The budget cycle never pauses in Washington. Although it will be several months before FY 2008 budgets are enacted, work is underway on the FY 2009 budget request that President Bush will send to Congress next February.
Last week, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger and Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Stephen McMillin sent a seven-page memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies on the "FY 2009 Administration Research and Development Budget Priorities." This document reaffirms the American Competitiveness Initiative as a Presidential Priority, provides general R&D program guidance, outlines interagency R&D priorities in nine areas, and briefly reviews the Administration's ongoing R&D investment criteria.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIORITY: AMERICAN COMPETITIVENESS INITIATIVE:
There are parallels between the August 2007 memo and a similar memo issued in June 2006, with a notable distinction. Where last year's language on the American Competitiveness Initiative was written in future tense since President Bush had only proposed it earlier that year, this year's memo stated, "President Bush has successfully begun the doubling path for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology core activities with an aggregate 17 percent increase in the first two years of the Initiative."
This year's memo outlines the Administration's approach regarding the allocation of funding for what will be the third year of the ten-year Competitiveness Initiative. While last year's memo spoke of annual 7 percent increases for the three ACI agencies (NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST core research program) to achieve doubling within ten years (which remains mathematically correct), this year's memo does not cite a specific number. The August 2007 states:
"To continue the doubling, these agencies should propose increases in FY 2009 that meet scheduled, ongoing facilities needs and provide for unique, high-value research opportunities. These proposals should be consistent with published out-year budget plans. We will evaluate the three requests together to determine final individual agency allocations."
The notation regarding "out-year budget plans" refers to what one DOE budget document describes as "mechanistic, computer-generated account data" for those years beyond the current budget request year. "As a result, the out year numbers represent placeholders, pending budget decisions in future years," the DOE document explains. For instance, a DOE Five Year Plan issued in early 2006 showed an FY 2008 DOE Office of Science number of $4,366 million. In fact, the Administration requested $4,398 million for FY 2008. This same document includes a placeholder figure of $4,647 for the DOE Office of Science in FY 2009.
While the guidance in the 2006 memo regarding the budgets for NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and the NIST research program was reflected in the subsequent agency budget submissions, that did not hold true for the Department of Defense. The 2006 memo stated, "In addition to the doubling effort at these three agencies, similarly high-impact basic and applied research of the Department of Defense should be a significant priority." When the Defense Department sent its FY 2008 budget request to Capitol Hill in February, the amount requested for basic research was up only 0.4 percent from DOD's FY 2007 request. The amount requested for applied research was down 2.7 percent from the previous request.
The new memo only addresses the Defense Department's 6.1 basic research program: "In addition to the doubling effort at these three agencies, real increases (above inflation) in the high-leverage basic research of the Department of Defense should be a significant priority."
GENERAL R&D PROGRAM GUIDANCE:
The 2007 and 2006 memos use similar bulleted language following the declaration, "In general, the Administration favors R&D investments that," as an example, "advance fundamental scientific discovery to improve future quality of life." There was less discussion this year regarding the communication of scientific information.
Regarding FY 2009 budgeting, the new memo states:
"Careful attention to funding priorities and wise choices are required due to the combination of finite resources, the commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative, and a multitude of new research opportunities. Agencies must evaluate existing programs and, wherever possible, consider them for modification, redirection, reduction or termination, in keeping with national needs and priorities. New programs have to be justified with rigorous analysis demonstrating their merit, quality, importance and consistency with national priorities. Agencies may propose new, high-priority activities, but these requests should identify potential offsets by elimination or reductions in less effective or lower priority programs, or programs where Federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate."
INTERAGENCY R&D PRIORITIES:
Last year's memo listed six priorities: homeland security, energy security, advanced networking and high-end computing, national nanotechnology initiative, understanding complex biological systems, and environment.
The new memo retains these priorities, modifying two of them as follows: homeland security and national defense; and energy and climate change technology. Three new priorities are included in the new memo: next generation air transportation system, federal scientific collections, and science of science policy.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT INVESTMENT CRITERIA:
The two memos use parallel language in describing "R&D investment criteria (relevance, quality, and performance) to improve investment decisions for and management of their R&D programs."
The FY 2009 budget process now goes behind closed doors (as it always does), with further information on the requests for FY 2009 (beginning on October 1, 2008), not available until President Bush sends his budget request to Congress next February.
The August 14, 2007 budget memo can be read at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/FY2009FINALOMB-OSTPRDPriorityMemo.pdf
For comparison, the June 23, 2006 memo can be read at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda/fy2006/m06-17.pdf
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics