Trump’s budget calls for seismic disruption in medical and science research
By Joel Achenbach
Mar 16 2017
President Trump’s budget calls for a seismic disruption in government-funded medical and scientific research. The cuts are deep and broad.
They also go beyond what many political observers expected. Trump had made clearthat he would target the Environmental Protection Agency, but the budget blueprint calls for a startling downsizing of agencies that historically have received steady bipartisan support. The National Institutes of Health, for example, would be cut by nearly $6 billion, about a fifth of the NIH budget.
The shock waves of this blueprint will be felt far beyond the walls of government bureaucracies. The scientific endeavor across America depends to a large degree on competitive grants distributed by federal agencies that face dramatic budget cuts. NIH uses only about 10 percent of its $30 billion budget for in-house studies; more than 80 percent goes to some 300,000 outside researchers.
Investment in research and development has been seen since World War II as critical to national prosperity and security. But the Trump administration has signaled that government-funded science, like government more broadly, has become too sprawling.
The result is a budget that takes a sharp bite out of some programs and kills others outright. Those targeted for termination include an EPA program to clean up the Cheseapeake Bay, the accident-investigating Chemical Safety Board, and a NASA satellite program (long ago known as the GoreSat, after the idea was promoted by then-Vice President Al Gore) that monitors solar storms and Earth’s climate.
The new document — titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” — seems likely to energize scientists and students who have been rattled by Trump’s rhetoric and political appointments and are preparing to participate in the “March for Science” demonstration scheduled for April 22 in Washington.
The blueprint lacks the usual details of a presidential budget request — those will come later, the administration says — and is only the opening move in the complex negotiations with Congress over the federal purse. Lawmakers from both parties will probably try to protect federal dollars flowing into their districts.
The blueprint does not mention the National Science Foundation, which provides more than $7 billion annually in grants. That may fall under the category of “other agencies,” which are not detailed but which the blueprint puts down for a 9.8 percent cut.
The document going to Capitol Hill shows the administration’s philosophy and breaks with a history of bipartisan support for federally funded science. NIH, for example, enjoyed an increase in funding under President George W. Bush. The Trump budget blueprint does not explain why NIH has been targeted for such a huge reduction, but calls for a “major reorganization” to focus on “highest priority research.”
The Energy Department also faces a shake-up. It is one of the nation’s largest employers of scientists and engineers. Thousands of people work in each of the national laboratories, such as the one in Los Alamos, N.M., where the atomic bomb was invented more than seven decades ago. The administration wants to boost the funding for maintenance of the nuclear weapons stockpile, but outside of that one program, Energy would see a 17.9 percent budget cut.