The Slatest

The Budget Deal Is Going to Fund Lots of Great Science. Yes!

Yay space exploration! (NASA employees at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrate the first pictures from Mars rover Curiosity in 2012.)

Photo by Brian van der Brug-Pool/Getty Images

It’s not every day I write a sentence that includes the words “funding,” “bill,” “science,” and “yay.” But look, I just did! That’s because Thursday morning, Congress released the text of a bill that will fund federal agencies until the end of fiscal year 2016, and science agencies cashed in majorly. Assuming the House and Senate pass the final bill later this week—which they are expected to do—we’ll soon see money funneled into planetary exploration, fighting deadly diseases, and saving dying bats. Shoutout to Science magazine, whose reporters expertly explained how much of the bill’s $149 billion for research and development is going where, and put together this handy chart to boot.

Here are some of the biggest winners, and a few losers too.


National Institutes of Health: The NIH will receive a $2 billion boost—the largest increase the agency has received in 12 years. That money will go toward lifesaving biomedical research, including $350 million earmarked for Alzheimer’s disease, which is a jump of more than 50 percent and way above the president’s request of $51 million. The National Children’s Study will get $165 million, and the NIH’s work on antimicrobial resistance will get $100 million. It makes sense that the NIH is the big winner, because it’s a powerhouse: As the largest biomedical research agency in the world, it comprises 27 institutes and centers and has more than 20,000 employees. But since 2003, its yearly budget increases have been paltry, resulting in a 22 percent funding decrease overall once you factor in inflation. With the new bill’s boost, the NIH’s annual budget will increase to $32.1 billion.

NASA: Astronaut ice cream for everyone! NASA will soon get more than $1 billion, hiking its budget up to $19.3 billion for the coming fiscal year. That includes more than $1 billion toward commercial spaceflight, the first time that Congress has fully funded NASA’s commercial crew program since 2011. It also includes $1.63 billion for planetary science and $1.92 billion for Earth Science programs, which advance knowledge on ecosystems, climate change, and other human impacts on the planet, and had been cut significantly during the George W. Bush administration. Fun fact: $175 million will go toward a project to land on Jupiter’s moon Europa by 2022, which appears to be the obsession of a certain Rep. John Culberson (R–Texas), who believes the ocean-strewn moon may be harboring extraterrestrial life.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: NOAA will receive $5.77 billion, an increase of 6 percent that includes funds to develop commercial fisheries and restore Pacific salmon populations. But it will receive lower funding levels than requested for climate and ocean acidification research. Overall, the agency’s funding levels are “decently healthy,” as Jeff Watters, director of government relations at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., told Science.

Bats: As part of a $17 million boost to the U.S. Geological Survey, the millions of bats that have been dying of mysterious white-nose syndrome will get some much-needed help. That boost includes $500,000 to study the devastating fungal disease, with another $500,000 devoted to studying new and emerging wildlife diseases.


The Environmental Protection Agency: America cares about protecting the environment … sorta. EPA funding will remain completely flat at $8.1 billion, which is lower than it was in fiscal year 2010. The agency will also remain badly understaffed, keeping its lowest staffing levels since 1989. The bill does provide more than $2 billion for local drinking water and sewer construction projects, and $300 million* for an initiative to restore the Great Lakes.

Gene editing: No surprise here. In the bill, Congress forbids the FDA from using funds to consider research into therapies that make changes to human embryos that could be passed down. “Such research is not currently eligible for NIH funding, and is still years from producing therapies that regulators would have to green light before they could be tested in humans,” writes Science. The ban follows an international gene-editing summit in Washington, D.C., that addressed bioethical consequences of such research, and concluded that to edit the genome now would be “irresponsible.”

Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology: While the bill includes $149 billion for research and development, about $81 billion of that is for defense purposes, some of which will go to this department, which works with industry and academic partners to understand threats to national security and develop more effective technologies for bomb squads, firefighters, technicians, and others who seek to combat them. According to Science’s chart, though, the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology suffered the biggest funding loss percentage-wise, losing almost 30 percent of its current budget.  


USDA Agricultural Research Service: In light of shocking reports of animal mistreatment and abuse in the New York Times, Congress is now threatening to withhold more than $57 million in funding if the agency doesn’t update its animal care policies and record-keeping. For decades, the agency has been performing horrifically irresponsible breeding experiments on cows and pigs in its quest to create fatter and more fertile animals, the Times reported last January.

Correction, Dec. 17, 2015: An earlier version of this post misstated funding for the Great Lakes initiative. It is $300 million, not $300.