Science Budget: the White House Proposal

By Sean Carroll | February 14, 2011 1:50 pm

Following up on John’s post, the Obama administration has released a detailed budget proposal. (John was talking about the House Republicans’ proposal.)

Without going into any judgments, the White House budget is much more favorable for science. Here are summaries for the Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. Here are some highlights; for simplicity I’m just comparing the actual amount spent in 2010 vs. the proposed budget for 2012. (2011 is confusing because we’re currently operating under a continuing resolution, not a real budget.) So keep in mind that these percentage changes are spread over two years.

  • DoE discretionary spending would increase by 11.5%, from $26.5 billion to $29.5 billion. Much of that is for clean energy research. Science would increase by 9%, from $5.0 billion to $5.4 billion. If you dig into the details (pdf), we find High Energy Physics taking a 5% cut, from $842 million to $797 million. That’s been the story for quite a while now; flat or slowly declining budgets, which means that programs are being worn away by inflation.
  • NSF would get a 13% increase, from $6.6 billion to $7.6 billion. Most of this is real research money. There is $40 million to train new K-12 and undergraduate science teachers.
  • NASA’s budget stays flat at $18.7 billion. But the science budget would increase by 11.5%, from $4.5 billion to $5.0 billion.

Overall, not too bad for science. Keep in mind that this is only a proposal, and it won’t go through Congress unscathed. Given that Republicans have a majority in the House, you have to expect that the final agreement will be a compromise, so it’s still very possible that basic research will be gutted in the final budget. HEP would seem to be hurting no matter what, but I don’t know how much of that can be traced to the planned Tevatron shutdown.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics, Top Posts
  • Wetuski

    Yeah most people know this isn’t going to go through as is, it will be beat down as even Paul Krugman stated in an blog post today:

    There probably will be indirect cost though as one it hits hard on lower/middle class which willl have an economic effect on all, though it is much better than the GOP’s laughable proposals, but that’s about the only good thing I have to say about it.
    It also will make graduate students be forced into more debt, which might disincentives students from attending high level courses which would also put a hole into universities budgets (I dont really know how universities budgets work when regards to tuition so I am guessing on that one).
    But this is just a symbolic proposal that won’t even be recognized when they’re done tearing through it in congress, lets just hope whatever comes out isn’t too damaging to us all.

  • Haelfix

    This budget isn’t good either. The James Webb telescope is axed. HEP is cut.
    We get pork for ‘clean energy research’ which sounds nice, except that in practise two things happen whenever you get highly targetted research proposals in fuzzy areas.

    1) It gets partially eaten away by crackpots, b/c the people in the funding agencies have no idea how to distinguish between realistic programs and non realistic programs.
    2) It gets eaten up by good scientists with superior grant writing abilities. For instance, back in the 90s my undergraduate advisor managed to get a grant from some government eco friendly fund to analyze ISM dust. How he managed to relate those two in the proposal, I will never know, but thats the way it works.

    Rarely, does it ever produce anything specific to the original area.

    Anyway, its just depressing. We further don’t know whats going to happen on the state level. Multiple states are looking at huge shortfalls, and there are talks about repeats of the California fiasco.

  • Jeff

    I find it a bit hard to get worked up one way or the other about the budget proposal, considering we’re almost 5 months into the fiscal year and STILL don’t have a real budget for 2011. That has caused all sorts of funding issues within NASA. By the time FY11 money does become available, there’s likely to be a major scramble to spend it before it gets yanked for 2012. Sigh…

  • Douglas Watts

    What’s the funding number for critically endangered species in the U.S. ?

    After all, they can’t be ‘re-funded’ in the future. like a Mars mission.

    They just go extinct.

    Isn’t that of a different logical type than the Tevatron?

  • Fermi-Walker Public Transport

    This is worth watching, economist Jeffrey Sachs on the budget and related matters

  • JoAnne

    I think the cut in HEP has everything to do with the Tevatron. Pier insisted that operating the Tevatron was $35M/yr (an inflated figure btw), and now it’s been shut down we’ve been axed by roughly that amount. Thank you Pier.

  • Dave

    The US spends $190 million A DAY in Afghanistan.

  • stonemason89

    So I guess no colonies on the Moon anytime soon.

  • chris

    no US colonies that is…

  • Matt

    I have a good friend who works on James Webb – he says it’s still a go. They may have to revise their planning, but he’s confident it will launch, for what it’s worth.

  • Gizelle Janine

    Oh private funding does wonders Sean. What’s a budget cut these days?


  • JT

    JWST is not cut, it’s funding is pulled out separate from Astrophysics, and is held at a nominal value until their rebudgeting activities are done. On the other hand, all US activity in Euclid is now cancelled (deeply disappointing) and WFIRST is pushed out indefinitely (ie, until JWST ramps down). Great job that Decadal survey did laying out realistic priorities…

  • Pingback: A blogesfera de física « Ars Physica()

  • ciro

    The Senate Appropriations Committee on Energy is chaired by Diane Feinstien- which covers the DOE. She is also a Senator from the state of California which has a strong interest in the research funding- including the NSF.

    She has a lot of say on the Senate version of the budget (both 2011 and 2012) so we should expect an improvement here.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


See More

Collapse bottom bar