Washington and Social Science: Trump Science Cuts DOA?

On May 5, Congress finally cleared the fiscal year 2017 spending bill package, which included increases for the National Institutes of Health and flat funding for the National Science Foundation.  Weeks later, President Trump unveiled his fiscal year 2018 budget, which includes sweeping cuts to NIH, NSF and federally-funded science research and education.  Meanwhile, “Trumpcare” was sent to the Senate, where it languishes without any significant action by the upper chamber.

Trump Budget Calls for Big Cuts in Science…

Eighteen days after signing into law the final Fiscal Yer 2017 budget spending package that included significant increases for scientific research, President Donald Trump on May 23 sent to Congress his budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 that goes the other direction.  The budget would provide $6.653 billion overall for the National Science Foundation, a decrease of $840.98 million (-11.2 percent).  The budget also reduces funding for the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Research Directorate from an estimated $272 million in FY17 to $244 million in FY18.

Social Science news bulletinOn the heels of a $2 billion increase in fiscal year 2017 spending for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the president’s budget reverses direction, calling for a $7.7 billion cut (22 percent) to NIH’s budget.

…and Education Takes a Similar Hit

 The president’s full budget also proposes a $9.2 billion (13.5 percent) spending cut to education, including spending reductions for K-12 and higher education. Under his proposal, the federal government would no longer subsidize the interest on federal student loans, significantly increasing the cost to go to college for many American students and their families.  The budget does call for several provisions welcomed by the higher education community, including simplifications of student loan repayment plans and making Pell Grants available year-round.

For K-12 education, the budget flat-funds the federal Title I program. The budget would dedicate $1 billion to a new grant program for states that allow poor students to leave neighborhood schools for other public schools, and take that extra money with them.  The budget also includes $250 million to create vouchers for private schools, and $167 million for charter schools.

Dead on Arrival?

The congressional reaction to the president’s budget was mostly negative, from both Democratic and Republican members.  Congressional leaders made it very clear that they were moving forward on their own budget proposal.  House and Senate Appropriations committees are beginning to craft their fiscal year 2018 spending bills, with markups happening in the House as soon as mid- to late-June.  Because of the delay in the process, Congress will only have four months to enact a budget (by the deadline of September 30), or pass another continuing resolution to buy more time to complete the budget.  There is a possibility that the entire budget will be funded by a year-long continuing resolution, freezing current spending levels at existing fiscal year 2017 levels through September 30, 2018.  For agencies like the NSF and NIH, this may be the best possible outcome!

House Science Committee Examines Research Overhead Costs

 On May 24, the House Science Committee’s Research and Technology Subcommittee and Oversight Subcommittee held a joint hearing entitled “Examining the Overhead Cost of Research.”  The hearing comes in the wake of a proposal by the Trump Administration to reduce the amount NIH reimburses overhead payments on research grants,from roughly 28% of the agency’s grant spending to 10%.  While the discussion at the hearing was relatively civil, there is growing concern that Congress may reach too far in efforts to “reform” the way indirect reimbursement rates are calculated and applied to grants.  Democratic members expressed concern that efforts to save money may ultimately erode the quality of research conducted at our nation’s universities (see Science article below).

In the News…

House science panel joins Trump in questioning research overhead payments


 How NSF cut 11% from its budget


Trump budget puts future scientific advances at risk


Washington needs high-level science and technology expertise – now!


Upcoming Hearings and Briefings

House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, National Science Foundation Budget Hearing, June 7, 10:30 a.m.  (Click for details)

“Building the Modern World: Geoscience that Underlies Our Economic Prosperity,” June 12, 2-3 p.m., 122 Cannon House Office Building, RSVP: Danielle Woodring (Click for email)

Late Night Quotable

Jimmy Fallon:  “Wonder Woman” made over $100 million at the box office this weekend, and beat “Captain Underpants.” But I think Captain Underpants is in denial — he’s been handing out electoral maps to show the theaters where he won.”  

Seth Myers: “Centrist politician Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election yesterday over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen — thanks to France’s unusual practice of awarding the presidency to the person with the most votes.” 

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Mark Vieth

Mark Vieth is a senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Before that, Vieth was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as chief of staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania.

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