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FY24 Science Budget Proposals Coming Into Focus

MAR 16, 2023
Science agencies are releasing details of President Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget request, which prioritizes research related to emerging technologies and climate change and includes a new emphasis on fusion energy.
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of FYI

biden-at-podium-feb-2023.jpg

Image credit – Adam Schultz / The White House

President Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2024 seeks increases across most science agencies and retains his prior requests’ emphasis on research related to emerging technologies and climate change. It also prioritizes major initiatives such as the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA–H). And in a new move, it would significantly expand funding for fusion energy technology development.

However, the budget’s ambitions also fall short of those set out in last year’s CHIPS and Science Act . It undershoots the funding target the act set for NSF by $4.3 billion and for the Department of Energy Office of Science by almost $750 million, though it is much closer to the fiscal year 2023 targets. The budget also asks Congress to fund the regional technology hub program the act authorized in the Commerce Department through a special $4 billion multiyear appropriation, well below the act’s $10 billion target.

The administration’s proposals face a highly uncertain political dynamic in Congress as this is the first request since the Democrats lost control of the House. Although Biden’s previous appropriations have required Republican buy-in to clear the threat of a Senate filibuster, House Republicans will be newly empowered to press their agenda to reduce non-defense spending. The year’s budget negotiations have only begun to play out, but the political headwinds pushing against funding increases are likely to be strong.

Summary figures from the request will be compiled in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker and the White House has posted a summary of its proposed R&D spending . Individual science agencies are in the process of posting their detailed budget proposals on their websites:

FY24 Science Budget Request Summary Chart

DOE Office of Science

The administration aims to raise the budget for the Office of Science by 9% to $8.8 billion. Among the office’s programs, the largest proposed increase by a wide margin is for Fusion Energy Sciences, backing up the “bold decadal vision” to develop fusion pilot plants that the administration announced last year. The more than $1 billion sought for the program would ramp up efforts to support private fusion ventures as well as fund new R&D centers focused on problems related to plant construction. Other priority initiatives include the launch of Microelectronics Science Research Centers authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act, the sustainment of efforts to develop alternative sources of isotopes currently only available from Russia, and an increase in grant sizes to enable graduate students to receive stipends of $45,000.

DOE Applied Energy

The administration continues to seek sizeable increases for selected energy R&D activities, including a 38% boost for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy that would bring its budget to $650 million. Proposals for renewable energy include an 83% increase to $216 million for geothermal energy and a nearly tripled budget of $385 million for wind energy, dedicated mostly to two initiatives in offshore power generation. A cut for the Office of Nuclear Energy is accounted for largely by the ramp down of a project focused on small modular reactors. The administration seeks $35 million for planning an “18th national laboratory” that would be sited at a Historically Black College or University or another minority-serving institution and would conduct multidisciplinary research on regional and local energy issues. Large-scale demonstration projects will continue to be separately funded through special multiyear appropriations enacted in 2021 and 2022.

National Science Foundation

NSF’s budget would increase about 15% to $11.3 billion, building on the 12% increase Congress provided last year through a $1 billion supplementary appropriation. The recently created TIP Directorate would receive the largest increase in percentage terms across NSF’s directorates , its funding rising by about a third to $1.19 billion, while the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate would receive the smallest, rising 9% to $1.84 billion. Priority research areas identified across the directorates include climate change, advanced manufacturing, advanced wireless, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, microelectronics, and quantum information science. NSF proposes starting one new major construction project: a Leadership-Class Computing Facility initiative that would upgrade research supercomputing infrastructure in five cities, which the agency estimates will cost up to $620 million.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

In the previous appropriations cycle, Congress boosted NIST’s budget by 32% to $1.63 billion, though about half the increase was for earmarked construction and research projects at universities that are tangential to the agency’s mission. The administration now seeks to increase the budget for NIST’s core activities excluding earmarks up to $1.63 billion, which is close to the target set in the CHIPS and Science Act. Top priorities for NIST include expanding its manufacturing programs as well as addressing a severe maintenance and recapitalization backlog at its campuses in Colorado and Maryland. While the administration proposes doubling NIST’s facilities maintenance budget to $262 million, NIST has estimated that fully remedying the problem will take $300 million to $400 million in construction funding annually for the next 12 years combined with an additional $120 million to $150 million per year for maintenance for at least that long.

NASA

A proposed 6% increase for the Science Mission Directorate would bring its budget to almost $8.3 billion, with the largest increases directed to the Earth Science and Planetary Science Divisions. Within Planetary Science, $949 million is requested for the Mars Sample Return mission, far outstripping the annual budget for any other individual project the directorate is supporting. NASA warns that MSR cost estimates are escalating and it anticipates having either to descope the mission or divert funding from other efforts. After funding was diverted last year from the Near-Earth Object Surveyor, that mission’s annual budget is now poised to reach higher levels than previously anticipated to accommodate its own cost increase. As a new cost-controlling measure, the administration proposes cutting the Heliophysics Division budget by 7% to $751 million, primarily by pausing work on the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, a major mission to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere that is just starting to ramp up.

National Nuclear Security Administration

The NNSA budget would increase 8% to $23.8 billion, with its Stockpile Research, Technology, and Engineering portfolio also rising 8% to just under $3.2 billion. Within that amount, the administration proposes to cut the Inertial Confinement Fusion program by 5% to $602 million, broadly attributing the move to “reprioritization of resources to support higher priority NNSA programmatic efforts.” However, the administration does anticipate ramping up funding for fusion in future fiscal years. Further, the historic achievement of fusion ignition at NNSA’s National Ignition Facility last December took place late in the budget formulation process and so it might have a greater influence on future requests.

Department of Defense

The administration proposes to increase funding for DOD’s Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation accounts by 2% to $147 billion. That would continue a trend that has already more than doubled funding for RDT&E since the beginning of the Trump administration. However, the relatively small percentage-wise increase would entail cuts to earlier-stage R&D accounts, including a 15% cut bringing basic research funding down to $2.5 billion, close to its fiscal year 2019 level. The annual budget for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would increase 8% to $4.39 billion under the request.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA’s budget would increase 10% to $6.8 billion under the request. The administration states the elevated funding level partly reflects “a new 10-year, $25 billion cost profile for NOAA weather satellites.” The agency is currently completing the acquisition of new polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellites and is planning future constellations for geostationary observations and space weather monitoring.

US Geological Survey

Echoing its ambitious proposals for the previous two years, the administration seeks a 19% increase to $1.79 billion for USGS. Additional funding would both expand existing programs and establish new initiatives, particularly surrounding research on the emission and absorption of greenhouse gases and the impacts of climate change.

National Institutes of Health

Within NIH, the budget for ARPA–H would jump 66% to $2.5 billion, while the budget for the rest of NIH would increase only about 2% to $48.6 billion, with many of its institutes and centers slated for flat funding. The administration requests a special multiyear $20 billion appropriation for a pandemic preparedness and biodefense initiative, of which NIH would receive $2.7 billion. The administration proposed a similarly ambitious preparedness initiative last year that Congress declined to fund.

Other selected proposals

  • The Department of Education requests $350 million for expanding R&D infrastructure at four-year minority-serving institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities.
  • The State Department requests $150 million to support the U.S. rejoining the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,” which it withdrew from in 2019.
  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requests $20 million to create two programs focused on identifying ways to share and repurpose portions of the radiofrequency spectrum. It also seeks $8 million for upgrades and repairs to the Table Mountain Field Site and Radio Quiet Zone.
  • The Transportation Department requests $19 million to stand up the ARPA for Infrastructure (ARPA–I) that Congress authorized through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.
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