November 17 Federal Budget Update

As you may remember, in his annual budget proposal released earlier this year, President Trump proposed significant cuts to key federal agencies that fund research, including the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Under the President’s proposal, a few agencies that fund research would receive increases in their total budgets, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), but these increases are largely directed towards programs other than those that fund research.

While none of the FY 2018 funding bills have passed both the House and Senate and have been signed by the President, both houses have separately advanced spending bills that demonstrate support for basic research and education programs across agencies. In fact, the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) indicates that the twelve spending bills passed by the House in September actually increase funding for research by about 2.6 percent (to roughly $35.6 billion total), with much of the increases in defense and health related research programs.

Congressional rejection of the President’s proposed cuts to federal research is not entirely surprising, as most Members of Congress represent districts that include universities and other organizations that rely on research funding. Most Members of Congress understand the value of federal research and remain wary of the magnitude of the cuts proposed by the President. The final enacted funding levels for key agencies in recent years bear this out. For example, since 2010, the NIH budget has fluctuated between $29.3 billion at its low point in 2013 and roughly $32 billion. The Trump budget proposed a $5.8 billion cut, or roughly 20 percent of the agency’s total budget. A similar trend can be seen at NSF, which received $7.2 billion in 2013 at its low point and roughly $7.7 billion at its highest (following the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009).

Because of these recent trends, and in spite of the fact that the President’s budget requests in FY 2019 and beyond are expected to propose similar cuts to this year’s, most federal research agencies are proceeding with plans for prioritized investment and even the creation of new programs. Many of these priorities align well with Northeastern’s areas of strategic focus and position us to maintain, and even augment, recent research funding growth. The DOD and DHS, for example, have articulated priorities including cyber security and materials research, and NSF areas of focus include disaster management and resilience, arctic navigation, and coastal sustainability.

As for timing, we expect the House and Senate to pass another Continuing Resolution to keep the government open beyond the current deadline of December 8. It is uncertain when they will be able to finalize long term funding bills, but we anticipate it might not be until well into 2018. In the meantime, Congress will be focused on tax reform (please see our statement opposing the higher education provisions in the House tax bill). As always, we will continue to advocate for funding that supports Northeastern’s mission.