Final Obama Budget Lauds Innovation, Unlocks NSCI Funding

By Tiffany Trader

February 10, 2016

On Tuesday, President Obama released his fiscal year 2017 budget, the final budget of his administration. Broadly focused on America’s economic prosperity and national security goals, the $4.1 trillion spending plan for fiscal year 2017 emphasizes a great number of grand challenges that require robust investments in research and development (R&D); innovation; and STEM education.

The science, technology, innovation, and STEM education components of the President’s FY 2017 Budget are laid out in a fact sheet and budget briefing presentation put together by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in partnership with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Per those documents, the administration is seeking $152 billion for R&D overall, a $6 billion or 4 percent increase from 2016 enacted levels. The R&D allocation provides $72.8 billion for basic and applied research (the “R” in R&D), a $4 billion or 6 percent increase from 2016 enacted levels, and $76.7 billion for development, a $2.2 billion or 3 percent increase. $4 billion of the overall $152 billion investment in R&D is new mandatory funding.

A further breakdown showing defense and non defense sums is shown in the slide below, taken from a presentation authored by John P. Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology, director, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.

R&D in the President's 2017 Budget slide 1000x


The mandatory funding element is there to offset sequestration deficits, which, according to the authors of the budget, are “hindering the ability to make needed investments that are critical to building durable economic growth in the future and maintaining America’s edge as the leader in innovation and cutting-edge science.” While mandatory funding is intended to close this gap in support of job growth and economic health, concerns are emerging over the risk of flat or declining budgets if Congress fails to approve the strategy. As reported in Science, Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, calls it “a pretty big gamble.”

Here is a snapshot of how the $152.3 billion was allocated:

• $7.96 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) — an increase of 6.7 percent over FY 2016.
• $5.67 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science — an increase of 6.1 percent over FY 2016.
• $826 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories.
• $19.0 billion for NASA.
• $33.1 billion for NIH.
• $700 million for USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
• $1.2 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey.
• $6.0 billion for NOAA.

For HPC-watchers, who have no doubt been following the progression of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) since it was announced by executive order on July 29, 2015, there are finally some funding numbers to report. The new budget invests $285 million (on the DOE side) and another $33 million (for the NSF ledger) to support the exascale-focused effort. The DOE contributions to NSCI include the Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI) and the Exascale Computing Project (ECP).

The OSTP summary of R&D investments highlights the importance of “accelerating innovation for industries of the future.” Specific technologies and industries cited include robotics, cyber-physical systems, big data, the Materials Genome Initiative, the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and engineering biology. Space research is another big priority, and R&D spending plans include $1.2 billion for the Commercial Crew program, $827 million for Space Technology, and $324 million for Advanced Exploration Systems “to increase the capabilities of NASA, other government, and commercial space activities.” The budget also sets out $318 million for civilian R&D in support of innovative cybersecurity technologies.

Throughout the full 182-page budget, the administration makes numerous references highlighting the pressing need for R&D investment to facilitate innovation in transportation, healthcare, security and the environment. Climate change, in particular, was signaled out as an issue of utmost priority.

“The challenge of climate change will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. Last year was the hottest on record, surpassing the record set just a year before,” states the President. “Climate change is already causing damage, including longer, more severe droughts and dangerous floods, disruptions to our food and water supply, and threats to our health, our economy, and our security.”

Health-focused innovation is another major element of this year’s budget with significant investment allocated to life sciences, biology, and neuroscience efforts. These include the following:

• The National Cancer Moonshot begins this year with $195 million in new NIH cancer activities. The 2017 Budget proposes $755 million for new cancer-related research activities in NIH and FDA.
• The 2017 Budget provides $309 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative with funding from HHS agencies.
• The BRAIN Initiative will continue with a Federal commitment of $195 million from NIH, and a total Federal investment of nearly $450 million.
• $700 million for U.S. Department of Agriculture competitively-awarded extramural research grants in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Very much related to all of these ambitious research programs, the budget emphasizes the role that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills play as an engine for innovation and a path to job security. With $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for districts, the Computer Science for All initiative is a three-year effort to increase access to K-12 computer science and other rigorous STEM coursework. The program calls for the training for 250,000 teachers, provides for infrastructure upgrades, and includes an online component. NSF and the Corporation for National and Community Service are starting the effort this year. Federal STEM education programs were allocated $3 billion, maintaining the 2016 enacted funding level.

“The budget that we’re releasing today reflects my priorities and the priorities that I believe will help advance security and prosperity in America for many years to come,” President Obama told reporters at the White House. “It drives down the deficit. It includes smart savings on healthcare, immigration, tax reform, and it strengthens our national security by increasing defense spending and advancing our national leadership through diplomacy and through development.”

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