Trump Budget Proposal Again Slashes Science Spending

By John Russell

February 11, 2020

President Donald Trump’s FY2021 U.S. Budget, submitted to Congress this week, again slashes science spending. It’s a $4.8 trillion statement of priorities, and perhaps electioneering, that lowers overall non-defense spending by about five percent but cuts even more deeply in many science R&D programs. Among the few winners are AI and quantum information sciences which receive boosts.

click to open budget document (PDF)

Here’s a quick run-down from Science Magazine coverage (AAAS):

  • National Institutes of Health: a cut of 7%, or $2.942 billion, to $36.965 billion
  • National Science Foundation (NSF): a cut of 6%, or $424 million, to $6.328 billion
  • Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science: a cut of 17%, or $1.164 billion, to $5.760 billion
  • NASA science: a cut of 11%, or $758 million, to $6.261 billion
  • DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: a cut of 173%, which would not only eliminate the $425 million agency, but also force it to return $311 million to the U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Research Service: a cut of 12%, or $190 million, to $1.435 billion
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: a cut of 19%, or $154 million, to $653 million
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: a cut of 31%, or $300 million, to $678 million
  • Environmental Protection Agency science and technology: a cut of 37%, or $174 million, to $318 million
  • Department of Homeland Security science and technology: a cut of 15%, or $65 million, to $357 million
  • U.S. Geological Survey: a cut of 30%, or $200 million, to $460 million

Within the $5.8 billion Office of Science budget, $475 million is requested for exascale computing “to help secure the United States as a global leader in supercomputing.” This funding is almost assured as the DOE prepares to field its first exascale systems Aurora at Argonne National Lab and Frontier at Oak Ridge National Lab in late 2021.

“Overall, federal spending on civilian basic research would drop by 9%, or $13.78 billion, to $142.185 billion. The government’s investment in scientific infrastructure – large facilities and special equipment – would plunge by 40%, to $3.6 billion. Spending on defense basic research would fall by 6%, or $2.822 billion, to $40.638 billion,” reported Science.

This of course is just the start of the budget process. Congress rarely rubberstamps the President’s initial proposal, as noted in this quote taken from The Wall Street Journal’s coverage yesterday, “Presidents’ budgets are a reflection of administration priorities, but in the end, they are just a list of suggestions,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “Bipartisan consensus will be necessary to bring our debt and deficits under control.”

In fact, a bill submitted by Republican members of the House Science committee two weeks ago proposes doubling several agency/department’s budget albeit over a ten-year period. For example, that bill (H.R. 5685, the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act, introduced by Representative Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) would increase the DOE Office of Science spending from $7B to $13.2B and NSF spending from $8.3B to $14.9B. (see HPCwire article, Republicans Eye Bigger Science Budgets).

For the most part research leaders have been reluctant to comment on the budget given the nature of research funding and its dependence on Administration prerogative. Prominent HPC researcher Thomas Sterling, director of AI Computing Systems Laboratory (AICSL) and professor of intelligent engineering, Indiana University, offered the following preliminary assessment which notes there is support for a few HPC-related priorities:

“It’s a long road from the president’s desk to a check in the hands of researchers and many things can change. But the recent proposed budget, released by the White House, would significantly increase funding for key areas of R&D related to growing trends in the broad HPC community. Specifically, overall and out into 2022, sponsorship for both AI and Quantum Computing will increase under these guidelines by as much as a factor of two. These funding imperatives are being driven less by scientific curiosity and more by international competition in leading edge technologies, methodologies, and end-user applications. But it illustrates the growing importance of supercomputing to U.S. leadership in STEM in research and industry domains. AI is shown to be delivering near-term value across a plethora of fields from health to autonomy of control for production robots, UAVs with ATR, and a vast array of societal issues.

“Quantum computing as a practical day-to-day resource is still in our future although some opportunities in inchoate form have been demonstrated. But significant funding internationally is challenging the U.S. to gain and ensure a leadership role. With QC now poised to declare quantum supremacy as 50 qubits or more operating at or below 20 milli-Kelvins for sufficient time before collapsing to a solution, Quantum Computing has gone beyond the curiosity stage and is proving viable to perform unique computations. Yet much work is needed. The White House budget, if it receives congressional support, will deliver proactive funding for two critical edge-of-the-envelope HPC technology domains,” said Sterling.

President Trump contends his budget will drive down debt and deficits and balance the budget in 15 years: “Unsustainable Federal deficits and debt are a serious threat to America’s prosperity. Gross Federal debt is now more than $23 trillion. The 2019 deficit was $985 billion—the largest since the Great recession—and will climb above $1 trillion this year and for years after.”

Now the wrangling between Congress and the Administration begins. Many believe Congress and the President will put off passing a budget until after the election. This is from the WSJ coverage: “The proposal is unlikely to become law, however, as Democrats control the House and spending bills in the GOP-led Senate need bipartisan support. Budget analysts expect lawmakers to punt final decisions on 2021 spending until after the November presidential election, and instead fund the government with temporary spending measures for the first few months of the fiscal year.”

Link to the budget proposal document: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/budget_fy21.pdf

Link to Science Magazine coverage (Trump’s 2021 budget drowns science agencies in red ink, again), https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/trump-s-2021-budget-drowns-science-agencies-red-ink-again

Link to Wall Street Journal article (Trump Proposes $4.8 Trillion Budget, With Cuts to Safety Nets): https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-proposes-4-8-trillion-budget-with-cuts-to-safety-nets-11581356145?mod=hp_lead_pos2

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