Trump slays science budget

Whopping cuts unveiled in budget proposal undermine United States’ leadership in science and technology

Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump’s first budget proposal introduces the most sweeping cuts in history to the world's biggest science programmes, including the elimination of the star US energy programme, ARPA-E. Under this proposal, science funding at departments of energy and health will be cut, while NASA will see four of its earth science projects terminated.

ARPA-E is a government agency tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies, and its closing is perhaps the biggest surprise brought by the proposal. ARPA-E is one of the most widely admired of energy programmes, applying venture-capital methods to pick projects for funding, and has been used as a blueprint for some European research programmes.

The outcry from the US science establishment has been predictably intense. Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said the proposed budget “would cripple the science and technology enterprise through short-sighted cuts to discovery science programs and critical mission agencies alike.”

The US Congress, which includes many research supporters, will likely carve up the proposal. But, as a statement of political intent, it is five star dramatics.

The proposal delivers on Donald Trump’s campaign promise to scale down the influence of the federal government in areas like energy and environmental protection. “The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies,” the budget document reads.  

Further “savings” of $900 million at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science are laid out in the proposal, including the elimination of the Weatherization Assistance Program. The office is expected to “switch focus to limited, early-stage applied energy research and development,” and to diminish “federal intervention in state-level energy policy.”

The US will also discontinue funding for international climate change programmes, climate change research and partnership programmes, to “protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy.”

The innovative technology loan guarantee programme and the advance technology vehicle manufacturing programme will be made redundant also.

In total, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will suffer a cut of $2.6 billion, representing 31.4 per cent of its total budget. The cuts will reduce EPA’s ability to police environmental protection violations at the state-level, and the federal government will have less control over how states comply to environmental protection rules.

A $233 million cut to the EPA’s office of research and development will leave only $250 million available for funding new environmental science projects.

NASA will be affected too.

The budget will terminate four earth science missions: PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR, Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder, and reduce funding for earth science research grants. A total of  $102 million will be cut from NASA’s earth science portfolio. Also, NASA’s education programme will suffer an additional cut of $115 million.

Healthcare research also takes a hit. The budgets of the National Institutes of Health will be cut by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion. The institutes will suffer a “major reorganisation” and will switch focus to “the highest priority research and training activities,” the budget proposal reads.

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Related subjects: NASA, Science funding, Trump