OMB Steers Agency R&D Budgets Toward Security, ‘Energy Dominance’

Agencies preparing their fiscal 2019 research and development budgets should focus on national security and energy dominance while improving interagency coordination, according to Office of Management and Budget guidance.

An Aug. 17 memo to agency heads from Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Michael Kratsios, the deputy assistant to the president for science and technology policy, stressed curbing duplication and exploiting private-sector solutions.

The memo’s call for R&D that “serves the American people” but is “budget neutral” comes as a Congressional Research Service report earlier this month detailed sizable R&D cuts in President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal submitted this spring.

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“When considering new research programs, agencies should ensure that the proposed programs are based on sound science, do not duplicate existing R&D efforts, and have the potential to contribute to the public good,” Mulvaney’s memo stated. “Agencies should also identify existing R&D programs that could progress more efficiently through private-sector R&D, and consider their modification or elimination where federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate. To the extent possible, quantitative metrics to evaluate R&D outcomes should be developed.”

Themes in the memo included boosting American “military superiority,” domestic security, prosperity, energy dominance and health through technological breakthroughs. Also stressed was the importance of R&D for infrastructure and workforce development to enhance skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“American ingenuity combined with free-market capitalism have driven, and will continue to drive, tremendous technological breakthroughs,” the memo said. It acknowledged that government and private enterprise work “in tandem.” By providing the “fundamental building blocks of new technological advances,” it said, “the government can empower the private sector to accelerate research discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace.”

While military R&D “should serve the national defense first and foremost, the administration recognizes the contributions of military R&D to the development of tremendously useful civil applications,” OMB added.

The energy section emphasized that “development of domestic energy sources should be the basis for a clean energy portfolio composed of fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy sources.” As stated in the fiscal 2018 budget, “federally-funded energy R&D should continue to reflect an increased reliance on the private sector to fund later-stage research, development, and commercialization of energy technologies.”

Health-related R&D should focus “on solutions for an aging population, as well as on combating drug addiction and other public health crises” while also pursuing technology to make health care delivery more efficient.

Agencies should maximize the coordination, promotion, and planning of their R&D programs through the National Science and Technology Council, OMB said.

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget submission—which has already been altered by congressional appropriators—would cut R&D spending in every major agency except the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, as noted in a CRS report circulated by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

The largest declines (as measured in dollars) would occur in the budgets of Health and Human Services (down $6.099 billion, or 18.9 percent), Energy (down $1.809 billion, or 11.9 percent), Agriculture (down $666 million, or 25.1 percent), the National Science Foundation (down $639 million, or 10.6 percent), and the Environmental Protection Agency (down $239 million, or 46.3 percent), the report said.

Congress’ nonpartisan research arm said the Trump budget request is “largely silent” on funding for existing multiagency R&D initiatives such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative, Precision Medicine Initiative, Cancer Moonshot, Materials Genome Initiative, National Robotics Initiative, and National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, Aftergood noted.

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