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Trump's 'Hard-Power' Budget Cuts Agencies, Shifts Research and Innovation to Private Sector

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President Donald Trump’s budget proposal slashes funding for some federal agencies, eliminates offices and shifts research to the private sector, according to a budget blueprint unveiled Thursday morning. It also funnels more dollars into protecting national borders and cyberspace.

The White House’s so-called skinny budget allots about $1.1 trillion to federal agencies. It hits the Environment Protection Agency and Energy Department particularly hard; EPA would see an across-the-board 31 percent reduction in funding. Energy would face a 5.6 percent reduction in addition to the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy—its research and development group—and the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program.

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Along with the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Census Bureau would see a budget increase: it allots $1.5 billion, including an additional $100 million, for “fundamental investments in information technology and field infrastructure” so it can “effectively administer” the upcoming 2020 Census. The General Accountability Office recently added the 2020 Census to its high-risk list.

Cutting Research Dollars

“The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies,” the blueprint reads, also cutting the Energy Department’s Office of Science—which supports research at national laboratories—by about $900 million. It adds $1.4 billion, an 11 percent increase from the 2017 continuing-resolution level, to the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration in an effort to “strengthen the nation’s nuclear capability."

It also proposes a $12 million cut by eliminating grants provided by the Small Business Administration—these include technical assistance grants for low-income entrepreneurs and funds sent to startup growth accelerators—because the “private sector provides effective mechanisms to foster local business development and investment.”

The blueprint outlines a 0.8 percent decrease in NASA’s budget, eliminating its Office of Education, which organizes “projects for students, faculty and institutions” who might eventually apply for NASA research awards, according to NASA. Though the plan aims to fortify NASA’s cyber programs for “safeguarding critical systems and data,” it also appears to promote greater collaboration between the public and private sectors on space exploration.

It would also support “data buys,” encouraging agencies to buy satellite information or Earth imagery already collected by commercial companies instead of setting up their own observatory operations.

The blueprint also “zeroes out” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s more than $250 million in grants for coastal and marine research, which “primarily benefit industry and state and local stakeholders,” the blueprint reads. Those research efforts are “lower priority” than other programs including “surveys, charting and fisheries management.”

Tech for Border Protection

Broadly, the budget aims to direct dollars away from foreign spending—including from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development—and funnels them instead into domestic spending, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters in a media call Wednesday. He described the budget as “America first” and “hard-power." 

The budget proposal suggests investing $2.6 billion “in high-priority tactical infrastructure and border security technology,” including plans to build a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent the entry of narcotics and immigrants. The fiscal 2017 request allots $286 million for Customs and Border Protection’s operations and support, including $64 million for “technology, equipment and infrastructure investments that directly contribute to the effectiveness of border security operations.”

The fiscal 2017 request includes $11 million for an unnamed “real-time border and immigration data integration system” within the Office of Immigration Statistics to support immigration enforcement efforts and modeling analysis.

It also aims to increase the FBI’s budget by about 3 percent, which includes an additional $61 million to “fight terrorism and combat foreign intelligence and cyber threats and address public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of encrypted products and services,” the budget said. The FBI would also have $35 million for sharing intelligence data with other groups and help with “biometric identity resolution, research and development.”

It also requests the FBI spend $9 million more on programs including “data to target violent crime in some cities and communities.”

Modernizing Veteran Affairs Systems

The blueprint also sketches out plans to fund “information technology to improve the efficiency and efficacy" of Veterans Affairs Department services, including “sustainment, development and modernization initiatives that would improve the quality of services provided to veterans and avoid the costs of maintaining outdated, inefficient systems.”

Protecting Cyberspace

Trump’s blueprint is peppered with commitments to enhance agency cybersecurity, including plans at the Treasury Department to “preempt fragmentation of information technology management,” which could help it “anticipate and nimbly respond in the event of a cyberattack.”

The fiscal 2017 request also allots $1.5 billion for DHS’ efforts to “protect federal networks and critical infrastructure from an attack.” DHS’ “suite of advanced cybersecurity tools and more assertive defense of government networks” could help the “leading to faster responses to cybersecurity attacks directed at federal networks and critical infrastructure.”

And despite large cuts at Energy's research programs, the blueprint pledges support for its Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, which would “carry out cybersecurity and grid resiliency activities” to help protect the domestic power grid.

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