President Obama Releases FY 2015 Budget Proposal

On March 4, 2014 President Obama released the Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget proposal. The $3.9 trillion budget proposal provides a starting point for Congressional action to determine funding levels for all federal agencies and programs, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, and Veterans Affairs (VA) medical and prosthetic research.

Increases for research were modest as the White House worked to stay within the budget caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren noted in a briefing that the 1% increase in research and development funding outpaced the 0.2% increase for overall discretionary spending, reflecting the priority that the President places on research programs.

For the NIH, the FY 2015 budget would be $30.2 billion, $200 million above the FY 2014 level (0.7% increase). This would allow the agency to fund an additional 329 research project grants. The budget proposal details a number of investments including the BRAIN Initiative ($100 million), the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) project ($88 million), and a new DARPA-like program ($30 million) within the Common Fund to support “high risk, goal-driven activities that aim to achieve rapid technology.” The proposal also highlights new and ongoing efforts to foster a talented and diverse future workforce.

The NSF would receive $7.255 billion under the FY 2015 proposal, $83 million more than in FY 2014 (1.2% increase). Despite the overall increase for the agency, funding for research and related activities is slated for a small cut of 0.03% ($5.807 billion), and the BIO directorate’s funding would decrease by 1.8% ($708.52 million). Education and human resources would increase by 5.1% ($889 million). Highlights of the NSF budget proposal include investment in cognitive science and neuroscience ($29 million) and research at the interface of biological, mathematical, and physical sciences (BioMaPS, $29 million).

The FY 2015 proposal would trim the NASA budget to $17.5 billion, $100 million below FY 2014 (0.06% decrease). The proposed science budget at NASA is $4.972 billion, down from $5.15 billion in FY 2014, and the research budget for the International Space Station would also decline slightly to $312.2 million from $317.5 million in FY 2013 (FY 2014 levels not specified). Under the proposed budget, the Human Research Program would increase to $160.5 million. The budget highlights the importance of understanding the physiological changes that humans undergo during prolonged spaceflight with a future goal of sending humans beyond low earth orbit.

The proposal calls for Medical and prosthetic research at the VA to be funded at $589 million, $3 million above FY 2014 (0.5% increase). Core research priorities include big data/bioinformatics, genomic medicine, and critical needs for combat veterans (prosthetics, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and rehabilitation engineering). The proposal estimates that there will be 2,224 projects supported in FY 2015, the same as in FY 2014.

In addition to regular budget appropriations, the proposal includes a new “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative.” This initiative would generate funds through a combination of taxes and changes to existing programs including crop insurance, airport security, and unemployment. If Congress acts on this proposal, it would provide up to an additional $56 billion in spending, $5.3 billion of which would go to research and development. Under this plan, the NIH would receive an additional $970 million over and above the FY 2015 budget. This would fund up to 650 new grants and support other activities including the BRAIN Initiative, Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K), research on Alzheimer’s disease, vaccines, and the new Accelerating Medicines Partnership. The initiative would also bring additional funds to NSF ($552 million) to support NSF priorities across the agency’s portfolio. The additional funds would enable the agency to make an estimated 1,000 more awards and provide support for a 3,000 more graduate students for the next five years. At NASA an additional $886 million would add funding for Science and the International Space Station along with other agency priorities. However, prospects for passage of the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative are uncertain as Congress continues to strive for a balance between fiscal constraint and economic growth.