Senate Appropriators Boost NASA, Commerce R&D Funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee bill shows general agreement with the House over NASA funding levels, but favors the Commerce R&D agencies and is stingier with NSF.

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) bill on a 30-0 vote. Per current AAAS estimates, funding in the bill would exceed the President's request — and FY 2014 inflation-adjusted funding levels — for R&D at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), while falling short of FY 2014 levels at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Compared with the House version of CJS, which passed the full House by a large margin on May 30, the Senate bill is clearly more favorable to the two Commerce agencies, while less favorable for NSF (see chart at right). Overall discretionary funding in the Senate bill stands currently at $51.2 billion, less than FY 2014 but $1 billion more than the President's request, according to the Committee.

A brief agency-by-agency recap is below. Also worth noting is the fact that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) received $5.6 million in the Senate bill, the same as FY 2014, the President's request, and the House figure. The bill text and accompanying committee report are available through the Library of Congress. 

National Science Foundation (download funding table). The Senate Committee matched the President's request for NSF's bottom-line budget, but shifted $31 million from agency operations to the Research & Related Activities account, which is the primary account for actual research funding. As a result, current AAAS estimates have NSF R&D increasing slightly above the request, though it would still not keep pace with inflation from FY 2014 levels; the House figure is $113 million higher. As expected, the Senate bill does not follow the House's efforts to restrain social science and geoscience funding.

The Committee granted $43.1 million for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the same as FY 2014, declining a $3.1 million cut requested by the Administration, and also avoided a small requested cut to cybersecurity research. The Committee also matched the request and the House for both EPSCoR and Innovation Corps funding, which would result in increases above FY 2014 levels for both areas.

NASA (download funding table). The Senate Committee essentially matched the House in granting a boost for NASA's bottom line, exceeding the House figure by just $4 million and likely ensuring NASA will exhibit budget growth and avoid the cuts proposed by the Administration. Like the House, the Senate Committee expressed consternation over the Administration's requested funding for various components of the Exploration Systems development program, including for the Orion crew vehicle and the Space Launch System, and would grant even larger increases than the House for both.

The Senate Committee also echoed the House in significantly increasing funding above the request for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, and would again top the House number slightly. Within the Science mission, both bills would boost the Astrophysics division significantly above the request, with the bulk of the increase slated to restore Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) funding. And both bills would offset some of the above increases by reducing the Administration's request for the International Space Station.

But even with this general agreement, there are some differences in other details. The Aeronautics and Space Technology divisions would both fare far better in the House bill. The House would also grant a far larger increase to the Planetary Science division and cut Earth Science funding, while the Senate Committee would moderately increase Earth Science funding.

Dept. of Commerce (download funding table). The Senate Committee was more generous than the House, and slightly exceeded the President's request, in R&D funding for NOAA and NIST, the two major science agencies within the Commerce Department.

Within NOAA, Senate appropriators declined the Administration's proposal to close and consolidate National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science program facilities in North Carolina, as did the House. The Senate Committee also boosted funding for NOAA's primary research arm, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), compared with a cut in the House. The primary point of departure is OAR's climate research activities: the House would cut these activities by $37.5 million below FY 2014 levels, while the Senate would grant a $3.5 million increase above FY 2014, though still $28.3 million below the request. The Senate Committee made some other limited changes to ocean acidification research and other activities. Elsewhere at NOAA, Senate Appropriators echoed the House in providing the full amount requested for NOAA's key weather satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R) program. Appropriators in both chambers continue to scrutinize program costs and milestones.

The Senate Committee matched the overall request for NIST, but added an additional $5 million for cybersecurity research. The Committee offset this by declining the requested $5 million for a coordinating office for the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). Appropriators said they believed such coordination could be funded through the AmTech Consortia program, which did receive its requested $15 million in the Senate bill. The House had provided funding for neither program, though both chambers have granted the requested increase for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Lastly, Senate appropriators provided $62 million, or 5.2 percent, less than requested for the Census Bureau. The $1.1 billion provided is still well ahead of the House figure, as legislators raided the Census budget during House floor proceedings for extra dollars for their preferred priorities.

The Senate CJS bill is now bound for the Senate floor.