Budget requests for science, research mostly flat

One big winner is likely to be NOAA, which is gearing up to launch new weather satellites in 2016-17.

Science and research

President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget request held steady from enacted 2014 funding for federal agencies that perform the lion’s share of science for the government, but the administration’s rhetorical push for innovation presents a quandary for some agencies trying to do more with less.

While funding for scientific agencies remained mostly flat, federal research and development spending would increase 1.2 percent over fiscal 2014 enacted levels to $135.4 billion. The non-defense share of R&D would increase by 1.7 percent to $69.5 billion.


NASA’s $17.5 billion for fiscal 2015 is a 1 percent decrease from 2014’s $17.7 billion. On the whole, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters March 4, the budget contained “a lot of good news” and enough money to keep NASA and its 10 centers at the forefront of space exploration and scientific discovery. NASA’s request includes $645 million for the James Webb Space Telescope – currently the space agency’s biggest program – and undisclosed dollar amounts for its asteroid redirect mission and a future trip to Jupiter’s potentially life-harboring moon, Europa.

Under the 2015 budget proposal, NASA would get a 2 percent bump in IT spending over last year, from $1.4 billion to $1.43 billion. These are challenging times in IT for NASA: The agency is trying to centralize its IT spend per a slew of recommendations by the NASA inspector general, and it’s also in the midst of determining whether to extend its contentious $2.5 billion IT services contract with HP Enterprise Services.

However, the dip in overall funding would force NASA to ground its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy mission that it spent $90 million on in fiscal 2014. NASA foots most of the bill for the 2.5-meter telescope mounted to a Boeing aircraft that makes a wide range of observations in partnership with the German government. Unless other funding options arise, SOFIA will be grounded. Other projects could face similar fates if Congress chooses to fund NASA below its requested dollar amount, though Bolden was upbeat, suggesting the NASA budget still allows for humans to visit an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by 2030.

Commerce Department and National Science Foundation

The Commerce Department would receive the largest increase of any department, up 6 percent to $8.8 billion, including a $100 million increase in overall IT spending.

Commerce includes the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Census Bureau. Because the department has yet to publish the entirety of its budget -- officials said full information will be available in the next week -- it is difficult to ascertain exactly where funding will increase. One clear beneficiary, however, will be NOAA, which is charged with collecting scientific data to make weather forecasts. The agency would receive $2 billion for the development of its next-generation satellite systems alone in fiscal 2015. NOAA has been hard at work readying its ground systems for a huge influx in data that will amass beginning in early 2016 when its first Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) is launched. In 2017, NOAA will launch its first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellite. Collectively, both programs cost $22 billion and will produce on the order of 20 terabytes of weather data per day.

NIST, which leads the way in civilian cybersecurity research and computing standards, would receive about $680 million, approximately $200 million less than it requested in fiscal 2014 but on par with what it received in fiscal 2013.

The National Science Foundation also saw a relatively flat budget, with a 1 percent increase in proposed funding, to about $7.4 billion. Detailed information about NSF’s proposed expenditures is also not yet available.

Department of Energy and National Institutes of Health

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the largest funder of physical sciences research in government, and its fiscal 2015 fiscal budget request is $5.11 billion, less than a 1 percent increase over last year’s funding. The Office of Science’s proposal puts an emphasis on computing: Its Advanced Scientific Computing Research program – one of its six major research programs – will be infused with about $70 million in new cash, a 13 percent increase to $540 million.

The increases in computing research will be offset primarily by a major 18 percent ($88 million) cut to fusion energy sciences research.

The National Institutes of Health would receive $30.4 billion under Obama’s proposed budget, or about $211 million more than last year. That money gives NIH the ability to support 9,300 grants – around 300 more than in fiscal 2014. Most significant may be that NIH received an increase in funding at all, according to Director Francis Collins, considering its parent agency, the Health and Human Services Department, actually saw an overall decrease in proposed funding.