC, an upgrade of the heavily oversubscribed x-ray laser scientific user facility, would receive the go-ahead for construction, with funding of $95 million. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a heavy-ion nuclear physics accelerator at Michigan State University, would get initial construction funding of $55 million, although formal project approval isn’t expected until this summer.

The budget for Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider would increase by $2 million to $165 million, and operating time on the machine would increase by 970 hours, to 2770 hours. Earlier this year it was thought that DOE might shut down the collider for budgetary reasons (see Physics Today,March 2013, page 32).

Funding for fusion energy would jump 16.6%, to $458 million, to accommodate a $225 million US contribution to ITER, which is being built in France. Last year the US contribution to the international fusion energy reactor was $105 million. The domestic fusion program would drop to $223 million, from $296 million in FY 2012. The Alcator C-Mod, an experimental tokamak reactor at MIT, would be shut down and dismantled. High-energy physics would increase by less than 1%, to $776 million.

Nuclear weapons activities, the major source of funding for the DOE weapons laboratories, would increase 4.1%, to $7.9 billion. But support for the agency’s nonproliferation programs would decline by 7%, to $2.1 billion. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Appropriations Committee’s energy and water development subcommittee, sharply criticized that cutback during a 14 April hearing, saying that it would delay by eight years ongoing programs to convert research reactors to low-enriched uranium, and set back by 20 years efforts to secure radiological sources (see Physics Today,May 2012, page 24).

The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, which supports a variety of high-risk clean-energy technologies, would get a 37.8% increase, to $379 million. A new Energy Security Trust would fund research on clean-energy transportation technologies for 10 years with $2 billion from federal oil and gas leasing revenues.

The FY 2014 proposal would boost NSF’s budget 8.4%, or $593 million, to $7.6 billion. Funding for research grants would rise 9.1%, to roughly $6.2 billion. Within that amount, the budget of the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences would increase 5.9%, to $1.4 billion. NSF supplies 45% of all federal support for basic academic research in the physical sciences.

Funding for major research equipment and facilities construction would increase 6.6%, to $210 million. The request includes $28 million for initial construction funding of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a project led by SLAC, and for funding to further develop the National Ecological Observatory Network, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, the Ocean Observatories Initiative, and the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

Although the Department of Defense’s R&D budget would fall $4.6 billion, to $68.3 billion, the cuts would be concentrated in weapons systems development. The Pentagon’s basic research programs would increase 6%, to $2.1 billion.

Funding for NIST’s laboratory programs would increase 21%, to $754 million. NIST’s overall budget request would balloon because of a one-time proposed $1 billion expenditure to launch a network of manufacturing institutes under an initiative known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Matching funds would be provided from private and other nonfederal sources. The institutes would become self-sustaining within five to seven years. But the initiative must be authorized by Congress.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security R&D budget would surge by 185.7%, to about $1.4 billion, but most of the $893 million increase would go to fund the construction of the $714 million National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility to study emerging diseases.

R&D in the FY 2014 budget by agency

 FY 2012 actualFY 2014 budgetFY 2012–14 change*FY 2012–14 percent change
(millions of dollars)
Defense (military) 72 916 68 291 −4 625 −6.3 
S&T (6.1–6.3)† 12 058 11 984 −74 −0.6 
Health and Human Services 31 377 32 046 669 2.1 
National Institutes of Health 30 012 30 490 478 1.6 
All other Health and Human Services 1 365 1 556 191 14.0 
NASA 11 315 11 605 290 2.6 
Energy‡ 10 811 12 739 1 928 17.8 
Atomic Energy Defense 4 257 4 888 631 14.8 
Office of Science 4 463 4 744 281 6.3 
Energy programs 2 091 3 107 1 016 48.6 
National Science Foundation 5 636 6 148 512 9.1 
Agriculture 2 331 2 523 192 8.2 
Commerce 1 254 2 682 1 428 113.9 
NOAA 574 733 159 27.7 
NIST§ 557 1 626 1 069 191.9 
Interior 820 963 143 17.4 
US Geological Survey 673 761 88 13.1 
Transportation 921 942 21 2.3 
Environmental Protection Agency 568 560 −8 −1.4 
Veterans Affairs 1 160 1 172 12 1.0 
Education 397 352 −45 −11.3 
Homeland Security 481 1 374 893 185.7 
All other 925 1 376 451 48.7 
Total R&D  140 912 142 773 1 861 1.3 
 FY 2012 actualFY 2014 budgetFY 2012–14 change*FY 2012–14 percent change
(millions of dollars)
Defense (military) 72 916 68 291 −4 625 −6.3 
S&T (6.1–6.3)† 12 058 11 984 −74 −0.6 
Health and Human Services 31 377 32 046 669 2.1 
National Institutes of Health 30 012 30 490 478 1.6 
All other Health and Human Services 1 365 1 556 191 14.0 
NASA 11 315 11 605 290 2.6 
Energy‡ 10 811 12 739 1 928 17.8 
Atomic Energy Defense 4 257 4 888 631 14.8 
Office of Science 4 463 4 744 281 6.3 
Energy programs 2 091 3 107 1 016 48.6 
National Science Foundation 5 636 6 148 512 9.1 
Agriculture 2 331 2 523 192 8.2 
Commerce 1 254 2 682 1 428 113.9 
NOAA 574 733 159 27.7 
NIST§ 557 1 626 1 069 191.9 
Interior 820 963 143 17.4 
US Geological Survey 673 761 88 13.1 
Transportation 921 942 21 2.3 
Environmental Protection Agency 568 560 −8 −1.4 
Veterans Affairs 1 160 1 172 12 1.0 
Education 397 352 −45 −11.3 
Homeland Security 481 1 374 893 185.7 
All other 925 1 376 451 48.7 
Total R&D  140 912 142 773 1 861 1.3 

* All comparisons are between 2012 and 2014 because of the late completion of 2013 appropriations.

† Defense S&T total encompasses basic and applied research and advanced technology development.

‡ DOE 2014 total includes mandatory proposal for the Energy Security Trust.

§ NIST 2014 total includes mandatory proposal for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

Source: White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.