2012 Budget Offers Pain and Gain for R&D

Healthy increases proposed for most federal research agencies.

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Technology and environment

Basic research

R&D funding within the National Science Foundation would increase by some 16 percent under the proposed budget. “In these challenging fiscal times, when difficult financial choices have to be made to return our nation to solid financial footing, this budget request reflects the confidence that the president is placing in NSF as an agency,” said Subra Suresh, the agency’s director.

Much of the money is designated for interdisciplinary research and training, with an emphasis on clean-energy initiatives, cyber infrastructure and other programs such as robotics for health care and for deep-sea exploration. Research grants to non-NSF scientists might see a 27.8 percent increase over FY 2010 spending, including boosting the number of faculty career grants and graduate research fellowships.

More than $998 million is slated for the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability portfolio, which would invest in research on clean energy, climate change and rapid response to extreme events. A new National Robotics Initiative would receive $30 million in the next fiscal year, and another $117 million would launch a Cyberstructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering, to ensure Internet and computer access to schools and the public. 

Several interdisciplinary programs, such as BioMaPS, (which is geared towards clean energy), and Science and Engineering Beyond Moore’s Law (which focuses on research into efficient computing, data storage and communication) also may receive hefty funds. Almost $200 million could go to research into advanced manufacturing, which includes robotics programs, nanomanufacturing and sensor-based “smart” manufacturing.

Earth and climate

The budget proposes nearly $5.5 billion for the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the second year in a row that the president has requested a significant uptick from the $4.86 billion NOAA received in FY 2010. 

Most of that increase would go to develop satellites vital for weather forecasting, said Monica Medina, the agency’s principal deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere. For instance, the proposed budget asks for $1.07 billion for the planned Joint Polar Satellite System, the next generation of polar-orbiting satellites.

Also on the administration wish list: several climate initiatives, including $4.7 million to improve measurements of fossil fuel emissions nationwide and $2 million for improving the quality of weather forecasts as they relate to clean-energy projects. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year, NOAA is asking for $2.9 million for research into such spills, plus a host of initiatives to assist coastal communities that depend on fishing. Overall, the budget would give NOAA $737 million to fund R&D programs on climate, weather and the study of ecosystems.

The U.S. Geological Survey would see an essentially flat budget of $1.12 billion. That would, however, include a $48 million increase so that USGS could assume sole management of the Landsat series of Earth-observing satellites, orbiters it had jointly managed with NASA.

Space and planetary research

NASA’s R&D budget would decline by 2.2 percent, to $9.8 billion, under the President’s proposed budget. “It’s difficult fiscal times and we had to make very difficult fiscal choices,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at a press briefing on February 14.

NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, which an independent panel recently found had a minimum construction overrun of $1.5 billion, is now funded separately from other astrophysics missions, as the panel had suggested (SN Online: 11/11/10). Under the president’s plan, the James Webb would receive $375 million in 2012, which Bolden said would stabilize the mission but not stem the overrun. A new, later launch date for the telescope, which only a year ago was targeted for 2014, won’t be announced until the summer. Rick Howard, program director for the telescope at NASA in Washington, D.C., said it was unlikely to be launched before 2016 due to funding constraints.