What Does Trump's 2020 Budget Mean For Science Funding?

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The White House submitted its 2020 budget proposal on Monday, coming in at $4.7 trillion.

The proposition includes a generous $8.6 billion for Trump's highly controversial border wall and an additional $33 billion for defense spending (bringing the total to $750 billion) – as funding for science receives a battering.

Take the National Science Foundation, an organization responsible for federally supported research into basic science and engineering, as an example. It could see its federal cash supply slashed by some 12 percent from $8.1 billion to $7.1 billion.

Of course, for the budget to pass, it will have to be approved by Congress – a feat that looks highly unlikely, especially with the House Democrats holding the purse strings. But scientists have been quick to voice their concern.

"If enacted, the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the fiscal year 2020 non-defense discretionary budget would derail our nation’s science enterprise," Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in response to the budget proposal.

So, if enacted (a big, big if), what would it mean for science funding?

Health

To start with, both Medicaid and Medicare would see cuts, with the current budget scrapping $241 billion' worth of funding for the former and $845 billion for the latter over a period of 10 years.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health – the federal agency in charge of medical research – would lose $4.5 billion, with some departments facing heavier losses than others. Spending on the National Cancer Institute, for example, would fall from $6.1 billion to $5.2 billion.

On a more positive note, Trump's budget commits $291 million to end the spread of HIV in the US, following on from his February promise to do so by 2030. Yet, that same budget will also see funding for global AIDs programs slashed by 22 percent and funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced by 10 percent. 

Environment

The EPA would see the biggest losses in spending if the budget was to go through in its current form, losing $2.8 billion (31 percent) of funding and receiving just $6.1 billion. Particularly noticeable is the drop in money dedicated to climate research, which would fall from $95 million to $32 million, Wired reports.

The White House argues these cuts would help eliminate "lower-priority" EPA programs and "remove unnecessary or redundant regulations" – but it could be argued it fits in with Trumpian policy to undermine and weaken the department.

NOAA would also see funding cuts, with the current proposal eliminating three of its environmental programs. These include Sea Grant (an initiative that supports environmental research in and around the Great Lakes), the National Coastal Management grants (which offer incentives to those states looking to restore coastal resources), and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (an effort to reinvigorate salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest). 

Public Land

The budget promises $12.5 billion in Interior funding, a loss of $2 billion (14 percent) on the previous year, which would make it harder for the department to acquire and preserve land for public benefit.

The National Park Service, which saw chaos during the 2019 government shutdown, would be given just $300 million to help pay for $12 billion' worth of work needed to fix its buildings and roads, the Washington Post reports. Instead, the bulk of the money that has been dedicated to the Interior would appear to benefit the current administration's ambitions to extract as much energy as possible on land and offshore.

NASA

Of all the science-related departments involved, NASA sees the least damaging cuts from the current budget at just 2.3 percent. Indeed, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine describes the budget as "one of the strongest on record for our storied agency". Good news for anyone who wants to see humans on the Moon again before 2028.

However, it doesn't include funding for WFIRST, a new space telescope that would examine the scientific conundrum that is dark matter. Or funding for Earth science projects to better understand the climate. 

Energy

Unsurprisingly, Trump's budget would support coal and nuclear energy to the detriment of anything sustainable and renewable. The Energy Department would see a 3.1 billion cut (11 percent), a large chunk of which is directed at the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy who would see $696 million instead of the $2.4 billion or so approved for 2019.

Meanwhile, the Office of Fossil Energy Research & Development would secure an extra $60 million (total: $562 million) and the Office of Nuclear Energy an extra $67 million (total: $824 million). 

The administration is also (once again) attempting to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a department that looks to foster new "high-potential, high-impact" energy technologies.

So, what next?

While these budget cuts appear to expose the (thinly veiled) anti-science sentiment of the Trump administration, they will have to go through Congress – and that's a hurdle they will almost certainly fall at.

As Mike Lavender, senior manager of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment program, told ThinkProgress, "In recent years, Congress has paid little attention to the Trump administration’s budget requests." 

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