The Federal Budget Process and R&D Spending

Congress creates a new budget for our country every year. This annual congressional budget process is also called the appropriations process.

Appropriations bills specify how much money will go to different government agencies and programs. In addition to these funding bills, Congress must pass legislation that provides the federal government the legal authority to actually spend the money. These laws are called authorization bills, or authorizations. Authorizations often cover multiple years, so authorizing legislation does not need to pass Congress every year the way appropriations bills do. When a multi-year authorization expires, Congress often passes a reauthorization to continue the programs in question.

Authorizations also serve another purpose. There are some types of spending that are not subject to the appropriations process. Such spending is called direct or mandatory spending, and authorizations provide the legal authority for this mandatory spending.

There are five key steps in the federal budget process:

  1. The President submits a budget request to Congress each February for the coming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.
  2.  House Committee on the Budget and the Senate Committee on the Budget each write and vote on their own budget resolutions.
  3. House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees “markup” appropriations bills, determining the precise levels of budget authority, or allowed spending, for all discretionary programs.
  4. The House and Senate vote on appropriations bills and reconcile differences
  5. The President signs each appropriations bill and the budget becomes law

In fiscal year 2015, the federal budget was $3.8 trillion, about 21 percent of the U.S. economy (as measured by Gross Domestic Product).

Discretionary budget spending  in 2015 equaled $1.1 trillion dollars.

1.18% (or $13.13 billion) went to agriculture and food.

2.67% (or $29.7 billion) went to science.

3.51% (or $39.14 billion) went to energy and environment.

5.93% (or 66.03 billion) went to medicine and health.

6.28% (or 69.98 billion) went to education.

In the months to come we will report on each area: proposals, bills resolutions and funding status..

In the Executive Office of the President, the main body advising the president on science policy is the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Other advisory bodies exist within the Executive Office of the President, including the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science and Technology Council.


More than 80% of U.S. R&D funds is spent on development and applied research, work that focuses on practical applications, new products, or novel processes. About 18% of U.S. R&D funds support the performance of basic research, work that primarily involves gaining comprehensive knowledge and understanding without a particular application in mind.

As of 2013, research funding  was disbursed 40% to industry, 33% to DoD laboratories, and 21% to academia. See the funding profiles for each agency here.
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