Science Policy

Bold Goals Require Bold Funding Levels. The FY25 Requests for the U.S. Bioeconomy Fall Short

04.10.24 | 5 min read | Text by Nazish Jeffery

Over the past year, there has been tremendous momentum in policy for the U.S. bioeconomy – the collection of advanced industry sectors, like pharmaceuticals, biomanufacturing, and others, with biology at their core. This momentum began in part with the Bioeconomy Executive Order (EO) and the programs authorized in CHIPS and Science, and continued with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) release of the Bold Goals for U.S. Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing (Bold Goals) report. The report highlighted ambitious goals that the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Commerce (DOC), Human Health Services (HHS), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have committed to in order to further the U.S. bioeconomical enterprise.

However, these ambitious goals set by various agencies in the Bold Goals report will also require directed and appropriate funding, and this is where we have been falling short. Multiple bioeconomy-related programs were authorized through the bipartisan CHIPS & Science legislation but have yet to receive anywhere near their funding targets. Underfunding and the resulting lack of capacity has also led to a delay in the tasks under the Bioeconomy EO. In order for the bold goals outlined in the report to be realized, it will be imperative for the U.S. to properly direct and fund the many different endeavors under the U.S. bioeconomy.

Despite this need for funding for the U.S. bioeconomy, the recently-completed FY2024 (FY24) appropriations were modest for some science agencies but abysmal for others, with decreases seen across many different scientific endeavors across agencies. The DOC, and specifically the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), saw massive cuts in funding base program funding, with earmarks swamping core activities in some accounts. 

There remains some hope that the FY2025 (FY25) budget will alleviate some of the cuts that have been seen to science endeavors, and in turn, to programs related to the bioeconomy. But the strictures of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which contributed to the difficult outcomes in FY24, remain in place for FY25 as well.

Bioeconomy in the FY25 Request

With this difficult context in mind, the Presidential FY25 Budget was released as well as the FY25 budgets for DOE, DOC, HHS, NSF, and USDA

The President’s Budget makes strides toward enabling a strong bioeconomy by prioritizing synthetic biology metrology and standards within NIST and by directing OSTP to establish the Initiative Coordination Office to support the National Engineering Biology Research and Development Initiative. However, beyond these two instances, the President’s budget only offers limited progress for the bioeconomy because of mediocre funding levels.

The U.S. bioeconomy has a lot going on, with different agencies prioritizing different areas and programs depending on their jurisdiction. This makes it difficult to properly grasp all the activity that is ongoing (but we’re working on it, stay tuned!). However, we do know that the FY25 budget requests from the agencies themselves have been a mix bag for bioeconomy activities related to the Bold Goals Report. Some agencies are asking for large appropriations, while some agencies are not investing enough to support these goals:

Department of Energy supports Bold Goals Report efforts in biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further climate change solutions

The increase in funding levels requested for FY25 for BER and MESC will enable increased biotech and biomanufacturing R&D, supporting DOE efforts to meet its proposed objectives in the Bold Goals Report.

Department of Commerce falls short in support of biotech & biomanufacturing R&D supply chain resilience

One budgetary increase request is offset by two flat funding levels.

Department of Agriculture falls short in support of biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further food & Ag innovation

Human Health Services falls short in support of biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further human health

National Science Foundation supports Bold Goals Report efforts in biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further cross-cutting advances

* FY23 amounts are listed due to FY24 appropriations not being finalized at the time that this document was created.

Overall, the DOE and NSF have asked for FY25 budgets that could potentially achieve the goals stated in the Bold Goals Report, while the DOC, USDA and HHS have unfortunately limited their budgets and it remains questionable if they will be able to achieve the goals listed with the funding levels requested. The DOC, and specifically NIST, faces one of the biggest challenges this upcoming year. NIST has to juggle tasks assigned to it from the AI EO as well as the Bioeconomy EO and the Presidential Budget. The 8% decrease in funding for NIST does not paint a promising picture for either the Bioeconomy EO and should be something that Congress rectifies when they enact their appropriation bills. Furthermore, the USDA faces cuts in funding for vital programs related to their goals and AgARDA continues to be unfunded. In order for USDA to achieve the goals listed in the Bold Goals report, it will be imperative that Congress prioritize these areas for the benefit of the U.S. bioeconomy.