White House budget chief warns Republicans’ 2016 spending plan doesn’t bode well for research agencies

Science advocacy groups, research institutions and the White House are delivering a uniform message that the spending plan for the fiscal year 2016 proposed by Republicans in Congress could harm America’s scientific enterprise.

The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, has told the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that the Republican proposalwould ‘lock in’ across-the-board sequestration cuts for FY2016.

In particular, the allocation for the appropriations subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is 8.7% below Obama’s FY2016 budget request, he noted in a statement. The subcommittee would receive $153 billion (£101 billion), a decrease of approximately $3.7 billion, or 2.4%, from the current level. Donovan said this Republican proposal would slash NIH’s budget by more than $1.7 billion, and estimated that this would translate into 1,400 fewer new NIH research grants being awarded.

Beyond NIH, Donovan estimated that the House Republican plan would result in 350 fewer research grants at the National Science Foundation, affecting about 4,900 researchers, technicians, and students.

Science groups agree that the proposed budget paints a grim portrait for research. ‘Given the way that Congress is dividing money up, and the total dollars being made available, the science agencies by and large will not have very good budgets,’ says Michael Lubell, who directs public affairs at the American Physical Society. ‘They will be flat, and in some cases go down.’

The director of R&D budget and policy for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Matt Hourihan, tells Chemistry World that Congress has ‘put itself at the moment in something of a fiscal straightjacket’ by strictly adhering to sequestration-level spending.

Dave Moore, senior director of government relations at the Association of American Medical Colleges, agrees. ‘It is a difficult situation because they obviously have to take those cuts from somewhere,’ he says. Nevertheless, he and other research advocates point out that it isn’t clear whether those subcommittee cuts will be administered equally across all agencies, or whether certain programmes will be prioritised.

Many observers agree that it’s likely that Congress and White House won’t reach agreement on the budget in time for the 1 October 2015 start date of FY2016. This would necessitate a continuing resolution that funds the government, including research agencies, at current levels until the appropriations are finalised. Moore believes this may be the best case scenario.