FY 2012 Appropriations

2011 Federal Budget

True, wrong year, but a perfect picture listed under CC-BY-SA

It is definitely time, or well past the time, to do a (science) budget blog post. As you might have heard, just before the holiday break, Congress passed the Appropriations for 2012, and it is important to take a look at how science funding panned out.

Although, through this analysis and excitement as to how much Congress believes in basic research, I am keeping the following in the back of my mind: the deficit reduction talks will be fervent as ever for the 2013 budget.  And perhaps fuel for those that are asking for the evidence that science is an economic investment is the new publication by Georgia State University economist Paula Stephan, How Economics Shapes Science.  I can not say much about the book at the moment as I need to wait a few weeks for my library to get its hands on the publication. But this science career’s perspective on the publication was incredibly intriguing.

Most of what the public hears about the arrangements that govern research comes from reports by … top administrators at leading universities, eminent faculty members in major science and engineering departments, and high executives of large corporations — “not,” Stephan pointedly notes, “students and postdocs who could not find jobs.”


Are the funds that are appropriated by Congress to the funding agencies, that are then granted to universities and medical schools to carry out basic research and development giving us the results we want? I cannot answer that, but Stephan’s book perhaps attempts to and there will definitely be a discussion of that publication shortly.

But for now, lets not be dour and actually celebrate that at least for 2012, deficit reduction was only a platform for discussion and did not result in any actual significant budget cutting (at least in NIH and NSF’s budget). Overall, many agencies remained at or slightly above 2011 levels. However, these final appropriations were quite the loss for the Administration as they are are far below the original requests made last Feburary. Specifically, NIH’s budget remained at $30.2 billion, DOE received 4.9% increase ($209 million) from FY 2011 in the Office of Science and a 10.5% increase ($198 million) for energy programs and NSF gained a 2.5% increase for $7.0 billion.

Although the real question is, with the 2013 budget requests to be unvailed in the next month, in an election year, on the coat-tails of a year-long “deficit reduction or it’ll be Armageddon” fest, how will science R&D do?

First, Congress and the Administration seem to acknowledge that discretionary spending was neither the basic cause of the country’s deficit problem nor the principle source of savings to solve it. Second, science, especially basic science investments, remain popular with both parties, both branches of Congress and with the Obama Administration — and even more importantly with the American people. Just how popular remains to be seen.


The above is from a recent live chat attempting to shed light on the questions: “Can Science Spending Survive Partisan Politics?” The panelists outline some good points for scientists to push so that both sides of Congress can agree with. For example to present translatable research or to show that long term investments lead to information like monitoring weather systems can make the difference in evacuation efforts.

But overall the conversation was just speculation. Without knowing (yet) the Administration’s budget requests or (ever knowing) the motives of Congress, we cannot know for sure how science will do in 2013.

The answer to the concluding question is very poignant:

As long as the Federal Govt is going to spend in excess of $130 billion on research and development annually, and taxpayers will be the ultimate source of that money, politics will be an inherent part of the science funding enterprise.

Science will always be a part of politics. The goal is to find a system where both are able to most efficiently benefit each other.

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One response to “FY 2012 Appropriations”

  1. STEM_Wonk says :

    if you didn’t catch this: C&EN did a great write up on what’s to come in Science for 2012 here: http://cen.acs.org/articles/90/i4/Congressional-Outlook-2012.html

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