Trump’s budget proposal seeks cuts to science and medical research funding

A researcher in a lab at the the National Cancer Institute. President Trump's proposed budget includes a nearly 15% cut for NCI.
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Washington Post

President Trump’s third budget request, released Monday, again seeks cuts to a number of scientific and medical research enterprises, including a 13% cut to the National Science Foundation, a 12% cut at the National Institutes of Health and the termination of an Energy Department program that funds speculative technologies deemed too risky for private investors.

NIH would face a roughly $4.5-billion budget cut, according to a document from the Department of Health and Human Services. If Congress were to sign off on the budget request, the big losers would include the National Cancer Institute (whose budget would drop from $6.1 billion to $5.2 billion) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (whose budget would fall from $5.5 billion to $4.75 billion).

The administration is highlighting its request for $1.3 billion for opioid and pain research “as part of the government-wide effort to combat the opioid epidemic.”


The NSF, which funds roughly a quarter of all federally supported basic science and engineering research in the U.S., would see its budget fall from $8.1 billion this year to $7.1 billion in 2020.

NASA faces a modest cut — 2.3% lower than the agency’s 2019 funding, which was approved last month by Congress. The $21 billion for NASA is more than the Trump administration asked for last year, as administrator Jim Bridenstine pointed out in a statement. He said the budget keeps NASA on track for putting people on the moon by 2028.

But once again, the proposed NASA budget does not include money for a new space telescope, WFIRST, which would look for distant planets and study the mysterious “dark energy” permeating the cosmos. Two Earth science missions aimed at understanding climate would be eliminated, as would an educational effort, the Office of STEM Engagement.

The White House also sought to defer upgrades to NASA’s Space Launch System — a powerful new rocket that is still in development — and move some its proposed payloads to other vehicles.

The Trump budget proposes to eliminate three environmental programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Sea Grant, which supports environmental research on the coasts and in the Great Lakes; the National Coastal Zone Management grants, which provide incentives for states to restore and sustainably develop coastal resources; and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, established by Congress 19 years ago to revive plummeting salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest.

The new budget request drew immediate criticism from the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science. “If enacted, the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the fiscal year 2020 non-defense discretionary budget would derail our nation’s science enterprise,” said AAAS chief executive Rush Holt, a physicist and former Democratic congressman.


Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chairwoman of the House Science Committee, called the cuts to science “unreasonably deep.”

“This proposal is simply absurd and shows a complete disregard for the importance of civilian R&D and science and technology programs,” she said in a statement.

Trump has roiled the research establishment since he came into office, not only by embracing scientifically discredited theories and casting doubt on mainstream climate science, but also by proposing massive cuts to science and medicine programs funded by the federal government. His previous budgets have requested cuts to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Energy Department. Leaders of the scientific and medical communities were outraged.

But Congress, which has the power of the purse, largely ignored the 2018 Trump budget requests and protected the agencies.

NASA’s budgets have been generally flat for years, adjusted for inflation, which has forced the agency to terminate major programs (such as the space shuttle) to begin new ones (such as building a new rocket and capsule that could explore deep space). The civilian space agency accounts for roughly 0.5% of the federal budget.

But NASA has been relatively flush lately: Under the budget recently passed by Congress, NASA got a 3.5% boost for fiscal 2019, to $21.5 billion. That’s 8% more than the $19.9 billion requested by the White House in its 2019 budget proposal.


This year the Environmental Protection Agency — one of the president’s favored political targets — was subject to some of the most severe cuts. Trump’s budget would reduce EPA funding by $2.8 billion, a 31% cut from its current budget.

The budget describes the cuts as an effort to eliminate “lower-priority” EPA programs and return the agency to its “core mission of protecting human health and the environment.” The administration would eliminate the Global Change Research office, which helped produce the National Climate Assessment last fall, warning of growing impacts of climate change.

The White House has proposed similar cuts at the EPA the past two years, but even the Republican-led Congress refused to embrace the sweeping reductions. Now, the Democratic-led House is certain to reject the administration’s efforts to scale back the agency’s reach and ambition.

For the third year in a row, the administration is seeking to terminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Energy Department’s incubator of new technologies, which is dedicated to “high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.”

The president’s budget request says that killing the agency will “promote effective and efficient use of taxpayer funds,” and it adds that “positive aspects” of the agency will be integrated into other programs. Killing ARPA-E has long been a priority for small-government advocates, who think the private sector is fully capable of handling innovation. But ARPA-E, first proposed under President George W. Bush, has remained popular with Congress.