Yet Again, Trump Proposes Slashing Popular Federal Science Programs

Illustration for article titled Yet Again, Trump Proposes Slashing Popular Federal Science Programs
Photo: AP

The White House released its record-breaking 2020 budget request yesterday, and once again, it sucks if you care about science.


The president’s budget is not the budget we’ll be stuck with, and is instead meant to signal Trump’s vision for America to Congress, who will put together its own budget. The president does have to sign that budget into law—which is what led us to the recent 35-day government shutdown. For the 2020 budget, Trump’s vision for science is pretty much the same as last year’s: cut research funding.

Some of the relevant cuts for science would include:

  • Cutting the National Institutes of Health’s funding from 2019's $39 billion budget to $33 billion.
  • Cutting the Department of Energy’s office of science from 2019's $6.585 billion to $5.5 billion while allocating more money to Exascale computing and quantum computing, likely cutting into other programs. It would specifically reduce funding for large physics projects like the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.
  • Cutting the National Institute of Standards and Technologies budget from $986 million to $688 million. (NIST is a federally funded laboratory and agency in charge of standardizing measurements, and whose important research includes atomic clocks and nanotechnology.)
  • Cutting the National Science Foundation’s budget from $8.1 billion to $7.1 billion.

As for NASA, agency head Jim Bridenstine called the budget request “strong, though it represents a $500 million decrease from NASA’s 2019 budget. The 2020 proposal once again recommends cutting WFIRST, a proposed space-based infrared observatory, to prioritize the James Webb Space Telescope, something we’ve argued is a bad idea. Trump’s proposal would fund a mission to the Jovian moon Europa while cutting the agency’s education office, and would put off an upgrade to the Space Launch System. It prioritizes commercial partnerships and lunar science, as expected.

A news article in Science points out that, somewhat surprisingly, the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive a 20 percent boost to $500 million, while $50 million would go to upgrading facilities at land grant universities. Other USDA research programs would receive cuts.

The budget retells a familiar story: the president’s priorities for the United States include cuts to things we care about and increases in defense spending. As we reported last year, cuts like these can have long-term impacts on the programs they affect.

But the good news is, this budget proposal isn’t the last word. In 2018, despite a similarly bleak budget proposal from the president, many scientific programs ended up receiving increases to their budgets, and the WFIRST project wasn’t killed. If we’re lucky, Congress will once again step in and deliver a science budget that isn’t quite as lean. Their review begins this week.


Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds


The Ghost of James Madison's Rage Boner

This is just another Trump budget that is already dead on arrival.

Science spending has broad bipartisan support because it represents direct federal investment in university research, national labs, and private R&D. Naturally all of these programs Trump wants to cut have powerful defenders on both sides of the aisle (which is why they exist in the first place). Most of them have gotten healthy increases in spending over the past two years despite Trump wanting to zero many of them out. This is one of the few areas where the Democrats and Republicans largely agree.