Trump budget would fund border wall, but slash science and research

U.S. funding for supercomputers could also be at risk


President Donald Trump's federal budget outline released Thursday represents a major shift in U.S. priorities. It would increase defense spending, boost immigration enforcement and include in seed money for a wall along the southern border.

It does all of that, in part, by cutting science funding.

Science and technology groups are warning that U.S. leadership will suffer if the budget, which would cover the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, is adopted.

One critical area for the technology industry is the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which funds development of large supercomputers, including exascale systems. That office would see a $900 million cut out of its $5 billion budget under Trump's proposal.

The nearly 20% overall reduction in Energy Department science funding doesn't spell out exactly what would happen to supercomputing funding. But it doesn't bode well.

The U.S. is now in a global race to build the next generation of supercomputing systems. The main competitor is China, which recently accelerated its timetable to release an exascale system prototype.

"Research investments need to be a priority, not a target for cuts and cost-savings as they are in this request," said Peter Harsha, director of government affairs for the Computing Research Association.

Scientists from the National Security Agency and other groups recently warned that if the U.S. drops the ball on supercomputing it will put national security and the nation's high-tech leadership at risk.

The National Science Foundation, which funds computer engineering research, could see a 10% cut in the budget, if Congress were to adopt it intact.

The proposed spending plan "would cripple the science and technology enterprise," said Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The administration's cuts threaten our nation's ability to advance cures for disease [and] maintain our technological leadership."

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) said the budget would significantly "shift spending away from public investment in education, research, and infrastructure, among other areas."

The ITIF, a think tank, said in a statement: "These kinds of investments are essential for faster economic growth, and without that, living standards will stagnate."

The science cuts are across the board. The National Institutes of Health gets an 18% reduction, and the Environmental Protection Agency's science programs would be reduced by 40%. Other agencies see cuts in basic science research, something that would have an impact on funding to support university research.

"Since these agencies fund a great deal of research in universities, cuts to them may prematurely end many careers among the next generation of research scientists," said the ITIF.

The budget doesn't offer enough detail to show whether the shift to defense spending would help the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Defense spending would increase 10%, or by $54 billion, under the Trump plan.

The budget does include $2.6 billion "for high priority tactical infrastructure and border security technology, including funding to continue planning, designing, and constructing a border wall," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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