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Making Hard Choices: OMB and OSTP Issue Guidance to Agencies on Formulation of FY 2014 Budget Requests

Richard M. Jones
Number 88 - June 19, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have issued two memorandums in the last month to department and agency heads providing guidance on formulating budget requests for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2013.  These FY 2014 requests will be sent to Congress next February.

The memos total about six and one-half pages.  The key words for the science community are found in the May 18 OMB memorandum:

“The 2014 Budget must continue to cut lower-priority spending in order to create room for the most effective investments in areas critical to economic growth and job creation, including education, innovation, infrastructure, and research and development.”

The FY 2014 agency budget requests that will be developed and sent to OMB in coming months are being assembled under very tight constraints.  The May 18 memorandum requires a department or agency (unless otherwise advised) to submit a FY 2014 request that would reduce spending by 5 percent from the figure originally shown for that year when the last budget request was sent to Congress in February.  “The 2014 Budget will need to make hard choices,” the memorandum declares, warning that last year’s budget agreement will “sharply constrain discretionary spending.”

The June 6 OMB and OSTP memorandum’s subject is “Science and Technology Priorities for the FY 2014 budget.” The opening paragraph declares:

“Scientific discovery, technological breakthroughs, and innovation are the primary engines for expanding the frontiers of human knowledge and are vital for responding to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. We look to scientific innovation to promote sustainable economic growth and job creation, improve the health of the population, move toward a clean energy future, address global climate change, manage competing demands on environmental resources, and ensure the security of the Nation.”

The practice of issuing an S&T budget priorities memorandum extends back at least as far as the Clinton Administration.  In contrast to some years, the new memorandum does not provide target numbers.  It does provide guidance in some areas.  Regarding funding for basic research, it states:

“In particular, the Nation benefits from government funding for basic and applied research in areas in which the private sector does not have the economic incentive to invest. Because of the crucial government role in supporting research, in general agencies should give priority to funding for research above funding for development activities.”

The memorandum discusses “Grand Challenges” as follows:

“Within research portfolios, agencies are encouraged to identify and pursue ‘Grand Challenges’ -ambitious goals that require advances in science, technology and innovation to achieve.”

Regarding new facilities, the memorandum declares:

“Agencies should also support the research tools and infrastructure needed to ensure that U.S, science remains at the leading edge of discovery, but in delineating priorities, any proposals for new major facilities must fit within Federal real property guidance and be fully justified and balanced against funding for research activities and operations of existing facilities.”

“Prioritizing key science and technology activities” is required in an agency’s formulation of its budget request:

“In a time of constrained resources, agencies should continue to direct resources to high-priority activities and identify potential eliminations or reductions in less-effective, lower-quality, or lower priority programs. Agencies engaged in complementary activities should consult with each other during the budget planning process so that resources are coordinated to maximize their impact and to avoid inappropriate duplication. They should also avoid duplicating research in areas that already receive funding from the private sector. Agencies should explain in their budget submissions how they are redirecting available resources from lower-priority areas to science and technology activities that address the priorities described below.”

The memorandum also discusses metrics:

“agencies should describe the targeted outcomes of research and development (R&D) programs using meaningful, measurable, quantitative metrics where possible and describe how they plan to evaluate the success of those programs.”

Single agency science and technology priorities are not included in this memorandum.  Under the heading “multi-agency priorities” the memorandum explains:

“In the 2014 Budget, agencies should balance priorities to ensure resources are adequately allocated for agency-specific, mission-driven research while focusing resources, where appropriate, on addressing the following multi-agency research activities that cannot be addressed effectively by a single agency.”

Nine of these multi-agency priorities are listed with a paragraph of explanatory text. The priorities are:  advanced manufacturing, clean energy, global climate change, R&D for informed policy-making and management, information technology research and development, nanotechnology, biological innovation, innovation and commercialization, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095