White House Releases Discouraging Details of its Fiscal Year 2018 Proposed Budget

May 25th, 2017

On Tuesday, May 22, the Trump Administration released its proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget, “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” Building upon the Administration’s initial “skinny” budget release in March, this comprehensive document encompasses President Trump’s first proposed budget. Unfortunately, the budget does not bode well for federal agencies important to the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS).

National Institutes of Health
In its initial budget release in March, the Administration proposed cutting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $6 billion, prompting bipartisan criticism from members of Congress and the scientific research and patient advocacy communities alike. Despite this strong opposition, the Administration did not revise its proposal. Given the final funding amount NIH received in the FY 2017 omnibus bill, $34 billion, the Administration’s proposed FY 2018 NIH funding level, approximately $26.9 billion (including fund transfers), now represents an even bigger cut to the NIH–$7.1 billion, or a 21 percent decrease, in FY 2018. Further, the budget includes language recommending a “major” reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to “help focus on the highest priority research and training activities.” It also sustains language from the initial budget release to eliminate the NIH Fogarty International Center, consolidate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within NIH, and reduce administrative costs and “rebalance” Federal contributions to research funding, which translates into reducing facilities and administrative (or indirect) costs to research institutions.

The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, a coalition to which FABBS belongs, decried the president’s proposal, stating it “…would risk the future of tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs, erode America’s leadership in science and innovation, and stall one of the nation’s most important economic engines.” At a May 19 hearing of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the NIH, Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) said the Administration’s NIH funding proposal, if implemented, “would stall the progress that our recent investments were intended to achieve and potentially discourage promising scientists from entering or remaining in biomedical research.” Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Chairman Cole’s Democratic counterpart on the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, urged her colleagues to reject the proposed NIH cuts, saying they “cannot turn back the clock” on the progress of the subcommittee and work at the NIH.

National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) would also take a hit in the President’s FY 2018 budget proposal. Specifically, the President proposes an 11% cut for NSF over FY 2017 enacted numbers. Although NSF was not mentioned in the President’s initial budget outline in March, there was a category for “other agencies” that would be cut on average by 10%.

NSF’s proposed budget for FY 2018 is $6.7B. The reduction in funding would be absorbed in three primary areas: six Research Directorates (including the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate) would be cut by 11% or $672M; the Education and Human Resources Directorate would be reduced by 14% or $119M; and the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would see a drop of 13% or $26M.

For the six research Directorates that are proposed for a $672M cut, each of the Directorates would be cut 9.0 to 10.4 percent (when using the Administration’s FY 2017 estimate). SBE would receive a 10.3 percent reduction. On the other hand, the Office of Integrative Activities would be cut 27.7 percent.

According to NSF, research grant awards would fall to 8,000 in FY 2018 from 8,800 in FY 2017, and the funding rate would decrease from 21% to 19%.

Institute for Education Sciences
The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) fares better in the president’s proposed budget than other science agencies. In the President’s recently-released budget numbers, IES would essentially be flat-funded from FY 2017 to FY 2018. However, the Administration’s budget tables assumes a Continuing Resolution to complete FY 2017; in actuality, Congress passed an omnibus bill that cut IES in FY 2017, meaning that from FY 2017 to FY 2018, IES would actually receive an increase.

Fiscal Year 2017 Resolved
Congress may now fully turn its attention to moving the FY 2018 spending bills now that FY 2017 is complete. On May 5, President Trump signed into law, H.R. 244, a bill funding most of the federal government through September 30, 2017. The final measure provides NIH with $34 billion, a $2 billion (6.2 percent) increase in FY 2017, as well as stable funding for NSF, which received $7.4 billion. It also includes $605 million for the Institute for Education Sciences, representing a $12.7 million (2.1 percent) cut below the agency’s FY 2016 level. Most importantly, the final FY 2017 bill did not include language precluding or curtailing the ability of agencies to support the social and behavioral sciences, nor language adversely affecting the NIH and NSF merit review processes.