Priority By Budget

In early March, President Trump released his budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, a proposal that would set federal research spending at $151 billion, or roughly 3% of total federal spending, which would cut overall federal research spending by 11%, or almost $17 billion. Now, that’s only his proposal, and the final say on federal spending lies with the Congress, but proposals do indicate the President’s priorities. Under Trump’s priorities, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would all face cuts of more than 12%, while science funding at the Environmental Protection Agency would drop by 40%.

After World War II, the U.S. funded almost 70% of research and development funding world-wide. Today, that figure is 28%, and while that shift can be partly explained by the ability of the rest of the world to be able to fund research, the fact is that the U.S. is being badly outspent, particularly in the area of basic research.

At present, total U.S. spending on basic research comprises less than 17% of all U.S. R&D spending. About three-quarters of U.S. basic research is funded by the federal government (44%), state governments (3%), institutions of higher education (13%), and other non-profits (13%).

To make matters worse, the majority of R&D spending by U.S. businesses goes toward product development, with only about six percent of business R&D funds going to basic research, and over the last four decades, the contribution of U.S. corporations to new basic research has dropped from 30% of published research to less than 10%. This isn’t surprising, because basic research is unpredictable and often expensive, but without basic research, in time, product development will slow dramatically, if not come to a virtual halt. That’s why federal support of basic research is absolutely necessary if U.S. industry is to continue to compete in a global market.

Then add to that the fact that climate change and its environmental effects are a persistent and real future problem… and Trump wants to cut environment research by 40%?

All that suggests that the President’s priorities are anything but for the future.

4 thoughts on “Priority By Budget”

  1. Lourain says:

    While Truman proclaimed “The buck stops here!”, I find it difficult to believe that Trump actually contributed to the details of his federal budget proposal.
    The question then arises…who in his Administration wants to make such severe cuts? What is their purpose? Their philosophy? (And how do we get rid of them?…I already know the answer to that question.)

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    There are multiple programs to develop controlled fusion. One is huge, international, and results would be 10-20 years away or more. There are at least two or three US programs that are mostly private, if with some government funding where they look promising. Any of them that succeeds will likely produce a smaller, cheaper power plant, a design that would contribute to a more robust grid by having more smaller facilities rather than less large ones.

    Similar applies to e.g. using solar or nuclear to convert water and CO2 back to fuel; a few government backed programs, tending toward the grandiose (although there are logistical appeals to a carrier creating jet fuel for its own aircraft).

    Research Good, Ignorance Bad (Buffy-speak, more or less); fine. But why should _anything_ be off the table for questioning what’s needed and what isn’t? Research such as the habits of species not particularly endangered nor particularly likely to be of practical use is among the sort the federal government spends money on, and while all knowledge is probably of eventual utility or at least interest, some sorts are just not a good return on taxpayer “investment”, they’re just pork of another kind.

    Are these cuts excessive? Maybe. But I’d question cuts (or the lack of them) for specific programs rather than just whether there are too many cuts in some very broad category – with the deficit being what it is, _something_ needs to be cut, and I’d rather have troops and border patrol and even FBI agents than do for people _or_ businesses what they should be doing for themselves.

    1. But the problem is that corporations are doing a smaller and smaller percentage of basic research, and the difficulty with “evaluating” basic research on “future practicality” is that such “evaluation” doesn’t work very well. All basic research is a crap-shoot so far as economic returns go. Some of Proxmire’s golden fleece awards turned out to have practical applications [unfortunately long after the award].

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        You might find the following interesting – basic research (with acknowledged _eventual_ applications where we really don’t want to be behind our adversaries – both secure commerce and defense require that!), passed by Congress on a bipartisan basis, signed by President Trump.

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