VP Herman: Federal budget plan’s research boost a good start

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Research VP Herman

University of Minnesota Vice President for Research Brian Herman applauded the vision behind a 2017 federal budget plan released yesterday that would increase funding for research into major environmental, health and societal challenges. The additional funding, part of the $4.1 trillion overall spending plan President Barack Obama has sent to Congress, includes a government-wide investment in research and development that would help fuel discovery at public research institutions around the country.

“President Obama’s final budget plan provides a good starting point for ensuring that we at the University of Minnesota, along with other research universities, can continue to generate new knowledge and develop innovative ideas and technologies to tackle society’s greatest challenges,” said Herman. “Although the University of Minnesota is moving to a more diversified portfolio for research — in part to deal with long-term uncertainty around federal funding for research — funding from federal agencies still comprises more than half of sponsored research performed by our scientists and investigators.

While Herman lauded the intent to increase research funding, he acknowledged the scientific community’s apprehensive reaction to the “mandatory” sources proposed for much of the increase. As highlighted in an in-depth budget breakdown in Science, the proposed shift to mandatory funding is expected to meet strong resistance in Congress.

Among the budget plan’s highlights are an additional $755 million for an ongoing “moonshot” effort to cure cancer; funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative, which takes a patient’s genes, environment and lifestyle into account to form customized treatments; and support for the BRAIN Initiative to increase scientific understanding of how the brain works. Overall, the plan would increase the National Institutes of Health’s $31 billion budget by $1 billion, resources that are critical to medical breakthroughs.

The budget would also provide a boost in clean energy research and development to accelerate the transition to affordable and reliable clean energy systems and double, to $700 million, the budget for the Agriculture, Food and Research Initiative at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a significant supporter of University of Minnesota research into food systems.

These funding highlights align with ongoing research initiatives at the U of M, Herman said, and could help drive research forward on a wide variety of projects now underway at the University. Examples include the world-class cancer research being conducted at the Masonic Cancer Center and the MnDRIVE program’s emphasis on discovering treatments for brain conditions, establishing environmentally friendly industry practices, and securing a safe and sustainable food supply.

Federal funding made up roughly 60 percent of research awards to the University of Minnesota in 2015. The president’s budget proposal, the first major step in funding federal agencies for federal FY 2017, comes soon after a final budget agreement reached for FY 2016 in December, which also boosted major science agency budgets. From FY 2006 to FY 2015, all non-defense research funded by the federal government fell by 1.5 percent when adjusted for inflation.