What the Trump Budget Says About Science Priorities

Feb 19, 2018


Coral in a dark tank.
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Congress averted a second government shutdown by passing a bipartisan budget deal that raised spending caps for the next two years, but didn’t specify how the money should be spent. That came a few days later when President Trump released his budget proposal for 2019.

Despite the increased size of the overall budget, that spending plan calls for slashing funding for many science programs - a 37 percent cut to EPA’s Office of Science and Technology, and twenty percent reductions to the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sea Grant, a research outreach and extension program with offices at M.I.T. and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve network would be eliminated.

At some agencies, funding boosts would be balanced by targeted cuts. The Department of Energy could see an additional $1.5 billion for research, but the elimination of an experimental program known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. At NASA, an overall funding increase of just shy of one percent would prioritize exploration and come at the expense of the International Space Station, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, and many earth science programs.

The only agencies to benefit from the Congressional budget increase were the flagship federal research funding agencies – the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The White House plan originally cut the NIH budget by more than a quarter, and the NSF budget by nearly 30 percent. An addendum called for restoring funding to 2017 levels.

“It’s not an administration that’s really trying to prioritize science and technology,” said Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “What they’re really trying to do is save money.”

This effort to cut spending went farther than most administrations by leaving about $57 billion in available funds on the table.


“What we’ve got here is a budget that is literally saying, ‘We’re going to cut all these programs -- we could’ve restored that funding, but we’d rather  simply let those dollars evaporate,’” Hourihan said.