Special Report: President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

By | February 3, 2015

On February 2, President Barack Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget, providing more detail about the proposals he outlined in his State of the Union speech two weeks ago. The President’s request includes new investments in research, education, training, and infrastructure in order to accelerate and sustain economic growth and competitiveness. Overall funding for research and development (R &D) would grow to $146 billion, an increase of $8 billion (5.5 percent) over FY 2015 levels.

As expected, the budget proposes to reverse the pending sequestration cuts for defense and non-defense programs. A summary of the Obama request notes that “in the absence of congressional action, non-defense discretionary funding in 2016 will be at its lowest level since 2006, adjusted for inflation.” The President replaces sequestration with alternative spending cuts, tax increases, and enhanced efforts to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs.

All of the federal science agencies would receive funding increases under the Obama proposal, as follows:

2.3.15 Wash Update chart

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) issued a press release praising the 2016 budget request. “The increases in the President’s budget are desperately needed,” stated FASEB President Joseph R. Haywood, PhD. “They should be part of a multi-year investment in the nation’s future,” added Haywood.

More details about the individual agency budgets are included below. Additional factsheets about the R&D proposals are available on the White House Office of Science and Technology website.

The President’s request of $31.3 billion for NIH represents a $1 billion or 3.3 percent increase over the FY 2015 level. A summary of the NIH budget notes that “in establishing funding priorities, NIH must maintain strong, diverse investments in basic science; the development of effective diagnostics, treatments, and preventative measures for common and rare diseases; and the need to sustain a vital and cutting-edge workforce and scientific infrastructure.”

The agency also states that a “significant portion of the $1 billion increase will be devoted to raising the number of new and competing research project grants (RPG).” NIH estimates that the FY 2016 budget will support:

  • 10,303 competing RPGs, an increase of 1,227 above the projected FY 2015 total
  • A total of 35,447 RPGs, an increase of 1,241 above the projected FY 2015 total
  • An average cost of $461,000 for new and competing RPGs, similar to the FY 2015 level

Obama’s request expands funding for several other areas of the NIH budget, including:

  • A $23 million increase for research and training to support an additional 204 full-time training positions
  • A two percent increase above the FY 2015 level for trainee stipends
  • A $95 million increase for intramural research
  • A $29 million increase for the Office of the Director, the majority ($20 million) of which will be for the Common Fund
  • A $129 million increase for buildings and facilities

As outlined in the State of the Union speech, NIH will also receive a total of $215 million to implement the new Precision Medicine Initiative. This includes $130 million to launch a national research cohort of more than one million individuals who will voluntarily share their genetic information to improve understanding of health and disease. Another $70 million will be directed to the National Cancer Institute to expand ongoing cancer genomics research and develop more effective treatments for specific types of tumors.

In addition, more than $650 million is allocated to NIH for efforts to address the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. Funds will be used to develop rapid diagnostic tests and a new national database of genomic sequence data on reported human infections with antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. NIH will also launch a large-scale effort to characterize drug resistance and create a rapid response clinical trials network to test new antibiotics on individuals infected with highly resistant strains of bacteria.

The budget request for NIH highlights other high priority research areas including the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative which would receive a $70 million over FY 2015. An additional $50 million is also provided for Alzheimer’s research. More information about the NIH budget proposal can be found here. Individual NIH institute and center summaries can are available on the NIH Budget Office website.

In the FY 2016 budget, the President requested a 5.2 percent increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF), for a total of $7.7 billion. President Obama highlighted the devastating effect sequestration had on NSF in his budget, noting, “also as a result of sequestration, the National Science Foundation awarded 690 fewer competitive awards than the previous year, resulting in the lowest total number of competitive grants provided since 2006, limiting scientists and students’ ability to pursue cutting-edge, potentially revolutionary discoveries,” (p. 9). Additionally, the President stated that a strong investment in NSF would “support ground-breaking research and world-leading facilities across fields of science and engineering, including advanced manufacturing, clean energy, climate science, information technology, and life sciences,” (p. 18).

The agency proposed the specific account allocations as outlined below. Education and Human Resources would use much of its sizeable increase to supported undergraduate and graduate students across a broad range of scientific and engineering disciplines, through fellowships and other mechanisms.

  • Research and Related Activities: $6.19 billion (+4.3%)
  • Education and Human Resources: $962.6 million (+11.2%)
  • Major Research Equipment and Facilities: $200 million (-0.2%)
  • Agency Operations and Award Management: $354.8 million (+9.2%)
  • National Science Board: $4.37 million (no change)
  • Office of Inspector General: $15.2 million (+5.1%)

During NSF Director France Córdova’s, PhD, rollout presentation, she described the four main investment priorities for FY 2016, listed below.

  • FY 2016 Cross-Foundation Investment Priority Areas
    • Understanding the Brain ($144 million)
    • Risk and Resilience ($58 million)
    • Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems ($75 million)
    • Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science ($15 million)

The full NSF FY 2016 budget request can be found HERE. A brochure version is also available, which highlights some recently funded NSF projects.

The President has requested $5.34 billion for DOE SC, which represents a 5.4 percent increase over the final FY 2015 amount. In the full budget document, President Obama spoke to the importance of DOE SC programs, stating, “To continue the cutting-edge R&D that is essential to U.S. innovation and economic competitiveness, the Budget provides DOE’s Office of Science with over $5.3 billion,” (p. 18).

DOE SC has allocated the following specific amounts to each of their research program accounts:

  • Advanced Scientific Computing: $620 million (+14.8%)
  • Basic Energy Sciences: $1.85 billion (+6.7%)
  • Biological and Environmental: $612 million (+3.4%)
  • Fusion Energy: $420 million (-10.2%)
  • High Energy Physics: $788 million (+2.9%)
  • Nuclear Physics: $624 million (+4.9%)
  • Workforce Development: $20 million (+5.1%)
  • Science Laboratories Infrastructure: $113 million (+42.7%)
  • Safeguards and Security: $103 million (+10.8%)
  • Program Direction: $187 million (+2%)

The full DOE SC Budget Request for FY 2016 can be found HERE. In addition, Acting Director of DOE SC, Patricia Dehmer, PhD, gave a presentation on DOE SC’s priorities for FY 2016, which you can find HERE.

VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program
The VA research program would receive $622 million, an increase of $33 million (5.6 percent) over the FY 2015 level. VA estimates that this funding level will support 2,254 research projects. According to a summary of the VA budget request, priority research areas in FY 2016 include:

  • Enhancing research on genomic medicine and continuing the Million Veteran Program – studies funded through the MVP will focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic diseases prevalent in veterans
  • Improving prosthetics – VA will support a wide variety of projects to replace lost limbs and develop advanced prosthetics that activate paralyzed nerves, muscles, and limbs
  • Continued care for aging veterans and returning service members – new investments will be made in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes research, as well as traumatic brain injury, and mental health

VA’s budget request also includes $10.2 million for a new strategic initiative to improve delivery of care to veterans using evidenced-based decision making, enhanced quality metrics, and data analysis. Additional highlights from the VA budget are available here.

The President has requested $450 million for the competitive grants program at USDA, or AFRI, a massive 38 percent increase over the FY 2015 amount. According to the Budget, the Administration “recognizes the importance of science and technology to meet challenges in agriculture, and provides significant investment increases in three major areas of agricultural R&D,” (p. 19). Agricultural research is highlighted, noting that, “AFRI projects will address critical issues in U.S. agriculture in the areas of food security; water resources; climate variability and change; sustainable bioenergy production; food safety; childhood obesity prevention; foundational science; and education and literacy initiative.”

A number of special initiatives are proposed for FY 2016, including:

  • $79 million for research to address the decline of honey bee health, in partnership with EPA and other agencies
  • $57 million as part of the President’s “Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria” Initiative, in partnership with various agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services, including NIH, the Department of Defense, and VA

The full USDA Budget Request is available online. Budget Highlights summarize some of the key initiatives at the agency as well.