President Trump's 2021 Science and Technology Budget Priorities

Executive Office Building

A new joint memorandum from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) reveals the Trump Administration’s new FY 2021 budget priorities for science and technology research and development.  Authored by Acting Director Russell Vought of OMB and OSTP Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, the memo provides guidance and direction to federal agencies about how to align their requests for research and development funding with Administration’s prioritized science and technology challenges.

The issue of “American Security” topped the list of priorities. Drawing on the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the memo argues that investments in science and technology remain essential to ensuring the United States can “fight and win the wars of the future.” Key R&D topics under American Security include:

  • Advanced Military Capabilities: meeting future external security threats such as hypersonics weapon systems, resilient space systems, and modernized nuclear deterrents.
  • Critical Infrastructure Resilience: upgrading infrastructure systems across the country through R&D targeting resilience to natural and man-made disasters including cyberattacks.
  • Semiconductors: Enhancing government access to trustworthy microelectronics supply chains to achieve computing and storage goal.
  • Critical Materials: Reducing vulnerabilities in access to rare earths and other critical raw materials important in technology through improving reprocessing and recycling of raw materials; material substitution and extraction.

The next issue focuses on America’s positioning in so-called “industries of the future.” This issue receives such high interest because emerging technologies and industries global economic competition as well as the fight on the battlefield. Key R&D topics in this domain include:

  • Artificial intelligence, Quantum Information Science, and Computing:Advancing basic research and technology development in these fields while training a suitable support workforce and developing a market for commercialization
  • Advanced Communications Networks and Autonomy: Lowering the barriers to the deployment of surface, air, and marine self-piloting systems by advancing control systems, technology integration approaches, regulatory standards, operational security tools.
  • Advanced Manufacturing: Enabling American leadership in manufacturing by investing in smart and digital manufacturing techniques, industrial robotics, industrial internet of things, machine learning, and industrial A.I.

Other major issue domains for R&D funding will include: energy innovation and environmental management; health and bioeconomic innovation; and space exploration and commercialization. These priorities largely overlap with the Administration’s FY 2020 R&D priorities, but with one notable difference: the absence of “American Agriculture,” which appeared on the list of FY 2020 list of priorities, but does not appear on the FY 2021 list. For background information on the President’s FY2020 R&D-related budget requests, the Congressional Research Service offers this comprehensive guide.

The OMB/OSTP memo also identified five discrete “priority crosscutting actions” – initiatives to achieve progress on multi-disciplinary, multi-sector challenges. Agencies received directions to seek opportunities to direct R&D funds toward these actions, including: 

  • Build and Leverage a Diverse, Highly Skilled American Workforce
  • Create and Support Research Environments that Reflect American Values
  • Support Transformative Research of High Risk and Potentially High Reward
  • Leverage the Power of Data
  • Build, Strengthen, and Expand Strategic Multisector Partnerships.

Shortly after taking office, WH OSTP Director Droegemeier gave a speech in February 2019 explaining the rationale behind the Trump Administration’s science and technology policy agenda. The American Institute of Physics offers an in-depth summary.    

Topics: Budget, Science and Engineering Technology

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