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White House budget challenges science, innovation proponents

May 26, 2017

The president’s budget for FY 2018 would eliminate funding for numerous innovation programs, slash spending on R&D and technology transfer and limit education and training opportunities. The full budget proposal may well be “dead on arrival” in Congress, but this is not the same as Congress rejecting each budget proposal. These cuts threaten America’s long-term economic, medical and security interests — described by WIRED as “science insurance” — but cuts to Medicaid and Meals-on-Wheels will continue to receive the bulk of national attention. If federal spending for science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship is to remain a national priority, the best — and likely, only — advocates will be the practitioners, researchers, investors and entrepreneurs who experience these initiatives on a daily basis. In short: you.

Highlighting some of the budget proposal’s specific cuts emphasize the challenge (all numbers relative to the enacted FY 2017 budget).

  • Regional Innovation Strategies, a program that has funded 73 initiatives in 34 states to support the transformation of ideas into products and businesses: eliminated (-$17 million).
  • Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a program that returns $9 for every $1 spent while helping manufacturers in every state become more efficient and innovative: eliminated (-$124 million in FY 2018).
  • Regional Innovation Clusters, a program that helps industry clusters leverage regional resources for greater innovation and competitiveness: eliminated (-$5 million).
  • Appalachian Regional Commission, which supports economic development and innovation activities throughout the region: decrease of $121 million ($31 million in FY 2018).
  • Federal R&D, which funds basic and applied science on topics from aerospace to zoology and determines SBIR/STTR funding: decrease of $12,083 billion.*

Changes of this magnitude would have wide-ranging implications for federal, as well as state, local and private science and innovation policy and practice. In some cases, non-federal actors would accept some of the cost shift from this budget, but this process would take years in most cases and would likely never replace all federal spending. In the meantime, dozens of public-private initiatives throughout the country would be stopped in their tracks, and the loss of R&D funding would at least threaten, if not end, America’s leadership in numerous areas of innovation.

Congress is not ignorant of the dangers posed by this budget. As with the White House’s FY 2017 proposal, Republican leaders in Congress are stating that they will not accept the FY 2018 budget as more than a “recommendation,” as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Resources, stated, “We should not pretend to balance the budget by cutting national laboratories, national parks, and the National Institutes of Health.” Some, like Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), already anticipate a continuing resolution for FY 2018.

This level of disagreement between the White House and Congress largely worked in the favor of science and innovation for the federal FY 2017 budget, but we cannot assume the same will be the case for FY 2018.

“The aspiration and the goal is right on target,” is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) perspective on the budget proposal. He was expressing support for the idea that the White House was interested in cutting programs to balance the budget. Similarly, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the budget is, “An opportunity for Congress to re-examine programs across the government.”

These sentiments indicate that while the administration’s full proposal is not likely to pass, at least some key members of Congress would support implementing components of the budget.

Rather than assume the budget proposal will stalemate into oblivion, and better than arguing for science and innovation spending from tradition, we need to make the case for these investments on their own merits. Fortunately, this is easy to do.

As we advocate in SSTI’s Solutions for Job Creation & Economic Growth policy platform, science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are necessary tools to create a better future. This is a message that resonates with citizens, which means that it is something that Congress can care about, too. In a 2015 poll conducted by a bipartisan team on behalf of SSTI, 90 percent of people polled agreed that an initiative to convert our nation’s strength in research into new businesses and jobs would mean more opportunities for their children and grandchildren. As importantly, the majority were willing to use tax dollars to pay for this program.

Quantitative and qualitative evidence for programs is also critical. Fortunately, we have many compelling arguments. MEP produces more jobs and sales for manufacturers. Programs to facilitate capital access attract bank and investor follow-on financing. Federal R&D investments attract further investment from public and private institutes and corporations. Publicly-supported venture development organizations throughout the U.S. (for example, BFTP | OCAST | Rev1) have supported numerous companies, each with their own story of innovation, increasing sales, job creation and, ultimately, success. The transformation of federal R&D into new products is saving the lives of American soldiers. There are many more data points and stories to share.

We have a strong message. We have a compelling message.

All we have to do is tell it.

SSTI, through the Innovation Advocacy Council, talks with Congress and federal agencies on a regular basis. We educate officials and staff on the importance of federal support for regional innovation economies, and how these federal partnerships mean greater economic prosperity and improved quality of life for all Americans.

President Trump’s FY 2018 budget is a challenge to science and innovation proponents — a challenge for you to voice your support for the policies and investments that will lead to this better future.

Get engaged by contacting your delegation, or by joining SSTI’s existing outreach efforts. Learn more at http://ssti.org/federal-policy, or by emailing contactus@ssti.org.


Additional thoughts from Congress on the president's FY 2018 budget proposal

The president's budget is a constitutional formality that Congress uses to set its budgetary priorities to varying degrees. While a president of the same party as the Congressional majority may typically expect some deference, a number Congressional leaders have already been vocal in their lack of support for the proposed budget as a whole. Better indicators of Congress' perspective on the FY 2018 budget will be available through the committee hearings that will take place over the coming months. For now, the following comments provide a greater sense of leaders' initial reactions.


Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate majority whip: “Almost every budget I know of is basically dead on arrival, including President Obama's… I think [President Trump’s proposal] may find a similar fate, but obviously it's an expression of his priorities, which is important in terms of the conversation between the branches.” (The Hill)

Sen Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: “That proposal will not be well received in the Congress.” (Kansas City Star)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), member, Senate Budget Committee: “The president proposes and Congress disposes. Congress has the power of the purse strings. I’ve never seen a president’s budget proposal not revised substantially.” (ABC News)

Sen. John Hoeven, (R-ND), chair, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies:  “Cuts to programs like crop insurance, conservation reserve program (CRP), and agriculture research are unacceptable, especially when our farmers and ranchers face challenges due to low commodity prices.” (Press Statement)

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chair, Senate Armed Services Committee: “President Trump’s $603 billion defense budget request is inadequate to the challenges we face, illegal under current law [exceeds budget caps], and part of an overall budget proposal that is dead on arrival in Congress.” (Bloomberg)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chair, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies: “A President’s budget is more of a vision than anything else…However, there are elements of this budget I strongly disagree with – especially the drastic cuts to programs intended to help the most vulnerable among us. I will, as always, fight for Alaska’s priorities and work with my colleagues to ensure we do not leave behind those who need help the most.” (Press Statement)

Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chair, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: “This budget, if fully implemented, would cause us to retreat from the world diplomatically or put people at risk. You have a lot of 'Benghazis' in the making if this thing becomes law. (ABC News)

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), member, Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship: “Like a press release. I don't think anyone is going to focus on the president's budget to decide how we create our own budget. I'm not overly concerned with the president's budget at all.” (Washington Examiner)


Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: “Cutting [health research] is penny wise and pound foolish. You hurt your ability to deal with disease in your country — and disease is enormously expensive not just for individuals but society in general.” (Vox)

Rep Hal Rogers (R-VA), chair, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: “While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive.” (Press Statement) | “I will continue to advocate for sufficient funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission and similar programs, like the Economic Development Administration.” (Press Statement)

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), chair, House Agriculture Committee: “Agriculture has done more than its fair share. The bottom line is this is the start of a longer, larger process. It is a proposal, not THE budget.” (Washington Post)

Rep Mark Sanford (R-SC), member, House Budget Committee: "Three percent [growth estimate], I'm not seeing how you get there mathematically. It makes for a make-believe debate that I find frustrating." (Business Insider)


The article has been updated to correct the amount of science and technology cuts to read "billion" instead of "million."

federal budget, fy18 budget