The Trump Administration’s Plan to Usher in ‘Second Bold Era’ of Science and Technology

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The administration’s lead budget and science policy shops released an outline of funding priorities to maintain America’s competitiveness through research and development of new technologies.

As the 2019 fiscal year nears its end, the Trump administration is looking to the future with the release of a set of budget priorities to focus the government’s science and technology research efforts.

The government allocates just shy of $120 billion a year for research and development efforts, split between civilian and defense agencies. Friday, the administration’s budget and science leads, Office of Management and Budget acting Director Russell Vought and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier, issued a memo to all federal agencies stating the research and development goals and budget priorities for fiscal 2021.

In the memo, Vought and Droegemeier write American leadership in science and technology began after World War II, as federal investment in research spawned “America’s First Bold Era in S&T.”

“The resulting extraordinary discoveries and innovations laid the foundation for today's Second Bold Era in S&T—one characterized by unprecedented knowledge, access to data and computing resources, ubiquitous and instant communication, and technologies that allow us to peer into the inner workings of atomic particles as well as the vastness of the universe,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, this Second Bold Era also features new and extraordinary threats which must be confronted thoughtfully and effectively.”

The memo outlines five priority areas the administration will focus on as it develops the president’s 2021 budget proposal, as well as five “crosscutting actions” that all federal agencies should prioritize going forward.

“This fiscal year 2021 R&D budget priorities memorandum provides direction to enable this Second Bold Era as part of a longer-term, multisector, national strategy to advance bold, transformational leaps in S&T, build a diverse workforce of the future, solve previously intractable grand challenges, and ensure America remains the global S&T leader for generations to come,” the memo states.

The five priorities center on national security, energy and environmental research, health and wellbeing and near- and long-term progress in space exploration.

American Security

As the nation makes technical advances, so does the world, including our enemies. In order to maintain national security, the administration plans to invest in four key areas:

  • Advanced military capabilities, including “hypersonic weapons capabilities, resilient national security space systems and modernized and flexible strategic and nonstrategic nuclear deterrent capabilities.”
  • Making critical infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters and physical and digital threats.
  • Securing the supply chain by developing trusted sources for semiconductors and other microelectronics.
  • Securing access to critical minerals, including “developing recycling and reprocessing technologies, identifying substitute materials, and developing new and improved processes for critical mineral extraction, separation, refining, and alloying.”

American Leadership in Industries of the Future

While the nation has built the base infrastructure for the Second Bold Era, that work needs to continue, according to the second priority. That future infrastructure will come in the form of three advanced technological areas:

  • Artificial intelligence, quantum information science and computing, in conjunction with the 2019 executive order and strategic plan, as well as legislation supporting these efforts.
  • Advanced communications networks and autonomous vehicles, including land, air and sea, “with a focus on developing operating standards, integration approaches, traffic management systems and defense/security operations.”
  • Advanced manufacturing through industrial robotics, “especially systems enabled by the industrial internet of things, machine learning, and AI,” as well as “investments in bio-based manufacturing to ensure domestic access to needed medicines.”

American Energy and Environmental Leadership

The administration wants agencies to focus on developing energy resources and improving access to environmental data. These priorities are split into three areas:

  • Investments in energy technology research “for harnessing American energy resources safely and efficiently, inclusive of nuclear, renewable and fossil energy.”
  • Continuing to explore, map and identify key resources of the oceans within the U.S. exclusive economic zone. This priority includes funding research “that improves understanding of and supports effective responses to changes in the ocean system.”
  • As the Earth changes, agencies should also be investing in technologies to help predict those changes, “from individual thunderstorms to long-term global changes.”

American Health and Bioeconomic Innovation

Along with investments in the biomedical infrastructure of the future, the administration wants agencies to put more funding into medical and biotechnology research, as well. The memo highlights three areas of focus:

  • Using biomedicines to fight the opioid crisis; detect and contain infectious diseases; anti-microbial resistance; prevention and treatment of chronic disease; gene therapy; neuroscience; eradicating HIV/AIDS; and improving quality of life for aging Americans.
  • Preventing veteran suicide.
  • Develop and further enable the bioeconomy.

American Space Exploration and Commercialization

As the administration continues to develop the military Space Command, the science and technology priorities also include a space component, though on the civilian side. The fifth priority focuses on research that will return Americans to the Moon by 2024 and set up our satellite as “a proving-ground for a future human mission to Mars.”

The memo also calls for five high-priority crosscutting actions for all agencies to work on. These include:

  • Build and leverage a diverse, highly skilled American workforce.
  • Create and support research environments that reflect American values.
  • Support transformative research of high risk and potentially high reward.
  • Leverage the power of data.
  • Build, strengthen and expand strategic multisector partnerships.
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