Source: Science Magazine | Jeffrey Mervis | August 17, 2017
President Donald Trump has translated his campaign promise to “make America great again” into his administration’s first blueprint for federal investment in science and technology.
The White House today issued a four-page memo telling federal agencies that their research dollars should be focused on delivering short-term dividends in strengthening national defense and border security, the economy, and “energy dominance,” as well as improving public health. It says achieving those goals should not require additional spending, and that agencies should focus primarily on basic science, and then step aside as quickly as possible to let industry pursue any results that show commercial promise.
The memo, written jointly by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), is an annual reminder of the administration’s research priorities sent to agencies before they submit their next budget request. Those requests are due next month for the 2019 fiscal year that starts in October 2018. (Congress has yet to act on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins 1 October; most observers expect lawmakers to extend current spending levels well into the new fiscal year.)
The memos typically don’t change much from year to year. But this is the first one from the new Trump administration. And it comes even as the White House lacks a presidential science adviser and OSTP director. It’s co-signed by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Michael Kratsios, a deputy assistant to the president, who since March has also been acting as OSTP’s head.
The memo lists five priority areas (in this order): military superiority, security, prosperity, energy dominance, and health. Each is prefaced by the word “American” in keeping with the administration’s approach to branding issues.
The phrase “basic research” appears only in connection with prosperity, the third target area. Agencies are told to “continue, and expand where necessary, efforts to focus on basic research” to promote “emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, biometrics, energy storage, gene editing, machine learning, and quantum computing.” Even then, however, agencies are directed to “reduce funding overlaps with industry in later-stage research, development, and deployment of [these] technologies.”
In the health arena, the memo says “agencies should prioritize research focused on solutions for an aging population, as well as on combating drug addiction and other public health crises.” It also lists research “that will lead to more efficient and effective healthcare.”