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Obama proposes slight increase for R&D programs

Administration says the increase will comply with bipartisan congressional pact restricting spending increases in FY 2015 to below 1%.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 raises overall spending on R&D by 1.2%. It also includes a number of policy shifts for research and nuclear programs. The nuclear nonproliferation programs he championed his first year in office would be cut dramatically, and a multibillion-dollar project to dispose of surplus weapons plutonium would be shelved. The administration would also ground an airborne infrared observatory that has been jointly operated for the past several years by NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

The budget request includes a total of $64.7 billion for basic and applied research, $250 million or 0.4% more than the FY 2014 appropriation. Basic research would decline 1%, to $32.1 billion, while applied would move up 1.8%, to $32.6 billion. Overall federal R&D (including DOD weapons systems development programs) would rise 1.2%, or $1.7 billion, to $135.4 billion. Of that increase, $1.2 billion is for defense R&D at DOD and Department of Energy. That spending would total $69.5 billion.

Additional R&D spending totaling $5.3 billion government-wide would be provided by a $56 billion “opportunity, growth and security initiative” that the administration has proposed to create, to be funded with revenues from higher taxes on the wealthy. But the initiative was quickly dismissed by leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The administration proposal would slice NASA’s basic and applied research by nearly 14%, or $876 million from their FY 2014 level, to $5.5 billion. But overall NASA R&D spending would decline by just 1%, to $11.5 billion. The science programs at NASA would fall 3.5% to just below $5 billion. The administration wants to end NASA’s participation in the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an airborne instrument consisting of a German-made 2.5-meter diameter telescope mounted on a Boeing 747. NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the agency has discussed the possible takeover of support for SOFIA by NSF.

The administration is requesting $7.3 billion for NSF, 1% more than the FY 2014 appropriation. An additional $552 million is proposed for NSF from the OGSI fund.

Government-wide, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs would receive $2.9 billion, an increase of 3.7% from current year levels. Unlike last year, the administration is not proposing to move STEM education programs from one agency to another.

At DOE, spending for weapons R&D would leap by 14%, or $619 million, to $5 billion. Defense nuclear nonproliferation would fall 20.4%, or $399 million, to $1.5 billion. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which has been carrying out President Obama’s 2009 pledge to secure the world’s fissile materials that are vulnerable to theft, would be cut by 24.1%, or $108 million, to $333.5 million.

The administration proposes to suspend construction of the mixed oxide fuel fabrication plant at DOE’s Savannah River Site. The plant is supposed to convert half of the US declared surplus of weapons plutonium into commercial reactor fuel, and Russia has agreed to shed the same amount. But the project has been plagued by huge cost overruns and schedule delays, and is now estimated to cost $30 billion over its lifetime. A study, to be completed in 12 to 18 months, will assess more efficient options to deal with the plutonium.

Funding for DOE’s Office of Science would inch up 0.9%, to $5.1 billion, compared to FY 2014. The fusion program would decline 17.6%, to $416 million, with $225 million of that earmarked for the US contribution to ITER, the international fusion reactor experiment. High-energy physics would decline 6.6%, nuclear physics would rise 4.3%, and basic energy sciences would increase 5.5%. Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs would jump 21.9%, to $2.3 billion, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would move up $45 million, to $325 million.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would receive a 4.9% increase, to $2.9 billion, reversing several years of budget decline. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research programs would increase 3.6%, to $455 million, and NIST’s research would rise 3.3%, to $598 million.


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