What Trump's Budget Means for Space, Health, and Basic Science in America

Under Trump's request, NASA's budget would hold steady, while the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation would see their funding cut.
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Under Trump's request, NASA's budget would hold steady, while the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation would see their funding cut.
The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

On Monday, President Donald Trump released his requested budget for the fiscal year 2019. How big of an influence the request will have on the actual budget that Congress decides remains to be seen. In fact, just last week, Trump signed a spending bill from Congress that already sets many priorities for the next two years, even before Trump got to publish his comparatively leaner budgetary wishes. Still, the budget offers a good window into Trump's priorities and vision. Here's what those look like for some of the major science agencies.

NASA

Trump's budget offers the National Aeronautics and Space Administration $19.6 billion, basically as much as it received in the 2017 fiscal year, which ran from October 1st, 2016, to September 30th, 2017. Within that $19.6 billion, however, the budget proposes some big changes.

Trump wants to see NASA "refocus" on having humans return to the Moon. He proposes several trims so that favored programs can receive more money. The cuts include stopping support for government-owned communications satellites, and instead relying more on commercial ones; eliminating the Office of Education, which was one of Trump's goals last year, too, but was rejected by Congress; and a 6 percent reduction to NASA's Earth science programs.

Trump's budget also proposes ending direct government funding for the International Space Station by 2025, suggesting that NASA lean on private space companies for low-Earth orbit research. Word that the administration planned to privatize the ISS had leaked before, prompting criticism from leaders in private space companies and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Mark Mulqueen, space station program manager for Boeing, told the Washington Post, "handing over a rare national asset to commercial enterprises before the private sector is ready to support it could have disastrous consequences for American leadership in space and for the chances of building space-focused private enterprise." The president's budget puts $150 million toward developing a public-private ISS-like program, but doesn't offer details about how such a program would work.

NASA conducts plenty of climate-change science, but it's not explicitly mentioned in the budget, nor did NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot mention "climate" in his prepared remarks on the budget proposal. Presumably, climate science would take a hit with the Earth science cut.

National Institutes of Health

While Trump's budget doesn't offer any specific dollar amount for the National Institutes of Health, it does drastically trim funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, under which the NIH is housed: $69.5 billion, or 20 percent less than what it received in 2017. (In his 2018 budget, Trump proposed a hefty 22 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.)

But that number was calculated before Congress passed a spending deal last week that raised spending caps significantly. To take into account the extra money that's now available, the administration published an "addendum" that outlines how the funds should be spent "in a responsible manner" (while protesting the raised spending caps). In the addendum, the NIH is "returned" to its 2017 funding level of about $34 billion.

The original budget does contain a few new proposals for the NIH. Trump wants the agency to receive $100 million to work with industry to develop prevention and treatments for addiction. He also wants to see "streamlining" of the administrative functions at the NIH, but he doesn't say what that means. Lastly, Trump's budget suggests some other programs should be folded into the NIH, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which studies safety problems in the nation's health-care system, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which studies workplace hazards and is currently branched under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Science Foundation

Like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation—which funds basic science and engineering research—gets thrown a life preserver in the addendum. In the original proposed budget, it took a 29 percent cut, from $7.5 billion in 2017 to $5.3 billion. The addendum adds $2.2 billion back into the foundation's budget. In his original proposal, Trump doesn't talk about what he would want the National Science Foundation to trim, but in the addendum, he talks about using additional money to advance education and to upgrade the United States' Antarctic research stations.

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