By Lindsay Davis, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Congress is currently in the process of working through the 12 appropriation bills that will determine the federal funding for fiscal year 2019. As of the July 4 congressional recess, funding bills that cover the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have moved in both the House and the Senate.

The process for determining federal funding generally works as follows: The President releases a budget request and then the process moves to Congress. Each of the 12 Appropriations subcommittees in the House and the Senate draft bills that may or may not follow the President’s requested funding levels. In general, these bills must be passed by each subcommittee, full appropriations committee, and then full chamber. When both the House and Senate versions receive favorable votes, the bills move into conference to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions.  Once those variations are resolved, the final bills must be voted upon again by both the House and the Senate. There are 12 different spending bills, which can be passed individually or in packages called “minibuses” or larger “omnibus” bills, which then go to the president to be approved or vetoed.

Similar to FY2018, the President’s budget request for FY 2019, An American Budget included sweeping cuts to many of the science agencies, such as the NOAA and the EPA. President Trump also recommended targeted cuts to geoscience-related agencies and programs such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the education mission of the NASA, and portions of NSF and the DOE. For the second year in a row, Congress rejected many of these cuts.

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Subcommittee (NSF/NASA/NOAA)

On May 17, 2018 the House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Bill, 2019. On June 12 the Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee approved the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Bill, 2019. These bills include funding for NSF, NASA, NOAA.

A total of $7.5 billion was proposed by the President for NSF, a decrease from the currently enacted 2018 level of $7.8 billion. NSF funding for FY2019 is currently set at $8.2 billion under the House CJS bill, which is an increase of $408 above the enacted 2018 level to support innovation and global economic competitiveness, according to a House Appropriations CJS press release. Research and Related Activities at NSF would receive a $317 million boost above the 2018 enacted level, bringing the total to $6.7 billion. The Senate recommends NSF be funded at $8.1 billion, slightly less than the House mark. Under the Senate CJS bill, Research is funded at $6.6 billion to encourage long-term basic research which, according to the bill, has the “potential to transform our economy and our way of life in the context of a constrained federal budget.”

The President’s plans for NASA under the FY2019 budget request focused largely on exploration; however, the request proposed $5.9 billion for NASA Science, including Earth and Planetary Science. Earth science would receive $1.8 billion for a “focused, balanced” Earth Science mission directorate. The request would cut costs by eliminating PACE, OCO-3, RBI, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder, but would preserve Landsat-9 and a sustainable land imaging program. Under the House CJS bill, NASA would receive $21.5 billion, which is an increase of $810 million above the enacted 2018 level. NASA Science would receive $6.7 billion, which is an increase of $459 million above the enacted 2018 level. According to the House CJS press release, this increase in funds would go towards supporting “groundbreaking scientific missions” related to planetary and additional sciences. The Senate CJS Appropriations Committee recommends $21.3 billion for NASA, and $6.4 billion for NASA Science. The Senate Committee included language that it expects NASA to continue to follow the recommendations made in the decadal surveys conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) and includes funding for the missions. The Senate mark is higher for Earth Science at $1.93 billion, while the House mark is higher for Planetary Science at $2.76 billion.

The President’s budget requested $4.6 billion dollars for NOAA, including $878 million to continue current polar weather satellite operations and to avert a gap in coverage. According to the House press release, the CJS bill proposes a $751 million cut to NOAA as compared with the current level, which would leave the funding at $5.2 billion. This funding would target priorities such as the National Weather Service, weather research, ocean, exploration, algal blooms, and fisheries. The Senate CJS Bill recommends $5.5 billion for NOAA, $426 million below the enacted 2018 level due to the completion of construction and procurement costs of weather satellite programs that should be transitioning into the less-expensive operational phase. A Senate CJS press release cited the funding would go towards funding the core mission areas of NOAA, among which include weather satellites and forecasting, ocean monitoring, and coastal grants, among others.

Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee (DOI/EPA)

On June 6, 2018 the House Appropriations Committee approved the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2019, which provides funding for the DOI and EPA. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2019 on June 14.

Under the President’s budget the USGS would have seen a cut of 25% to $860 million; however, Congress did not follow the request, the House opting for a slight increase and the Senate recommending flat funding at $1.148 billion.

Under the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, the USGS would receive $1.2 billion, a $19 million dollar increase above the current funding level. The bill includes specific increases for programs within the USGS, such as $21 million for earthquake early warning, $13 million to maintain and improve the stream gage network, funds to complete Landsat 9, and $11 billion for the Three-Dimensional Mapping and Economic Empowerment Program (3DEEP). The Senate CJS bill recommends funding the USGS at its current enacted level. Both the House and the Senate have recommended cuts to the Natural Hazard mission area of the USGS. Both the House FY 2019 appropriations report and the Senate FY 2019 appropriations report indicates these reductions reflect one-time funding for infrastructure in the 2018 omnibus for earthquake early warning and volcano equipment. There has still been funding included to continue to expand the seismic network into Cascadia and to “repair, upgrade, and expand monitoring, detection, and warning systems and equipment” for high-risk volcanoes, according to the Senate report. The House report also noted the importance of partnerships between the USGS and NSF, commended both agencies on the transitions of EarthScope stations in the Central and Eastern U.S. Network (CEUSN), and included additional funds to continue the effort.

The President’s request for EPA was $6.2 billion. Under the House mark, the EPA would be funded at $8.0 billion, a $100 million cut from the enacted 2018 level. Under the Senate mark the EPA would be funded at $8.1 billion. The Senate bill clearly states that the Committee does not support the cuts proposed by the President to the EPA unless “explicitly noted.”

Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee (DOE)

The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2019 passed on June 8, and the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2019 passed on June 25. These bills are currently in conference and provide funding for the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E.

The President’s FY 2019 budget request suggested decreasing the DOE budget from the enacted 2018 level of $34.6 billion to $30.6 billion, a 12% cut. The request included $4.2 billion for the Office of Science and proposed eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which focuses on high-risk research related to energy technology, based on the belief that the private sector would fill the gap in research funding.

The House approved $6.6 billion for the DOE Office of Science and $325 million for ARPA-E. The Senate approved $6.7 for the Office of Science and $375 million for ARPA-E, clearly stating in the bill that both programs are priorities.
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Next Steps

These bills will continue to move through the two chambers and into conference during the next few weeks as Congress attempts to wrap up appropriations efforts before the August recess.