President Joe Biden’s 2024 spending plan unveiled today continues his administration’s pattern of asking for big raises at major U.S. research agencies.
But as with all presidential budgets, Biden’s $6.8 trillion request is just the starting point for negotiations with Congress on everything from taxes to dealing with China’s growing economic and military power. And with Republicans committed to cutting federal spending and bipartisan support for bigger defense budgets, the prospects for any major increases for science and other domestic programs remain uncertain at best.
Despite this uncertainty, science advocacy groups welcomed the initial vote of confidence from the White House. “Wwe are pleased that President Biden’s budget request prioritizes strong, sustainable investments for basic research programs,” says Laura Kolton, who leads the Science Coalition.
At the same time, a leading Republican voice in Congress on science questioned the president’s choices. “This budget proposal boasts about spending taxpayer dollars on international climate mud funds and vaguely defined environmental justice programs, while curtailing basic research that has been proven to boost our economy, lower energy prices, and reduce emissions of the greenhouse,” said spokesman Frank Lucas. (R–OK), chairman of the science committee in the US House of Representatives.
Several new science initiatives rank high among the administration’s priorities highlighted in the request, which presidential science adviser Arati Prabhakar called “a smart, targeted plan for investing in America.” The newly created Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health, which aims to accelerate the transformation of basic research discoveries into treatments for dreaded diseases, will see its budget jump from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. A new directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with similar goals will get a 50% boost, to $1.2 billion.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) will receive the majority of the 2 percent increase requested for its parent body, the $47 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), as part of the Cancer Moonshot. NCI’s budget will increase by 7%, to $7.8 billion. And the Department of Energy’s (DOE) efforts to develop fusion power will see a 31% boost, to $1 billion.
On Monday, the White House will finalize its request to invest a record $210 billion in R&D at an event with Prabhakar and several agency heads. Here are some initial key points based on the preliminary data released today.
The $500 million increase requested for the Cancer Moonshot will go toward NCI projects that include a large study of blood tests to screen for early cancers and efforts to boost recruitment to clinical trials. It aims to reduce cancer deaths by 50% by 2025.
The National Institute of Mental Health will receive an additional $200 million for a new psychiatric precision medicine initiative, giving NIMH an overall increase of 8.5 percent. NIH’s environmental health institute will get $25 million in new funding to study the health effects of climate change, a 2.7 percent boost to its overall budget. The remaining 27 NIH institutes and centers will remain at current budget levels, a status quo that displeases advocates of biomedical research.
“FASEB [the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology] is very disappointed that the president’s FY [fiscal year] The 2024 request for NIH does not even keep pace with the inflation of biomedical research and will certainly hinder efforts to continue ongoing research, let alone invest in promising new areas of science,” says FASEB’s Jennifer Zeitzer.
Biden has called for a significant increase for this major federal funder of academic research. But it’s hard to know exactly how much because of how Congress has set NSF’s current budget.
The White House budget office says it is asking for a 19 percent increase, to $11.3 billion. It marks an increase of $1.8 billion. But the increase appears to be based on regular NSF appropriations for this year. Congress also gave NSF nearly $1 billion in so-called emergency funding that doesn’t count against a self-imposed cap on domestic spending. However, it is still real money. Thus, the actual NSF boost in 2024, if Congress agrees to the president’s request, will be smaller. At the same time, the total is $4.2 billion less than what Congress authorized for NSF in 2024 under the CHIPS and Science Act that gave the semiconductor industry about $39 billion.
Biden’s $1.4 billion budget request for NSF’s education directorate reflects the administration’s emphasis on expanding the nation’s scientific workforce at all levels, from community college to postdoctoral training. Similarly, the requested increase for NSF’s new Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) directorate is intended to help more researchers turn their discoveries into marketable products and new industries. Specifically, a flagship TIP program to support regional innovation centers would increase from $200 million to $300 million if Biden had his way.
NASA will continue to see its budget grow, with a 7 percent increase to $27.2 billion. While Biden did not list his request for the agency’s $7.8 billion science arm, he proposed spending $2.5 billion on NASA’s Earth science division, an increase of nearly 14 percent. Strapped for cash, the department faced the prospect of delaying work on the Earth System Observatory, its new fleet of satellites or early termination of some older satellites — a conflict that this spending boost would likely help resolve.
Although it did not include a dollar figure, the budget also promised support for the European Space Agency’s struggling Rosalind Franklin rover, which has faced a new round of delays due to Europe’s severing of ties with Russia, its project partner. The Europeans are asking NASA for help to meet a launch in 2028, including radioisotope heating units, a booster and a rocket ride to reach the Red Planet. The proposal would also continue to fully fund the development of the Mars Sample Return mission, a joint US and European effort, increasing its spending by more than $100 million, to $949 million.
The budget also seeks $180 million to begin work on a space tug, an idea that has been floating around NASA for decades. The push for the tug would be to move the International Space Station away when it’s time to decommission, rather than trust a Russian system for the job. But such a space tug, the proposal notes, “may also be useful for other space shuttle missions.”
The administration’s budget request would give DOE’s key research arm, the Office of Science, a $680 million boost, to about $8.8 billion. The 8% increase marks a step toward achieving the nearly 50% increase over 5 years authorized by the CHIPS Act.
The budget will also include “a historic $1 billion investment to accelerate efforts to achieve fusion, a promising clean energy source.” The office’s fusion energy science program is slated to spend $768 million this year, though it’s not clear that all of the new money is being requested specifically for that program.
US Geological Survey (USGS)
USGS will see a total increase of 15% to $1.8 billion. Under the agency, energy research will increase by 70 percent to $57 million, allowing it to expand estimates of geothermal energy and study greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands. Mineral resource exploration will increase by 30% to $93 million. In the natural hazards program, coastal research will increase by 46 percent, to $63 million.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Within the USDA, the administration wants 10 percent more for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which would bring its budget to $1.9 billion. NIFA, which supports research at public land-grant universities and elsewhere, will also see its competitive extramural grants increase by 20 percent, to $550 million.