President Trump has released his research and development (R&D) priorities for FY19 in a memo from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney to executive agency heads. The memo specifically mentions the aging population, the opioid crisis and research that leads to “more efficient and effective healthcare” as top health research priorities. The memo also prioritizes STEM education and workforce development for all Americans, specifically mentioning women and other underrepresented groups.
This is President Trump’s first memo outlining his scientific priorities. The Obama administration’s first memo on science and technology was similarly light on specifics but included more detailed initiatives in subsequent years, such as the BRAIN Initiative, combating antibiotic resistance and the Precision Medicine Initiative. However, the memo is in stark contrast to President Trump’s FY17 and FY18 budget proposals, which each proposed severe cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other health agencies.
Other priorities outlined in the memo do give cause for concern. First, the emphasis on budget neutrality would make it virtually impossible to grow the biomedical research enterprise. The Trump administration has previously targeted indirect, or facilities and administration, costs as a means of shrinking the NIH’s budget, and these costs may be targeted again. Second, the memo emphasizes reducing duplicative efforts across federal agencies. While this is not a new idea, it is concerning in the context of the previously proposed reorganization of NIH that would also move the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) into the NIH. Finally, the memo emphasizes the role of the federal government in basic and early-stage research and that of the private sector in late-stage, applied research, specifically stating agencies should “identify existing R&D programs that could progress more efficiently through private sector R&D, and consider their modification or elimination where Federal investment is no longer needed or appropriate”. Basic research is often the focus of federal research investments and applied research is taken up by the private sector, but in the context of President Trump’s previous budget proposals, this may indicate that the Trump administration still aims to shrink the federal research budget to make room for other priorities. Ultimately, the research community will have to wait until the release of the President’s FY19 budget proposal to fully understand how the Trump administration envisions translating these priorities into federal R&D investments going forward.
AADR will continue to monitor both formal and informal indications of the Trump administration’s federal R&D priorities and intentions and continue to engage and educate members of Congress on the importance of providing robust funding for biomedical research. Please continue to monitor the Government Affairs and Science Policy blog for how members can be engaged in these efforts.