On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021. This $2.3 trillion spending bill combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. with a $1.4-trillion omnibus spending bill for the FY2021 budget. The omnibus bill also prevents a government shutdown. An omnibus spending bill again appears to have become the de facto methodology for finalizing budgets because budgets are rarely agreed upon by the administration and congress in time for the new fiscal year.
In early 2020, the Trump Administration proposed broad reductions in its FY2021 Budget proposal. Proposed budget reductions in previous years were mostly overridden, especially with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which allowed a $40 billion budget increase in FY2020, but then required a much smaller one in FY2021. The COVID-19 pandemic and its national debt-raising support bills and Trump’s election loss in November 2020 guaranteed a delay in budget finalization.
From an agency funding standpoint, the Dept. of Defense (DoD) has a base budget of $671 billion with an additional $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. That’s $2 billion over the DoD’s combined FY2020 budget. The DoD’s Science and Technology (S&T) budget increases 5% in FY2021 to $16.9 billion. Overall DoD funding for research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) rises 2% to $111 billion.
The U.S. Air Force leads all other U.S. military services for RDT&E with a budget of $47.7 billion. The new (one-year-old) Space Force boosts its R&D spending to $10.3 billion in FY2021 from $9.8 billion in its inaugural FY2020 budget. The Space Force increases its overall manpower to 10,100 in FY2021 from 160 at the start of FY2020. Most personnel who were previously assigned to the U.S. Air Force Space Command (a command within the USAF) now help the U.S. Space Force perform its missions. The DoD’s total FY2021 budget is basically the same as it was in FY2020 (within 1%). This concerned some Congressional House Armed Services Committee members who called for a 3% to 5% bump to outpace U.S. adversaries.
NASA has an FY2021 budget of $23.3 billion. This is $642 million more than it received in FY2020, but nearly $2 billion less than the agency’s request of $25.2 billion. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems all received funding at or above the administration’s request. However, the funding bill only provides $850 million for NASA’s Human Landing System, only a quarter of its request which puts a 2024 moon landing at risk, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
NASA also only received about 10% of its request for a commercial low-Earth-orbit development program, about the same as it got in FY2020. This restricts NASA’s ability to develop a commercial successor for the International Space Station. Omnibus funding for NASA does provide funding for planetary defense programs, including the Double Asteroid Redirection Test and the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission.
The FY2021 omnibus funding bill provides $9.2 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about $180 million more than in FY2020. The administration had proposed a drastic 26.5% reduction for the EPA in FY2021 from its FY2020 budget with several terminated programs, which the congressional committees put back into the budget.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) received $8.5 billion in FY2021, 3% more, expanding research and educa tion programs while maintaining level funding for major construction projects. The collapsed Arecibo radio telescope, which was supported by NSF funding (and managed by the University of Central Florida), has triggered a campaign to rebuild a new and improved telescope at the site. Initial rough estimates of $400 million to accomplish this will have to wait for future funding programs.
The Dept. of Energy (DoE) received $39.6 billion in funding for FY2021, a $1 billion boost over its FY2020 funding. It’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) received $427 million, a $2 million increase over its FY2020 budget. DoE also received $7.8 billion for environmental management activities, a rise of $171 million, with $6.4 billion allocated for cleanup associated with past nuclear weapons production (primarily at the DoE Hanford, Wash., site).
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will see a 3% budget increase in FY2021 to just under $43 billion, marking the sixth year in a row the agency has seen its funding rise by more than $1 billion. Most of the agency’s institutes will get between 1.5% and 3% more, except for those focused on aging and minority health disparities which will see significantly larger increases. The omnibus bill also includes an extra $1.5 billion to the NIH to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.” This adds to the more than $3 billion NIH has received through previous pandemic response bills.
Political analysts are already second-guessing President-Elect Biden’s responses to several government issues. The primary issues facing Biden, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, are: Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act; net neutrality; artificial intelligence (AI); China relations; and the Obama legacy.
Concerning section 230, the consensus is that Biden may find some way to slow the spread of certain content on social media, but he’s not likely to eliminate it completely as Trump desired. Biden may want to restore at least some parts of net neutrality, although it will take some time in 2021 to do that.
No one knows how Biden will respond to AI — its just too complex of an issue. Biden’s relations with China are thought to pretty much follow those of Trump, although without the trade embargos and other hype. And many Obama-era tech agencies and policies were left untouched by Trump and are likely to remain intact by Biden. The U.S. Digital Service (USDS), was created in 2014 with a mission to improve federal websites and the technologies required to deliver federal services. This will continue to be a priority with the Biden administration, according to the report.
This article is part of R&D World’s annual Global Funding Forecast (Executive Edition). This report has been published annually for more than six decades. The Executive Edition will be published in the April 2021 print issue of R&D World. To purchase the full, comprehensive report, which is 54 pages in length, please visit the 2021 Global Funding Forecast homepage.