In presenting his fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget to the American people on February 1, President Obama noted that: "These have been tough times, and there will be difficult months ahead. But the storms of the past are receding; the skies are brightening; and the horizon is beckoning once more." Moving the Nation "from recession to recovery, and ultimately to prosperity" remains the Administration's goal. Yet the Nation, the Administration admits, continues to experience the consequences of the deep and lasting recession such as lost jobs, lost savings, and struggling businesses.
Any President's budget reflects the priorities and choices he believes the U.S. must make in the years ahead. For President Obama trying to simultaneously spur recovery while confronting a massive deficit makes the challenges daunting. For FY 2011, the President announced that: "To help put our country on a fiscally sustainable path, we will freeze non-security discretionary funding for 3 years." Of course, this does not mean keeping all programs at their current level of spending, since the budget also includes "more than 120 programs designated for termination, reduction, or other savings." The discretionary spending freeze and the attempt to eliminate programs are a favorite tool of Administrations' promoting fiscal discipline. Sometimes they work as the former did early in the Clinton Administration, while the latter are mostly exercises in futility as the congressional champions of the proposed eliminated programs usually succeed in saving them.
The President's priorities remain finishing health care reform that would enable budgetary savings down the road, promoting climate change and clean energy, implementing education reform, cleaning up the financial services sector of the economy, and fostering innovation through the support of science and technology. Funding to complete U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan remain part of the budgetary picture as well.
In overall terms, the proposed FY 2011 budget anticipates revenues of $2.567 trillion, up from $2.165 trillion in FY 2010 due to the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. Total spending would also climb to $3.824 trillion in FY 2011 from $3.721 trillion in FY 2010. This would reduce the deficit from $1.55 trillion or 14.6 percent of GDP in FY 2010 to an estimated $1.267 trillion or 8.3 percent of GDP in FY 2011.
The President wants to "put our country on a fiscally sustainable path-balancing the Budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015." To help him attain this goal he has appointed former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles to co-chair a bipartisan commission that will include congressional leadership appointments. The Commission will have to confront the mandatory side of the budget, including spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which are projected at 57 percent of spending in FY 2011, same as FY 2010 (the Administration assumes savings from health care reform and the end of the TARP bailout). The discretionary side of the budget will get smaller in FY 2011, only 36 percent of spending, as compared to 39 percent in FY 2010. Interest payments on the debt climb from four percent in FY 2010 to seven percent in FY 2011 reflecting the increase in the deficit.
Despite Iraq and Afghanistan the share of the discretionary budget devoted to defense spending would decline to 50.5 percent in FY 2011 under the proposed budget. It was 53.9 percent in FY 2009. The non-defense spending share would climb to 49.5 percent under the FY 2011 proposal.
Science and Technology Budget
White House Science Adviser John Holdren continues to tell congressional committees that this President is a strong believer in science and technology as the keys to an innovative economy and job creation. "He gets it," Holdren has proclaimed. In September 2009, the Administration produced Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs with the proviso that Research and Development (R&D) investments in the United States should reach three percent of GDP. The FY 2011 budget proposal will move the U.S. closer to that goal.
The proposed budget continues the doubling of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Science in the Department of Energy (DOE), and the research account in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as called for in the America COMPETES Act and various reports from both the Bush and Obama Administrations. In addition, the NSF, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the DOE Science Office all benefited from significant spending in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) enacted in 2009.
The Administration also remains committed to four major cross-agency science and technology programs. The National Nanotechnology Initiative has a proposed 22 percent increase in the FY 2011 budget for Environmental Health and Safety research. The U.S. Global Change Research Program has a 21 percent increase over FY 2010 to $2.6 billion "to help the government and society to understand, predict, project, mitigate, and adapt to climate change." The Networking and Information Technology R&D program has a proposed increase (minus Defense earmarked projects) to $4.3 billion to help agencies provide support for research efforts in cybersecurity, high-end computing systems, advanced networking, information management and other information technologies. Finally, the FY 2011 budget proposes investing $3.7 billion across the government in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education programs.
The total R&D spending proposed for FY 2011, however, remains relatively flat, $147.7 billion as compared to $147.4 billion in FY 2010. Support for basic research climbs by four percent to $31.3 billion; while spending for applied research increases by seven percent to $30.3 billion. These increases are offset by a three percent decline in the development budget, including a $3.7 billion decline in defense development spending. This reduces the Defense share of R&D spending from 55 percent in FY 2010 to 52.5 percent in FY 2011.
The proposed budget also includes funding for continued revitalization of research funding in the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice. There are also considerable increases for many of the Federal statistical agencies.
National Science Foundation
Early in 2010 NSF Director Arden Bement announced he would leave in late May to return to Purdue University as head of a public policy institute there. His departure after five and a half years as director should move sociologist Cora Marrett, the current Acting Deputy Director, into the top slot until the Administration nominates and the Senate confirms a new leader for the Foundation.
Late in 2009, Myron Gutmann, former director of the Inter-university Consortium on Political and Social Research and former COSSA President, became the new Assistant Director (AD) for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate (SBE). At the Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate Wanda Ward, who became Acting AD when Marrett became Deputy Director, was replaced by Joan Ferrini-Mundy, who is also Acting AD.
As noted above, NSF will continue on its doubling path with a proposed FY 2011 budget of $7.424 billion, an eight percent increase over FY 2010. The Research and Related Activities account, which funds the research directorates, including SBE, has a proposed 8.2 percent boost. The EHR directorate's proposed funding goes up slightly to $892 million from the FY 2010 level of $872.7 million.
The Foundation's priorities have not changed and the significant new initiatives are collaborations with the Department of Energy and Department of Education as part of the national agenda to improve STEM education. The NSF has increased its commitment to Climate Change research by increasing funding for an initiative NSF calls Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES). Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation remains on the NSF funding agenda as does the Administration's commitment to triple the number of Graduate Research Fellows over the next few years.
The SBE directorate has a proposed budget of $268.8 million, a 5.3 percent raise over FY 2010. SBE will focus on its core programs, boost funding for the major data infrastructure surveys, while investigating possible new infrastructure projects, and commit funds to the SEES initiative. Support for the Science of Science and Innovation Policy will continue with slightly increased funding and the Science of Learning Centers will become an integral part of SBE's new Office of Multidisciplinary Activities.
EHR is making a commitment to increased funding for evaluation studies of STEM education efforts and proposing to combine its programs aimed at broadening participation of scientists and students from underrepresented groups in science and engineering.
In 2010 the America COMPETES Act, which includes the NSF authorization, will come before Congress for renewal. Reauthorizing COMPETES will be the last hurrah for House Science and Technology (S&T) Committee Chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) who will leave the Congress after 2010. Joining him as former members of Congress will be S&T Committee stalwarts Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) and Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), who have been champions and defenders of SBE research against congressional critics.
National Institutes of Health and Other Health Agencies
Changes have and will be coming too to the National Institutes of Health. In October 2009, Francis Collins, the man who guided the Human Genome Project, became the NIH director. Raynard Kington moved back to his Deputy Director post after having served as Acting Director for almost a year. In early 2010, Kington announced he will leave NIH in the spring to become President of Grinnell College.
The Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research (OBSSR) continues to search for a new leader. Christine Bachrach who had served as Acting Director left at the end of 2009 and
Deborah Oelster has now replaced her. Many of the NIH Institutes are currently led by Acting Directors as Collins moves to get his new team in place.
The NIH budget in the FY 2011 proposal goes up by $1 billion to $32.2 billion. More significantly NIH is still spending the $10.4 billion it received in the ARRA. For social and behavioral scientists the most important development at NIH is the recently initiated Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Opportunity Network (OppNet), launched in FY 2010 with $10 million in ARRA funds. OppNet would receive $20 million in FY 2011, and over its five year life expects to spend $120 million. All of the Institutes and Centers are participating in this opportunity to support research to understand fundamental mechanisms and patterns of behavioral and social functioning relevant to the Nation's health and well-being, as they interact with each other, with biology, and with the environment. The proposed budget would also continue funding for the National Children's Study, albeit without much of an increase, to maintain the Vanguard pilot sites before moving on to the complete study.
The Agency for Heathcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a major player in comparative effectiveness research, receives an enormous boost for its FY 2011 budget. AHRQ will have an important role in conducting research and evaluations on the implementation of health care reform, if it is enacted. The same agenda will be part of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s budget goes down under the Administration's proposed budget for FY 2011. However, one bright spot is the National Center for Health Statistics, which would go up by close to 17 percent.
Research and Data in the Departments
As noted above, the Administration's proposed FY 2011 budget includes increased funding to boost research and evaluation studies, and data collection, analysis, and dissemination across many of the Cabinet Departments.
At the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the implementation of the changes in the research structure promulgated by the 2008 Farm Bill continue. Roger Beachy has been appointed the Director of the new National Institute on Food and Agriculture (NIFA). With the departure of Rajiv Shah as Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics, Beachy is also now the Chief Scientist of USDA. The reorganization also includes the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) replacing the old National Competitive Research Initiative as the key competitive grants program at the Department. In the FY 2011 budget proposal, the Administration is asking for more than a 63 percent increase in AFRI's budget. Since some of this comes at the expense of Special Grants favored by Congress, an increase of this magnitude may not occur. But the trend for competitive grants at USDA has been up in recent years and will likely continue. The Economic Research Service has been given the lead role to create a "community of practice" among the Federal statistical agencies and funds for a pilot project on using administrative data to understand government nutrition programs better.
After years of preparation, difficulties, and enormous sums of Federal dollars, the 2010 Census is upon us. As is customary, the Bureau's budget will decline significantly in the year after the decennial, but the Administration is requesting an increase to beef up the sample of the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS allowed the 2010 questionnaire to consist of only ten questions as it has picked up many of the long-form questions for its more timely surveys. The Administration has again requested a large increase in FY 2011 for the Bureau of Economic Analysis to improve its ability to more accurately measure the American economy.
With education reform and the upcoming reauthorization of the elementary and secondary education act (ESEA) still front and center on the Administration's agenda, the research, assessment, and data agencies of the Department of Education are slated for increases in the President's FY 2011 budget. Evaluating reform efforts, developing enhanced student achievement data, and improving assessment remain an important part of Institute of Education Sciences' agenda. The same commitment to increased funding does not extend to the International Education and Foreign Language programs or the various graduate education support programs all of which are proposed for level funding in FY 2011.
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) the attempted transformation continues. As part of this effort, the Office of Policy Development and Research (OPD&R) has a proposed 81 percent increase to revitalize its basic data infrastructure, including the American Housing Survey. OPD&R will also support basic research in housing, and as in FY 2010, would receive a portion of a one-percent set-aside for research and statistics from HUD's program budget.
After a significant increase in the FY 2010 budget of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to reinvigorate the National Crime Victimization Survey, in FY 2011 it is the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ) turn. The Administration is proposing an almost 46 percent boost for NIJ to "reinvigorate NIJ's social science research mandate." NIJ also awaits the report from the National Academies' committee that has been reviewing the Institute. The Administration is again proposing a set-aside of program money from the Office of Justice Programs to help support research and statistics. For FY 2010 Congress agreed to a one-percent set-aside. For FY 2011 the Administration raises that to three percent.
After many years, there appears to be a restored effort at funding evaluations at the Department of Labor (DOL), including one on a prisoner re-entry program. The Department is also proposing to centralize all its evaluation efforts in the office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy. DOL will also continue a shared project with the Department of Education to develop longitudinal data on the nation's workforce. The small increase proposed for the Bureau of Labor Statistics would go to help modernize the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
An exception to this trend of increased budgets in the Department's research support occurs at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The FY 2011 proposed budget has decreases for DHS' Human Factors division and the University Programs. This is part of a general overall decrease in DHS' Science and Technology Directorate. The reduction in the University Programs threatens one of the twelve Centers of Excellence and the Scholarship and Fellowship program where social and behavioral science students have done quite well.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has a $1 million boost from the Highway Trust Fund for FY 2011 to improve its data collection and dissemination activities, including the important Commodity Flow Survey. The State Department's exchange programs suffer a small decrease, after years of significant increases, in the FY 2011 proposed budget. The emphasis remains on reaching out to the Muslim world and helping the people learn English. The academic exchanges, which include the Fulbright program, are down a little over three percent.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is also down slightly in the FY 2011 proposed budget, with the continued development of a program to store the massive electronic records compiled by government entities and the development of a National Declassification Center to help create a swifter process. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) also receives less in the FY 2011 proposal than it received from Congress in FY 2010. One new wrinkle is the eligibility of graduate students for NEH summer institutes and seminars.
The continued partisan bickering exacerbated by the fight over healthcare reform has affected the ability of Congress to get its work done, including appropriations. In addition, public concerns about government spending and the upcoming congressional elections add fuel to the fire. Once again, the prospects of Congress completing the funding process by the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2010 seem dim. We can then get into discussions of a post-election lame-duck session and omnibus spending bills. But after a long, cold and snowy Washington winter, the sun is out, the left-over snow continues to melt, and an early version of spring has arrived, so those speculations will remain on hold.
Howard J. Silver, March 2009