Science agencies have fared better than expected in a deal struck nearly seven months late, and thoughts are already turning to next year's budget


Major chemistry funders in the US, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, will see their funding shrink under the budget agreement covering the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2011, which ends on 30 September. Brokered more than half a year late, the deal reached by Congress and the Obama administration on 8 April came just in time to avoid a government shutdown.

"Science agencies did pretty well in comparison with the others" - Pat Clemins, American Association for the Advancement of Science

The Obama administration says it no longer plans to keep the budgets of the key physical science agencies on a trajectory to double between 2006 and 2016, but it is still vowing to provide them with ’strong investments’.

Under the long-awaited arrangement, the NSF will have a $6.9 billion (?4.2 billion) budget, representing a $53 million drop compared with the previous year. The figure is $550 million under the President’s request but $307 million over the original House proposal. Specifically, the NSF research accounts will be shaved by $43 million, or 0.8 per cent, and the education and human resources budget cut by $10 million, or nearly 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, the DOE Office of Science was spared the billion dollar reduction proposed by the House. Instead, the office - which funds the US national laboratories - will see its budget fall to $4.9 billion, representing a drop of $20 million.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH), which under the House proposal would have lost $1.6 billion, will receive a $31 billion budget, representing a decrease of $260 million, or 0.8 per cent. Specifically, $50 million is being taken from the agency’s buildings and facilities account. Congress has approve these final appropriations for FY2011.

’It could have been much worse, but overall science agencies did pretty well in comparison with the others,’ says Pat Clemins, who heads the budget and policy programme at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency saw its funding slashed by $ 1.5 billion, or 16 per cent. ’Now it is up to the scientific community to show that this was a good idea and to spend the money wisely,’ Clemins adds.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has already turned its attention to the FY 2012 budget and beyond. The House Budget Committee blueprint for FY 2012 contains what appears to be predictable and sustained funding for many of the US science agencies. But those plans now appear to be in doubt. Spokesperson Glenn Ruskin says the ACS is ’taking a wait and see approach’.

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe