A Budget for a Better America (Budget Request, 2020)
On March 11, 2019, the White House issued President Trump’s proposed spending plan for the federal government in 2020. Entitled “A Budget for a Better America,” the budget proposal calls for increased military spending, aggressive savings measures to cut spending on safety-net programs, and more than $100 billion a year in cuts to domestic programs (including funding from most of the science-focused agencies) for the next decade.
The President’s budget begins by outlining investments across the Federal government to fulfill provisions of the President’s Management Agenda and the American Technology Council’s Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization aiming to modernize Federal workforce, infrastructure, and information technologies. While specific cuts and investments related to our five vertical areas are highlighted further below, these developments reflect increased interest and investment in many of the underlying areas supporting Federal research and development of emerging science and technologies, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), data-driven healthcare, and autonomous vehicles.
Key areas of investment and cuts with cross-cutting implications to science include:
- Capital Computing Improvements: $150 million for the Technology Modernization Fund, a proposal-based funding mechanism for applicant agencies authorized by the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017. Previously funded projects have supported the adoption of cloud computing and enhanced analytics programs of agencies such as the General Services Administration and the Department of Energy;
- Cybersecurity: An expansion of the Department of Homeland Security and Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) High Value Asset Program, which formalizes the government’s efforts to identify, assess, mitigate, and respond to cybersecurity threats across all branches of government;
- Open Data: Implementation of the Administration’s Federal Data Strategy and establishment of the US Federal Data Service (within the Department of Commerce) to improve the access and use of Federal data to improve Federal decision making, accountability, commercialization, and innovation;
- Workforce Development: Improving and streamlining STEM recruitment, retainment, and training via coordination among the OMB, Office of Personnel Management, and Department of Defense; and
- Streamlining Infrastructure Permitting: Further supporting the provisions of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act by establishing new fee and permit review procedures to decreases costs for infrastructure, such as Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technologies, due to delayed permitting.
- Fewer Science Grants: the total number of anticipated new grants awarded by the National Science Foundation is anticipated to drop by 11%. More dramatically, the National Institutes of Health anticipate a decline of nearly a third of its competing grants.
Robotics, AI, and Nano related areas:
Beyond the Federal modernization initiatives outlined above, the President’s budget includes several areas of cuts and investments related to Robotics and AI. Specifically:
- Precision Agriculture: the Budget Requests $500 million for the Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which has supported the development and adoption of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and AI to monitor and analyze crop growth and fertilization;
- Quantum Computing, AI, and Microelectronics Basic Research:
- the budget provides $688 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to further research and development of basic research for quantum computing, AI, and Microelectronics (though NIST would also be scheduled to have its total budget cut by nearly a third). This provision reflects the priorities established in the recently passed National Quantum Initiative Act (SciPol brief available);
- further, the budget provides $5.5 billion to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to continue its research, development, and use of supercomputers, AI, Quantum sciences, and enhanced material and nanosciences (though the office would receive a net-reduction of 23% of its funding).
- However, the proposed budget also stipulates that the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) would be fully cut. This would mark the third attempt of this administration to close this agency which has been instrumental in numerous research and development efforts for advanced technologies and is anticipated to be heavily involved in the recent National Quantum Initiative Act touted by the President.
- Further, this budget also proposed to cut funding for two emerging research and development projects, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, each with cross-cutting implications for emerging nanoscience technologies.
- Strategic technologies: the budget also provides $208 million to fund the Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center as well as additional funding of over $59 billion for the Department’s research and development of defensive technologies including $9.6 billion for cybersecurity operations, as well as addition funding for the Department’s unmanned aerial, land, undersea, and space robotics.
- Unmanned Surveillance: as a part of the President’s homeland security strategy of a wall on the Southern border, the budget invests $367 million in border patrol aircraft, including UAS, as well as providing $1.2 billion to modernize the US Coast Guard vessels and utilization of UAS. Further, of the $5 billion allotted to construct the wall, some funding could be allocated to AI-enabled detectors.
- UAS Airspace Integration: the budget allocates $127 million to the Federal Aviation Administration to support pilot programs furthering the safe integration of UAS into the Nation’s airspace.
- Transportation Infrastructure IT Transformation: to continue research and development of an improved and connected transportation infrastructure system, the budget directs $502 to the Department of Transportation. Further, over $200 billion is allocated to support investments across the country in advanced and maintenance infrastructure projects.
In addition to the specific cuts listed above, this diagram depicts the numerous cuts proposed for 2020:
The President’s budget is not binding, and has in practice been largely ignored by Congress for the past two years. And with the new Democratic majority in the House, actual spending levels should be expected to deviate even further from the President’s suggestions. But it can be read as an indicator of the President’s policy goals, and how the Executive Branch agencies under his direction will prioritize their work in the coming year.
As in the past two years, President Trump has called for major cuts in funding for science and the scientific and technical agencies, including cutting budgets for the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by 12%, 12% and 30%, respectively. The proposed NASA budget only decreases by 2.2%, but science programs within the agency are cut by 5-20%.
As a means of curtailing the increasing Federal budget deficit, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 continues stipulated caps on discretionary funding for select kinds of spending by the government. Though the 2018 Act had raised the spending caps, these new limits will expire on October 1, 2019, the start of the 2020 fiscal year. Once the new fiscal year commences, the capped amount will drop by 10 percent or $125 billion. In part because of these caps and this Administration's priorities, the budget includes steep cuts to federal research spending. However, Congress has routinely agreed to raise these caps and is anticipated to do so again later this year.
Endorsements & Opposition
- American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle made the following statement in regards to the budget’s implications for American energy: "The Trump administration’s proposed 2020 budget would modernize government spending in a manner consistent with the energy revolution taking place before our very eyes. The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the economy. Trump’s DOE budget would rightsize the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and divert funds away from wasteful and duplicative government programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program."
- Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, released this statement following the publication of the President's budget proposal, "President Trump and his Administration have once again rejected reality with this FY20 budget request... This proposal is simply absurd and shows a complete disregard for the importance of civilian R&D and science and technology programs. If the President would like Congress to take his request seriously, he should make an effort to work together to craft a meaningful budget proposal.”
- President of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, physicist, and former congressman, Rush Holt, issued the following statement regarding the budget, "If enacted, the Trump administration's proposed cuts to the fiscal year 2020 non-defense discretionary budget would derail our nation's science enterprise."
- Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared the following statement regarding the proposed budget, "After adding $2 trillion to the deficit with the GOP tax scam for the rich, President Trump wants to ransack as much as $2 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid...While demanding billions more for his wasteful, ineffective wall, President Trump will steal from students and hungry families, from rural communities and American farmers, from clean air and clean water, and from vital, job-creating investments nationwide."