6 June 2016 – Update: GSA joined fellow geoscience organizations, including the American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute, to thank the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies leaders – Chairman Culberson (R-TX) and Ranking Member Honda (D-CA) – for their “balanced and inclusive” support of the National Science Foundation.
By Kasey White, GSA Director for Geoscience Policy
Washington, D.C. – With limited days in session before the election, the House and Senate are moving quickly on appropriations bills. Bills funding NSF, NOAA, NASA, and DOE have all advanced out of the Appropriations Committee in both the House and Senate, and the House has passed the bill funding the USGS out of subcommittee. Funding for science agencies has generally mirrored the overall budget caps, which were kept essentially flat in the budget agreement reached last fall to eliminate sequestration.
National Science Foundation
In good news, the House and Senate appropriations bills and the bills’ associated reports do not limit geoscience (or social, behavioral and economic science) funding. Earlier this year, a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter led by Reps. Price (D-NC) and Hanna (R-NY) called on Congress to refrain from specifying funding levels for Directorates at NSF. The letter was signed by 34 representatives. House Appropriations Chairman Culberson (R-TX) and Ranking Member Honda (D-CA) also spoke against mandating directorate-level funding at NSF during a hearing on NSF this spring.
NSF’s funding levels would not grow substantially under either the House or Senate bill. The House bill would fund NSF at $7.4 billion, marking a $57 million decrease. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account (MREFC) would shoulder the cuts in its allocation of $87.1 million while Research and Related Activities (RRA) would increase $46 million. The Senate bill takes a different approach – it would increase NSF by $46 million to $7.5 billion, with all of the increase coming in the MREFC account to fund three new Regional Class Research Vessels. The Administration had requested funding for two new vessels; the House would not fund any. Both bills provide level funding for Education and Human Resources at $880 million.
Department of Energy
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science was allocated $5.4 billion, $50 million over last year’s level, by both the House and Senate. However, while the Senate would cut fusion research and eliminate funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) to bump funding for other research programs, the House would fund ITIR but cut biological and environmental research and hold most other science programs essentially flat.
ARPA-E is appropriated $293 million in the House and $306 million in the Senate, both up from the FY2016 level of $280 million.
The White House has issued Statements of Administration Policy recommending vetoes of both the Senate and House bills. The Statement on the House bill notes, “…the bill underfunds critical energy research and development activities overall, and does not put us on a sufficiently ambitious path toward doubling clean energy research and development by FY 2021. The bill underfunds investment in our students, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs; our businesses and universities; and our future economy. This would slow the pace of progress on breakthroughs in energy efficiency and clean energy; undermine America’s longstanding nonpartisan support for pioneering research that seeks solutions to pressing problems; and hinder our ability to harness the power of new ideas and innovation to drive sustained economic growth in the clean energy economy of the future.”
U.S. Geological Survey
The House Interior Appropriations bill passed subcommittee on 25 May. Although report language isn’t yet available, the bill would fund the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at $1.08 billion, $18 million above the FY2016 enacted level, the committee officially stated. “Funding is targeted to programs dealing with natural hazards, streamgages, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. Also, within the total, the bill includes $10 million for an earthquake early warning system to help save lives during natural disasters, and $6 million for the accelerated launch of “Landsat 9” – a satellite program that provides land use measurements that are important to local communities for agriculture, forestry, energy and water resource decisions,” the committee said.
The Senate would provide NASA with a total budget of $19.3 billion, which is $21 million over the FY2016 enacted level and $1 billion higher than the President’s FY2017 budget request. The bill allocates $5.4 million for Science, which is $194 million under the enacted FY2016 amount and $92.5 million above the President’s request. Earth Science would get $2 billion, marking a 3.3 percent increase over last year, and Planetary Science would get $1.345 billion, which is 17 percent less than last year, under the Senate plan.
The House would provide NASA with a total budget of $19.5 billion. NASA Science would increase to $5.6 billion. Within that account, the House reverses Senate priorities: Earth Science would see a 12 percent cut to $1.69 billion while Planetary Science would increase to $1.85 billion.