Disquiet and outrage in the scientific community following the release of President Trump’s proposed budget

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President of the USA, Donald J. Trump. Credit: Wikimedia commons
President of the USA, Donald J. Trump. Credit: Wikimedia commons

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2018 was rolled out earlier this month, and it brought some unpleasant surprises for the scientific community. The proposed budget titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” would slash funding for National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $ 6 billion or 20%, and the Office of Science of the Department of Energy (DOE) would also see a 20% reduction in funds, amounting to $ 900 million. Research programs at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would see dramatic cuts of about 25% and 40%, respectively.

The spending recommendation invited outrage from scientists and some Congress lawmakers. NIH has received bipartisan support through the years, and has supported America’s reign as a healthcare and biomedical innovation hub. If approved, this would be the lowest budget for NIH in 15 years. The spending plan also called for a major reorganization of NIH’s 27 centers and institutes, with a “focus on efficiencies”.

cashbox-1642989_1920Institutes across America criticized the proposed cuts as a potential blow to their research. Mary Sue Coleman, President of the Association of American Universities, said, “This budget proposal would cripple American innovation and economic growth,” and would “lead to a U.S. innovation deficit, as it comes at a time when China and other economic competitors continue their investment surge in research and higher education.”

“Deep cuts like those proposed by the president, coupled with changes in immigration policy coming from the White House, threaten America’s ability to continue to be the global leader of biomedical research and innovation into the future”, said Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, in a statement. He added that, “The bottom line is that Trump’s budget is out of line with the needs of the nation’s biomedical researchers and out of line with the views of the citizens he serves.”

The DOE’s Office of Science supports fundamental scientific energy research and is the largest supporter of basic physical sciences research in the U.S. The budget would eliminate several programs including those that helped Tesla develop electric cars and Ford develop lighter materials and efficient engines.

NOAA scientists study weather and oceanic conditions, and cuts in the budget will affect climate change research and programs for coastal management to develop coastal areas for their ability to withstand rising sea levels and storms. A former scientist for NOAA, Rick Spinrad, said, “NOAA’s research and operations, including satellite data management, support critical safety needs. A reduced investment now would virtually guarantee jeopardizing the safety of the American public.”

Trump has previously threatened EPA with reduced funding, along with speculations of the government’s plans to gradually shrink the organization. The proposed cuts would discontinue funding for Clean Power Plan, and end more than 50 EPA programs. A senior EPA official told Science that the proposed cuts could cause EPA’s research office “to implode”.

He also added, “This is serious stuff. We’re all concerned about what might happen, not just to our livelihoods, but to our ability to support the agency’s mission. This is a premier research organization, and it doesn’t take much for the best and the brightest to start looking for other places for work. Even the uncertainty can cause a place to implode, almost, and you don’t build that back quickly if it happens.”

These reductions are also in part to balance the proposed 54% increase in military and defense funding. Association of American Medical Colleges President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch wisely summed it up, “National security is a priority for us all, but it cannot be achieved without a commitment to the nation’s health security.”

References: The Washington Post, Science Magazine