Applied Research Gets Leading Role in Biden’s 2022 Budget | Science


Efforts to develop cleaner energy technologies, such as better wind turbines and more efficient trucks, would get significant funding increases as part of a budget proposal.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

By Jeffrey Mervis, David Malakoff

Last week, President Joe Biden unveiled a 2022 budget proposal for the U.S. government that would increase federal spending on R&D by 9%, or $ 13.5 billion, including what he calls “the biggest increase. non-defense expenses. [R&D] recorded expenses. The plan places an unprecedented emphasis on translating scientific findings into practical tools to fight climate change and disease, strengthen the economy and tackle other problems.

While Congress is sure to reject or revise parts of the proposal, his support for even part of Biden’s ambitious vision could lead to many new funding entities and change the way the government invests in academic research. .

The $ 6 trillion spending plan released on May 28 adds more detail to a skeletal plan Biden presented in early April. He calls on Congress to increase spending on a wide range of non-defense sciences (see table below), with increases of 20% or more for National Institutes of Health (NIH) research programs , from the National Science Foundation (NSF), United States. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies. It also includes a 30% increase for clean energy R&D. At the same time, Biden wants an 11% cut in spending on basic research for the military, which is a major funder of university research in mathematics, computer science and engineering.

The aggregate R&D demand of $ 171 billion would give applied research a larger increase than basic curiosity-driven research. This preference suggests that the Biden administration “views science to some extent as a problem-solving enterprise. [than] a discovery enterprise, ”says David Hart, R&D policy specialist at George Mason University. Other rich countries have already moved in this direction, recognizing that the “rebalancing” of research funding to focus on “more applied research is essential to solve national problems,” notes Rebecca Dell of the Foundation. ClimateWorks, which runs a program that works with industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. gas emission.

This philosophy is particularly visible in the proposals to add entities focused on applied research to several of the government’s largest funders of basic science. The NSF, for example, would get a Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) directorate. Biden also wants to create three agencies modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a Pentagon office established during the Cold War to help the country keep up with the Soviet Union and known for its agility in risky but potentially very profitable. research.

NIH would add ARPA-Health, getting $ 6.5 billion, to be spent over 3 years, to fund “transformational innovation in health research.” Eight agencies would be involved in funding a $ 500 million ARPA-Climate, including $ 200 million from the Department of Energy and $ 95 million from the USDA. The budget does not specify where ARPA-Climat would be hosted or who would be in charge. Even the Department of Transportation would add an ARPA, “to accelerate technology that improves infrastructure performance,” although the budget does not specify its level of funding. (Ironically, Biden asked for less than a 1% increase for DARPA, leaving it at $ 3.5 billion.)

Opening of offers

Many civilian science programs would see significant budget increases as part of President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget plan, but Congress is unlikely to back all of the requests.

% change Demand 2022 (billion $)
NIH 21% $ 52
NSF 20.2% $ 10.2
NASA Sciences 9.8% $ 7.9
DOE science 5.3% $ 7
Agronomic research 19% $ 4
USGS 24.8% $ 1.6
NIST Research 16.5% 0.9 USD
EPA Sciences 13.9% 0.8 USD
NOAA Research 26% 0.7 USD
Basic Defense Sciences –10.9% 2.4 USD

White House Office of Management and Budget

Research advocates, including those representing academic institutions, have praised Biden’s support for the research. “The historic increases proposed… will foster innovation and fuel long-term economic growth,” said Peter McPherson of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

But many are wondering how the new funding mechanisms work. A sensitive question is how to ensure that the new NSF TIP leadership and new ARPAs will be able to function as intended, and will not duplicate or damage existing programs that enjoy broad political support. .

In the case of ARPA-Health, some observers have questioned whether the NIH, which has a reputation for being risk averse, is the right home for a new agency designed to think outside the box. ARPA-Santé “will need to be bold, agile and have unique authorities,” says Ellen Sigal, president and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, who supports the idea but is concerned about how it will be implemented.

The budget notes that ARPA-Health “will have a distinctive culture and organizational structure” as well as an advisory board. And NIH director Francis Collins addressed the issue days before the budget was released, assuring congressional panels that the NIH can adopt “a sort of DARPA attitude.” As proof, he noted that the NIH had quickly disbursed billions of dollars to develop treatments and vaccines to fight COVID-19.

Still, some research advocates fear that ARPA-Health will simply become a larger version of the Common Fund, an existing NIH fund that critics say has failed to fund enough innovative research. Many lawmakers and advocates also want to ensure that ARPA-Health doesn’t end up draining money from the 27 existing NIH institutes, and are lobbying Congress to expand the agency’s overall budget.

Similar tensions are at play at NSF. TIP’s proposed leadership is the result of a year-long discussion, largely catalyzed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), on how to reorganize the NSF to help the United States compete with China and other rising world powers. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said the leadership will be “a cross-platform” that will help NSF advance research in 10 key technologies, commercialize discoveries and train the next generation of scientists and researchers. ‘engineers. It will work “in close collaboration with all of the NSF [seven other] directorates and offices ”to maximize efficiency and avoid duplication, according to NSF budget documents.

The budget envisions TIP’s lifespan with $ 865 million, of which $ 350 million will come from absorption of existing NSF programs. The White House and Senate, which are set to approve broader legislation designed to innovate more than China, which also includes language creating the new leadership, envision explosive growth for TIP. Biden’s budget sets a target of $ 10.7 billion by 2026, while the Senate bill provides for $ 8.4 billion that year.

However, even some senators who support the TIP leadership and a larger NSF budget question whether the NSF, with its tradition of supporting basic research, is the best agency to boost U.S. economic growth and bolster national security. Last week, for example, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) persuaded his colleagues to add wording stimulating DARPA spending to the bill creating the TIP, arguing that the military agency is a better driver of DARPA. ‘innovation. “The NSF is Bill Nye, the scientist, and DARPA is a real life Impossible missionSasse said, explaining his amendment, which would double DARPA’s annual budget. “Both are in the realm of science, but only one of them [DARPA] scares China.

The proposed ARPA-Climate comes with its own complications. It would be an unusual “interagency agency,” Hart notes, and the involvement of eight different funding sources means that several congressional appropriation committees will have a say in its annual budgeting. And, he said, the White House could face “a great burden of coordinating a wide range of agencies.”

Hiring staff to manage the new entities could also present a challenge, observers say. “You will be asking people to design and build the planes while flying them,” said a member of the Senate who was not authorized to speak officially. But she says it’s also a chance “to bring a new generation of smart and dedicated young people into public service.”

However, these problems are still far away. It will take months for Congress to consider Biden’s budget request and for the White House and lawmakers to agree on the final numbers. If they don’t complete the job by October 1, which is the start of fiscal 2022, current spending levels would likely be extended by weeks or months.

With reporting by Jocelyn Kaiser.

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