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Biden backs science in his 2024 budget plan. But don’t bank on those numbers

The 2024 spending plan President Joe Biden unveiled today continues his administration’s pattern of asking for large increases at major U.S. research agencies.

But as with all presidential budgets, Biden’s $6.8 trillion request is simply the starting point for negotiations with Congress over everything from taxes to countering China’s growing economic and military might. And with Republicans vowing to reduce federal spending and the bipartisan support for bigger defense budgets, the prospects for any significant increases for science and other domestic programs remain uncertain at best.

Despite that uncertainty, science advocacy groups welcomed the initial vote of confidence from the White House. “We are pleased President Biden’s budget request prioritizes robust, sustained investment for key research programs,” says Laura Kolton, who leads the Science Coalition.

At the same time, a leading Republican voice in Congress on science took issue with the president’s choices. “This budget proposal boasts about spending taxpayer dollars on international climate slush funds and vaguely defined environmental justice programs, while shortchanging the basic research that has been proven to advance our economy, lower energy prices, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Representative Frank Lucas (R–OK), chair of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Several new science initiatives rank high among administration priorities highlighted in the request, which presidential science adviser Arati Prabhakar called a “smart, targeted blueprint for investing in America.” The fledgling Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health, which aims to accelerate converting basic research discoveries into treatments for dread diseases, would see its budget jump from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. A new directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with similar goals would get a 50% boost, to $1.2 billion.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) would receive a majority of the 2% increase requested for its parent body, the $47 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), as part of the Cancer Moonshot. NCI’s budget would grow by 7%, to $7.8 billion. And the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) efforts to develop fusion energy would see a 31% boost, to $1 billion.

On Monday the White House will flesh out its request to invest a record $210 billion in R&D at an event featuring Prabhakar and several agency heads. Here are some initial highlights based on preliminary figures released today.


The $500 million hike requested for the Cancer Moonshot would go to NCI projects that include a large study of blood tests to screen for early cancers and efforts to boost recruitment to clinical trials. Its goal is to cut cancer deaths by 50% by 2025.

The National Institute of Mental Health would get an additional $200 million for a new precision medicine psychiatric initiative, giving NIMH an overall increase of 8.5%. NIH’s environmental health institute would get $25 million in new funding to study health effects of climate change, a 2.7% boost to its overall budget. The rest of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers would stay at current budget levels, a status quo that displeases advocates for biomedical research.

“FASEB [the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology] is very disappointed that the president’s FY [fiscal year] 2024 request for NIH does not even meet biomedical research inflation and will certainly hamper efforts to continue ongoing research, let alone invest in promising new areas of science,” says Jennifer Zeitzer of FASEB.


Biden has requested a significant increase for this major federal funder of academic research. But it’s hard to know exactly how much because of how Congress set NSF’s current budget.

The White House budget office says it is requesting a 19% boost, to $11.3 billion. It labels that a $1.8 billion hike. But the increment appears to be based on NSF’s regular appropriation for this year. Congress also gave NSF nearly $1 billion in so-called emergency funding that didn’t count against a self-imposed cap on domestic spending. However, it’s still real money. So NSF’s actual boost in 2024, should Congress agree with the president’s request, would be smaller. At the same time, the total is $4.2 billion short of what Congress authorized for NSF in 2024 under the CHIPS and Science Act that gave the semiconductor industry some $39 billion.

Biden’s budget request of $1.4 billion for NSF’s education directorate reflects the administration’s emphasis on expanding the country’s scientific workforce at all levels, from community college through postdoctoral training. Likewise, the requested increase for NSF’s new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) directorate is intended to help more researchers turn their discoveries into marketable products and new industries. In particular, a flagship TIP program to support regional innovation centers would grow from $200 million to $300 million if Biden has his way.


NASA would continue to see its budget increase, with a 7% rise to $27.2 billion. Although Biden did not mention his request for the agency’s $7.8 billion science branch, he did propose spending $2.5 billion for NASA’s earth science division, an increase of nearly 14%. Strapped for cash, the division has faced the prospect of delaying work on the Earth System Observatory, its new fleet of satellites, or prematurely ending some legacy satellites—a conflict this increase in spending would presumably help resolve.

Although it did not include a dollar figure, the budget also promised support to the European Space Agency’s embattled Rosalind Franklin rover, which has faced a new round of delays because of Europe severing ties with Russia, its partner in the project. The Europeans are seeking help from NASA to meet a 2028 launch, including radioisotope heating units, thruster, and a rocket ride to reach the Red Planet. The proposal would also continue to fully fund development of the Mars Sample Return mission, a joint U.S. and European effort, increasing its spending by more than $100 million, to $949 million.

The budget also seeks $180 million to start work on a space tug, an idea that has floated around NASA for decades. The impetus for the tug would be to deorbit the International Space Station when the time came for decommissioning, rather than trusting a Russian system for the task. But such a space tug, the proposal notes, “may also be useful for other space transportation missions.”


The administration’s budget request would give DOE’s basic research wing, the Office of Science, a boost of $680 million, to roughly $8.8 billion. The 8% increase marks a step toward realizing the nearly 50% increase over 5 years authorized by the CHIPS act.

The budget would also include “a historic $1 billion investment in the acceleration of efforts to achieve fusion, a promising clean energy power source.” The office’s fusion energy sciences program has $768 million to spend this year, although it’s not clear that all the new money is being requested for that program specifically.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

USGS would see a 15% increase overall to $1.8 billion. Within the agency, energy research would increase by 70%, to $57 million, allowing it to expand assessments of geothermal energy and study greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands. Mineral resources research would grow by 30%, to $93 million. In the natural hazards program, coastal research would increase 46%, to $63 million.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Within USDA, the administration wants 10% more for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which would bring its budget to $1.9 billion. NIFA, which supports research at public land-grant universities and elsewhere, would also see its competitive extramural grants rise by 20%, to $550 million. 

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