Biden Preliminary FY 2022 R&D Proposals Rely on “DARPA” Model

On April 9, the Biden Administration released preliminary, high-level details of its fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request, referred to as a “skinny budget.” At this stage, details are only available for Cabinet-level departments and a handful of other “major” agencies, with limited details about some agencies within the departments. For example, it includes preliminary details for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but not for the Census Bureau. Full budget details will be released in the coming months. In the meantime, however, Congress is proceeding with the FY 2022 appropriations process without the Administration’s full proposals. Appropriators in both chambers have already held a number of hearings on the FY 2022 budget and are continuing to schedule appearances from federal officials, including the Director of the National Science Foundation, who is scheduled to testify before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees this week.

Unsurprisingly, given the Biden Administration’s early priorities, the request’s most prominent new research initiatives are proposed in the areas of climate change and public health. Two of the largest R&D proposals in the budget aim to replicate the model implemented by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), which aims to catalyze high-risk high-reward projects across government, academia, and industry. The request proposes a $1 billion investment in the existing Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) and in the creation of a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate (ARPA-C) within the Department of Energy. These agencies would collectively support “high-risk, high-reward solutions for adaptation and resilience against the climate crisis and enable robust investments in clean energy technology research and development.” In its budget requests, the Trump Administration repeatedly proposed eliminating ARPA-E.

The Biden Administration proposes a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The budget proposes $6.5 billion for this new division, which is intended to “drive transformational innovation in health research and speed application and implementation of health breakthroughs” and would initially focus on diseases including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The request also proposes an additional $2.5 billion in funding for NIH’s other institutes and centers, which combined with the ARPA-H funding would be a total of $51 billion for the agency ($9 billion above its FY 2021 level).

The request for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposes a total of $8.7 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion above the FY 2021 level. It includes a $100 million Community-Based Violence Intervention initiative that would, in collaboration with the Justice Department, implement evidence-based community violence interventions. The Administration also proposes doubling current funding for gun violence prevention research at the CDC and NIH, which would provide $25 million to each agency in FY 2022.

The Administration’s request for the National Science Foundation (NSF) would provide the agency with $10.2 billion, a 20 percent increase from its FY 2021 enacted level. The request would increase funding for NSF’s Research and Related Activities account, which houses most of its research directorates, including the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), by $1.6 billion, bringing it to a total of $9.4 billion. The request also repeats the proposal from the Biden Administration’s infrastructure plan (see related article) to establish a new directorate for technology and innovation.

The proposal would provide a total of $100 million in funding (a roughly 50 percent increase over FY 2021) for programs aiming to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the sciences. According to the proposal, the funding would “support curriculum design, research on successful recruitment and retention methods, development of outreach or mentorship programs, fellowships, and building science and engineering research and education capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions.” In addition, the Administration proposes a $500 million increase ($1.2 billion total) for climate science and sustainability research. The proposal would fund a portfolio of research including on the “social, behavioral, and economic research on human responses to climate change.”

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Posted in Issue 8 (April 13), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

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