Biden's 2024 Budget Plan Supports Science, But Prospects Still Unclear

Science Coalition is headed by Laura Kolton, who says, “We are pleased that President Biden budget plan request prioritises robust, sustained investment for key research programs.

Biden's 2024 Budget Plan Supports Science, But Prospects Still Unclear

Large increases at significant U.S. research agencies are sought in budget plan 2024 of President Joe Biden, but this is just the beginning of discussions with Congress about taxes and defence.

The prospects for any significant increases for science and other domestic programmes remain uncertain given that Republicans have pledged to cut federal spending and that increased defence spending has bipartisan support.

Despite this uncertainty, pro-science organisations applauded the White House’s initial vote of confidence. The Science Coalition is headed by Laura Kolton, who says, “We are pleased that President Biden budget plan request prioritises robust, sustained investment for key research programmes.”

The president’s choices were criticized at the same time by a prominent Republican scientist in Congress. “This budget proposal brags about spending taxpayer money on international climate slush funds and ill-defined environmental justice programmes, while shortchanging the basic research that has been proven to advance our economy, lower energy prices, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” claimed Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), chair of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The request, which presidential science adviser Arati Prabhakar called a “smart, targeted blueprint for investing in America,” highlights several new science initiatives that rank highly among administration priorities.

Budget for the nascent Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health, which seeks to hasten the translation of discoveries from basic research into treatments for deadly diseases, would increase from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would increase funding for a new directorate with similar objectives by 50%, to $1.2 billion.

The majority of the 2% increase requested for the $47 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), the parent organisation of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), would go to the Cancer Moonshot. The budget for NCI would increase by 7% to $7.8 billion. Additionally, the DOE’s (Department of Energy) fusion energy development efforts would see a 31% increase, to $1 billion.

At an event on Monday with Prabhakar and several agency heads, the White House will elaborate on its demand to invest a record $210 billion in R&D. These initial highlights are based on the preliminary data that was released today.

The NCI’s projects, which include a sizable investigation of blood tests to screen for early cancers and initiatives to increase recruitment to clinical trials, would benefit from the $500 million increase requested for the Cancer Moonshot.

Over the next 25 years, it seeks to reduce the number of cancer deaths by 50%. A new precision medicine and psychiatric initiative would receive an additional $200 million for the National Institute of Mental Health, giving it an 8.5% overall increase.

NIH’s environmental health institute would see a 2.7% increase in funding in the form of $25 million in new funding to study the health effects of climate change. The remaining 27 NIH institutes and centres would maintain their current budget levels, which is unpopular with proponents of biomedical research.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) is “very disappointed” that the president’s FY [fiscal year] 2024 request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “does not even meet biomedical research inflation and will undoubtedly hamper efforts to continue ongoing research, let alone invest in promising new areas of science,” according to Jennifer Zeitzer of FASEB.

Biden has asked for a sizable increase for this significant federal funder of scholarly research. However, due to the way Congress set the NSF’s current budget, it is difficult to determine the precise amount. According to the White House budget office, the request has been increased by 19% to $11.3 billion. That is referred to as a $1.8 billion increase.

However, it appears that the increase is based on NSF’s normal appropriation for this year. Additionally, Congress provided NSF with nearly $1 billion in so-called emergency funding that wasn’t subject to the self-imposed domestic spending ceiling. But it’s still actual money.

Therefore, should Congress grant the president’s request, the actual increase in NSF funding in 2024 would be less. Nevertheless, the sum falls $4.2 billion short of the NSF funding that Congress approved in 2024 as part of the CHIPS and Science Act, which provided the semiconductor industry with roughly $39 billion.

The administration’s focus on increasing the nation’s scientific workforce at all levels, from community college through postdoctoral training, is reflected in Biden budget plan of $1.4 billion for the NSF’s education directorate.

Similar to this, the NSF’s new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) directorate is being asked to receive more funding in order to assist more researchers in commercialising their discoveries and launching new businesses.

Particularly, if Biden had his way, a flagship TIP programme to support regional innovation centres would increase from $200 million to $300 million. The budget for NASA would continue to rise, rising 7% to $27.2 billion. Although Biden did not mention his request for the $7.8 billion science branch of the organisation, he did suggest spending $2.5 billion, or an increase of almost 14%, on NASA’s earth science division.

Due to a lack of funds, the division had to decide whether to postpone work on the Earth System Observatory and its new fleet of satellites or prematurely terminate some legacy satellites. This increase in spending would hopefully help the division avoid making either of those decisions.

The European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, which has experienced a new round of delays due to Europe cutting ties with Russia, its partner in the project, the budget also promised support, though it did not provide a dollar amount.

In order to meet a 2028 launch that will include radioisotope heating units, thrusters, and a rocket ride to the Red Planet, the Europeans are asking NASA for assistance. The plan would also increase spending on the joint American-European Mars Sample Return mission by more than $100 million, to $949 million, and continue to fully fund mission development.

Additionally, $180 million is requested in the budget to begin work on a space tug, an idea that has been discussed at NASA for years. Instead of relying on a Russian system to deorbit the International Space Station when it was time for decommissioning, the tug would be the driving force behind the project. However, the proposal states that a space tug “may also be useful for other space transportation missions.”

The  administration of Biden budget plan would increase the Office of Science, DOE’s division for basic research, by $680 million, bringing its total funding to about $8.8 billion. A step has been taken with the 8% increase towards the nearly 50% increase over the next 5 years that the CHIPS Act authorised.

The USGS budget for energy research would increase by 70% to $57 million, enabling it to expand geothermal energy assessments and investigate greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands.

Research on mineral resources would increase by 30%, to $93 million, and coastal research funding would rise by 46%, to $63 million. A historic $1 billion investment would also be made in fusion research, which is a promising source of clean energy. Overall, USGS would experience a 15% increase to $1.8 billion.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) budget within the USDA is being requested by the administration to increase by 10% to $1.9 billion. Additionally, the competitive extramural grants provided by NIFA, which fund research at public land-grant universities and elsewhere, would increase by 20% to $550 million.