Despite Spending Freeze, Obama Proposes More Money for Research in His 2011 Budget

February 01, 2010

President Obama on Monday proposed spending increases for both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation in his budget for the 2011 fiscal year, despite his announcement last week that he would impose a net freeze on discretionary domestic spending.

In all, the president proposed $66-billion for nondefense research and development projects for the 2011 fiscal year, and a 4-percent increase in basic research funds. That included an increase of $1-billion for the National Institutes of Health, which would receive a total of $32.2-billion. That 3.2-percent increase would be the largest for the NIH in eight years, other than the infusion of money the agency received in last year's stimulus legislation.

The president's budget also includes an 8-percent increase for the National Science Foundation.

The $7.4-billion budget the president would provide the foundation is in line with Mr. Obama's goal to double research money for the NSF, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology by 2017.

To carry out the spending freeze Mr. Obama announced in his State of the Union speech last week, those increases in research funds will be offset by budget cuts in other sectors.

"In making the tough decisions in the 2011 budget, he managed to preserve and expand what needed to be preserved and expanded," John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said of Mr. Obama.

Attention to Health Research

Among the president's priorities for distributing research money through the NIH are the study of genomes and the application of that research to medicine, as well as the development of scientific approaches to global health and health-care reform. The NIH budget also includes more than $6-billion for cancer research, including 30 new drug trials in 2011. On top of the research funds allocated for 2011, the agency will also continue to distribute the $10.4-billion it received under last year's stimulus legislation.

Some scientists have been concerned about a potential sudden drop-off in federal spending on research after that infusion of stimulus money. In response to a question Monday about whether the $1-billion increase would be adequate to prevent a spending "cliff" for the NIH, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that such an increase "in this restrained budget time" reflects the president's feeling that continued advances in research are "critically important."

Ms. Sebelius also noted that some of the stimulus money for the NIH would continue to be spent over a number of years, on multiyear research and building projects, so spending would be spread out over time and would not just end abruptly after one year.

In a statement, Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, praised the increased funds for the NIH.

"Today's opportunities in medical research supported by the National Institutes of Health merit even greater funding," Mr. Berdahl said. "But, given our large budget deficits and the top-line freeze in domestic discretionary spending, this request for NIH confirms the administration's strong commitment to sustaining our nation's biomedical research capacity."

Increases for Many Agencies

The president's $7.4-billion proposal for the National Science Foundation included increases for graduate fellowships and for research on global climate change. In coming years the NSF will seek to make innovation a "centerpiece of economic strength and future well-being," Arden L. Bement Jr., the foundation's director, said Monday.

Across the board, most research agencies would receive an increase under the 2011 budget.

Mr. Obama proposed $5.1-billion for the Energy Department's Office of Science, including $1.8-billion for basic energy research. The 4.4-percent increase for that office would also support graduate research fellowships and the recently established Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, which pays for experimental, "high-risk, high-payoff" research in energy science.

For the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the president proposed $11-billion for research and development, an 18-percent increase over last year. And smaller, specialized research-grant programs, such as the recently established National Institute of Food and Agriculture's competitive research program in the Department of Agriculture, would receive increases as well, Mr. Holdren said.

One place where research programs would see cuts is at the Defense Department. The president's budget proposes a 7.7-percent cut for basic research at the department and an 11.2-percent cut for applied research.

The National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts would both lose money under Mr. Obama's budget proposal. They would each receive $161.3-million, down from $167.5-million for each in the current, 2010 fiscal year.

The Association of American Universities criticized the cut to the National Endowment for the Humanities, saying it would save a relatively small amount of money but would have "a significant impact on the endowment's ability to support humanities research and education."