Analysis of the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request

President Obama released the last budget request of his Administration on February 9th. The budget proposal nominally adheres to the top defense and non-defense discretionary spending levels agreed to by Congress in the fall of last year. However, the White House is relying on mandatory spending, which requires Congress to pass legislation to make these expenditures outside of the yearly appropriations process, to fund additional priorities in a flat budget environment. While the new initiatives and policy priorities provide the research and education communities a rallying point for advocacy, this mandatory funding will almost certainly not be embraced, since Congress would have to enact new taxes and designate the revenue specifically for the purposes of funding these programs.

As in prior years, the budget request outlines a consistent agenda for research and education organizations, with initiatives focused on advanced manufacturing, neuroscience, Alzheimer’s research, basic and applied energy, and advanced computing as well as efforts to increase college access (e.g. year-round Pell Grants), completion, and outcomes. These types of focused thrusts would continue to receive the bulk of proposed new investments directed toward federal research and education agencies. At the same time, the request continues prior proposals to identify savings and increased efficiencies such as cuts to indirect medical education in favor of new policies associated with healthcare delivery and cuts in defense basic research accounts in favor of more applied or translational initiatives.

To further his legacy on research, education, and other funding priorities and potentially influence the next White House Administration and Congress, the President has laid out ambitious multi-year agendas for his top priorities, despite this being his last year in the White House. While the Congress may disagree with many of his proposed savings, mandatory funding streams, and new initiatives, several of the recommendations are bipartisan priorities that will receive some traction from both parties. In particular, new investments in exascale computing, a focused cancer initiative (as first discussed during the President’s State of the Union), cybersecurity, and expansion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education are all expected to receive congressional support. Beyond the budget proposal itself, the White House also recently released a Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Strategic Plan, a Cybersecurity National Action Plan, and a $1.8 billion emergency funding plan to combat the Zika virus, all of which are expected to be met with strong congressional support and interest.

The submission of the President’s budget request officially kicks off what is expected to be a fairly aggressive congressional cycle to consider annual appropriations bills. While the advocacy communities will advance their priorities, with only $3 billion in additional spending from FY 2016 to FY 2017 across the entire federal discretionary budget, FY 2016 enacted funding levels provide a more realistic starting point for FY 2017 budget discussions.

The following table highlights some of the federal science agencies and programs relevant to the plant sciences.

Federal Science Agency Budget Requests (In thousands)

FY 2016 Estimated FY 2017 Request Request vs. FY2016
USDA, Research, Education, Economics 3,141,000 3,438,000 297,000 (9.5%)
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) 1,356,000 1,256,000 -100,000 (7.4%)
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 1,331,000 1,379,000 48,000 (3.6%)
AFRI 350,000 700,000 350,000 (100%)
Hatch Act 244,000 244,000
Higher Education Programs 34,000 33,000 -1,000 (2.9%)
Smith-Lever Act 3(b) and 3(c) 300,000 300,000
National Science Foundation 7,463,490 7,964,020 500,530 (6.7%)
Directorate for Biological Sciences 744,170 790,520 46,350 (6.2%)
DOE, Office of Science* 5,347,000 5,572,069 225,069 (4.2%)
Basic Energy Sciences 1,849,000 1,936,730 87,730 (4.7%)
Biological and Environmental Research 609,000 661,920 52,920 (8.7%)
National Institutes of Health 32,311,349 33,136,349 825,000(2.6%)


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