AAAS Finds Some Good News in R&D Budget

by George Leopold, AMS Policy Program
Our friends at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have sifted through this year’s federal R&D spending and next year’s proposed budget, and the numbers in some cases are pretty ugly.
Given the current political climate and budget sequestration, however, it could have been much worse. The best news, says Matt Hourihan, director of R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS, is that the Obama administration’s FY 2014 proposal would return caps on discretionary science spending to presequester levels.
The overall budget request for nonmilitary R&D spending approaches $70 billion. If enacted, and again that’s a big if, Hourihan says that would be an all-time high.
Now that the dust has settled over sequestration, let’s look back at fiscal 2013 federal appropriations and the impact of across-the-board budget cuts on science agencies. All but the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (advanced manufacturing) took a hit, according to AAAS estimates. For example, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) R&D budget declined an estimated 4% from the previous year while NASA funding dropped by an estimated 6.6%. Other science agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) were in the same range.
Overall, AAAS found, federal R&D spending will decline $9.3 billion in fiscal 2013 due to sequestration and other budget cuts. That 6.5% decline takes federal R&D spending back to 2002 levels.
For NASA, which of course plays a key role in Earth observation, the $749 million nominal cut from its fiscal 2012 budget pushes the space agency’s fiscal 2013 spending back to its 1980s spending levels, AAAS found.
As for next year, AAAS expects NASA’s R&D budget to increase by more than $1 billion (9.8%) over 2013 levels, accounting for about $11.6 billion of the proposed $144 billion federal R&D budget. The Commerce Department, which includes NOAA, is projected to account for only about $2.7 billion, while NSF would receive about $6.3 billion. (By stark contrast, and despite recent shifts toward civilian research, proposed military R&D spending next year would total $73 billion.)
Another piece of good news in the AAAS assessment is that NOAA’s R&D budget would be $733 million in 2014, a 27.7% increase over the 2012 budget. As we have noted, much of that would go for National Weather Service modernization programs, including computer modeling and networking. The emphasis here seems to be on technology for weather forecasting rather than for forecasters themselves.
Along with NOAA R&D, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and even USGS science programs might see a budget bump next year unless Congress decides otherwise.
Among the Obama administration’s investment priorities for R&D, AAAS found, was a shift “from D to R” with an additional correction toward “applied” research. Indeed, the proposed budget for nice-to-have but hard-to-fund basic research is expected to remain flat next year when adjusted for inflation.
NSF’s budget, which was heavily skewed by a huge boost from economic stimulus funding in 2009, could nevertheless benefit from an upward trend in what AAAS calls “general science.” The key focus will be on “cross-cutting innovation programs,” AAAS predicts.
So, it’s a mixed budget outlook for 2014, with sequestration likely to continue despite the fact that most budget proposals for next year seek to eliminate across-the-board cuts. The political rub, of course, is whether to cut “entitlement” programs (or what the supporters of these programs refer to as “earned benefits”) or raise taxes. Don’t expect much movement on that front any time soon.
Therefore, budget sequestration likely will remain, affecting not only federal R&D spending but most of the federal budget for the foreseeable future.
That’s why it is important for U.S. science agencies to continue working more closely to identify spending priorities before the Office of Management of Budget decides for them.
AAAS puts the question this way: “Has science hit a speed bump, or crossed over the Fiscal Cliff into Austerity Valley?” Answering his own question, AAAS budget analyst Hourihan concludes: Austerity is “the new normal.”
Parse the science organization’s budget estimates for yourself here.

Obama Backs Weather Funding in Opening Bid

by George Leopold, AMS Policy Program
While it remains far from clear whether the Obama administration will gain final congressional approval, its fiscal 2014 budget request released earlier this month does contain small increases for improving weather forecasting and climate research.
The White House budget request also reveals early attempts by science agencies to collaborate more closely in areas like Earth observation and climate research.
Given the pervasive uncertainty over federal spending–for instance, across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration” began to bite this week with the furloughs of U.S. air traffic controllers–the administration’s proposed $200 million increase for NOAA and the National Weather Service is welcome. It also indicates that NOAA’s core functions remain a budget priority for federal bean counters.
If approved–and at this point that’s a big if–NOAA’s fiscal 2014 budget would top out at $5.45 billion. That’s about $200 million more than the amount approved for this year. If nothing else, the administration’s opening bid in negotiations over NOAA’s budget is higher than some stakeholders expected.
Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a statement that the agency’s FY14 budget request seeks to: “1) ensure the readiness, responsiveness, and resiliency of communities from coast to coast; 2) help protect lives and property; and, 3) support vibrant coastal communities and economies.”
Not surprisingly, Sullivan emphasized NOAA’s role last October in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Sandy. We’ll be hearing a lot more in upcoming budget debates about the need to continue investing in core NOAA functions like environmental monitoring.
Indeed, the lion’s share of NOAA’s budget request for next year–about $2.2 billion–goes to its National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, or NESDIS, which operates most U.S. weather satellites. A key issue is whether NESDIS can shorten an expected gap in the coverage of its polar-orbiting weather satellites. Even with a budget increase, however modest, it remains unclear whether the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1) can be launched in time to reduce a coverage gap that, according to recent estimates, could last up to 53 months.
The design lifetime of the current Suomi NPP weather satellite is expected to end in 2016. According to NESDIS officials, NOAA remains on track to launch JPSS-1 during the first quarter of 2018. Additional funding in fiscal 2014 could reportedly speed up the launch of JPSS-2 to 2021.
Another priority is beefing up the National Weather Service’s supercomputer and networking infrastructure to improve its weather forecasting models as well as its climate research. According to budget documents, funding for climate research would increase to $143 million, with the overall funding request for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research increasing to about $390 million.
Expect to also hear a lot more about collaboration as agencies like NOAA look to do more with less. To that end, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office is seeking an additional $2 million next year to acquire more low-mileage drones from the U.S. military “to accelerate next-generation weather observing platforms.”
Meanwhile, NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget request of $17.7 billion is $50 million below what the space agency received last year. Despite the reductions, the budget request does include $1.8 billion for Earth science programs such as Landsat and climate sensors for JPSS.
NASA said its budget request also includes funding to take over from NOAA responsibility for “key observations of the Earth’s climate,” including atmospheric ozone, solar irradiance, and energy radiated into space. Under the budget plan, the space agency would also “steward” two Earth observation sensors on NOAA’s space weather mission, Deep Space Climate Observatory, currently scheduled for launch in 2014.
Agency heads will begin defending their fiscal 2014 budget requests this week. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to testify on April 25 before the Senate Appropriations Committee panel overseeing space agency spending.
NOAA’s Sullivan is scheduled to appear before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on April 23.

The Value of Knowing Our Value

by Ellen Klicka, AMS Policy Program
Sometimes articulating the right question is the tipping point on the path to the right solution.
At last week’s AMS Washington Forum, members of the weather, water and climate enterprise and other leaders assembled to discuss the pressing issues the community is facing. Speakers and attendees alike posed questions, shared insights and then posed better questions.
The first panel took a focused look at progressing towards a better understanding of the economic value of the weather and climate enterprise.
One question that is as good as any to begin an exploration is, “Why do we want to estimate the value of the enterprise?” Forum participants frequently revisited this point during the forum. What follows are themes raised throughout the three-day dialogue.
As a community, weather, water and climate organizations and professionals do not justify in quantitative terms their value to society as effectively as other enterprises. Where can this community say it fits in?
The difficulties created by increasingly tight federal budgets are inescapable. Some say if the enterprise does not step forward to demonstrate why its labor is vital to the nation, decision makers with less knowledge will have no choice but to set priorities on their own. Others believe that framing of the issue is divisive, pitting segments of the community against each other for finite resources.
In either case, quantifying the value of the weather and climate enterprise requires a paradigm shift from evaluating the costs of weather to focusing instead on the benefits of weather and climate information.
Part of the challenge stems from the cumbersome and imprecise nature of the steps involved in calculating even the smallest microcosm of the enterprise. If investigators did arrive at a total dollar value or benefit-to-cost ratio of investment in the enterprise, how confident could anyone be in its basis?
The Weather Enterprise Economic Evaluation Team, under the auspices of the AMS Commission on the Weather and Climate Enterprise, will complete a draft request for proposals by this summer to commission the largest study of this kind ever undertaken.
While most members of the enterprise are scientists, the tools of economics will be valuable to this study. For example, an examination of marginal values brings to light the gains from increased investment. Where is the biggest bang for your buck for one extra dollar? Logic points to the biggest need: getting the public to understand and use forecast information effectively so they take appropriate action.
These recent discussions on valuation have not been the first among the AMS membership, and they won’t be the last. The themes of the next enterprise-wide gathering—the AMS Summer Community Meeting in Boulder, Colorado, on August 12-15–include improving weather forecasts; supporting ground transportation, aviation, and conventional and renewable energy; and, yes, determining the economic value of the weather and climate enterprise.
Until then, ponder this multiple choice question:
How good do we want to be as a nation?

A. No worse than we are today
B. As good as we can be (with no realistic limitations on resources)
C. As good as we can afford to be at a fixed cost-benefit ratio
D. As good as or better than other nations at a similar economic development stage