The Trump administration has proposed decreasing the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s budget by 34 percent in fiscal year 2019, a steeper cut than it sought last year.
President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the National Institute of Standards and Technology proposes to cut the agency’s budget from its fiscal year 2017 enacted level of $954 million to $629 million, a 34 percent decrease. All the agency’s main accounts would see significant reductions, ranging from a 15 percent cut to laboratory programs to a 63 percent cut to research facility construction and a 90 percent cut to industrial technology services. Last year, the administration proposed a 23 percent cut for NIST in its fiscal year 2018 budget request.
Although a last-minute addendum to the latest budget request spared other science agencies from similarly deep cuts, it did not provide any extra resources for NIST. Two AIP Member Societies — the American Physical Society and the Optical Society — have raised concerns about the negative impacts of such cuts to NIST in their respective statements on the budget request.
Congress’ reaction to last year’s budget proposal suggests it may well rebuff the administration’s proposals for NIST. Although a final deal has not been reached, the House and Senate have advanced spending bills that would significantly soften the proposed fiscal year 2018 cuts. Furthermore, Congress developed those bills before it reached an agreement to raise the statutory caps on discretionary spending, a move which permits nondefense spending to increase by 12 percent over the fiscal year 2017 level.
FY19 cuts resemble those proposed for FY18
Many of the proposals and prioritization criteria articulated in the budget document are similar to those from last year’s proposal.
Laboratory Programs. Within the Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, funding for lab programs would decrease by 15 percent from $605 million to $517 million. The document notes this would result in NIST cutting 325 staff positions, 200 of which would be drawn from its technical workforce — representing a more than 10 percent decrease in its scientists and engineers.
Most of NIST’s lab program areas — ranging from advanced materials and biological system measurements to operation of nanofabrication and neutron source user facilities — would see reductions near 20 percent. One notable exception is cybersecurity, an area in which NIST has been assigned increasing responsibilities, which would only see a 2 percent cut.
Quantum science is also shielded. Although funding for NIST’s core metrology and measurement dissemination activities would decrease by 21 percent to $103 million overall, the document says the proposed budget would “consolidate and focus work on NIST efforts in quantum science, while maintaining essential core capabilities in measurement science research and measurement dissemination.”
Explaining the overarching prioritization criteria used, the document states:
To preserve a core foundation in measurement science, NIST is proposing reductions to programs and projects across the NIST laboratory portfolio, targeting those that are of lower priority for reasons such as technology maturity, sub-critical effort, where the work no longer requires the leading edge measurement science capabilities of NIST, or where services may be acquired from international sources.
Among the activities targeted for cuts, NIST would reduce support for environmental measurement activities, such as assessment of aerosol impacts on pollution and climate change, and terminate its nanomaterial environment, health, and safety program. It would also stop disseminating time and radio frequency signals from certain radio stations and scale back support for an atomic spectra database.
Standards Coordination and Special Programs. Also within the STRS account, funding for Standards Coordination and Special Programs would decrease by 34 percent to $45 million. The cut would eliminate all extramural grant programs supported by the Office of Special Programs, such as the Urban Dome program that develops technologies for measuring greenhouse gas emissions from cities. It would also end central management of NIST’s forensic science program and terminate the recently awarded Forensic Science Center of Excellence.
Industrial Technology Services. As it did last year, the administration proposes to eliminate federal funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, which provides technical assistance to U.S. businesses to improve the competitiveness of the domestic manufacturing industry. It also again seeks to pare back NIST’s contribution to Manufacturing USA, a network of advanced manufacturing institutes, from $25 million to $15 million. Under the proposal, NIST would continue to coordinate the current network of 14 institutes and maintain support for the nascent National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, but it would not issue another institute award based on the recent competition for proposals.
Construction of Research Facilities. In a departure from last year’s proposal, no funds are requested for the ongoing renovation of the Radiation Physics Building, a major facility at NIST’s campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Nevertheless, the document starkly depicts the consequences of such a delay. For example, it states, “Structural and waterproofing degradation in the existing building will continue to accelerate and put major radiation safety systems and research in jeopardy.”
However, the administration has signaled it is interested in providing NIST additional money for research facility repairs. According to a document obtained by CQ Roll Call, the White House Office of Management and Budget has proposed adding $261 million to NIST’s facilities construction account in fiscal year 2018 to support repair projects at the agency’s labs in Maryland and Colorado.