Similar Contours for Transportation R&D in Senate, House Bills

The Senate Committee bill and the version just passed by the House would both restrain aviation and highway R&D, and reject a request for high-speed rail technology research.

With both House and Senate versions of the FY 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) bill in play recently, R&D funding levels for the Department of Transportation (DOT) R&D are showing more similarities than differences, though there are some mild differences.

According to current AAAS estimates, the Senate bill (S. 2438), which passed out of the Appropriations Committee on a 29-1 vote on Thursday, June 5, would yield $830 million for DOT R&D. The House version (H.R. 4745), which passed today, June 10, on a 229-192 vote amid Democratic and White House opposition, would provide only $811 million. Both would reduce departmental R&D by at least 7.5 percent below the request, and by at least 4.9 percent below FY 2014 levels (see chart at right). Few amendments directly relevant to DOT's R&D programs were offered during the proceedings in either chamber.

The Federal Highway Administration had sought nearly 20 percent funding boosts for the bureau's surface transportation and intelligent transportation systems research programs, as part of an overall FHWA increase. Congress does not grant specific increases to these accounts, but appropriators in both chambers did keep overall funding flat from FY 2014 levels, pending a reauthorization of surface transportation legislation later this summer (lest the Highway Trust Fund run out of funding by September). This includes flat funding for the University Transportation Centers program in the Senate bill, rather than the $13 million increase requested by the Administration.

The Administration had requested an 11.9 percent decrease for Federal Aviation Administration R&D. Both chambers have essentially met this request, though both have also granted small increases to various components of the FAA's flagship technology initiative, NextGen.

The Federal Railroad Administration had hoped for a major influx of funding for a new initiative for R&D related to high-performance rail. Neither chamber granted this funding, though the Senate Committee granted an additional $6 million for study of rail safety, accidents, and transportation of energy products.