Skip to main content

Appropriations Roundup: With Congress Returning, Research Agencies Lined up for Boosts

Several major science and technology funders are set to see at least modestly increased funding, if Congress can reach final agreement.

With Congress returning from recess and a continuing resolution keeping the federal lights on until November 21, appropriators have their work cut out for them. The House has so far adopted 10 out of 12 annual spending bills for the 2020 fiscal year, and several R&D-relevant bills were adopted by the Senate committee in a hectic September. But none have yet been completed by Congress or signed into law by the President.

Under current proposals, several major research agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and others would see funding jumps in direct contrast to the White House's spring budget. The task for the next several weeks, however, is to negotiate and resolve the remaining House-Senate differences in these proposals, while navigating the incredibly thorny issues – including debates over the border wall and abortion funding – that have slowed the process so far. These issues may continue to delay some legislation funding health, military, or security programs, while others – including energy, environment, NASA, and others – may see smoother sailing.

Here’s a roundup of how research programs have faired in the Senate committee’s rapid-fire September, and some of the issues to be resolved with the House. For much more detail see the AAAS appropriations dashboard.

Department of Defense

Senate Highlights: Similar to last year, Senate appropriators increased basic science by $99 million or 3.9 percent, rejecting a tough White House budget in the process. Most of the Senate increase was devoted to Army basic science. Appropriators also substantially increased funding for Office of the Secretary of Defense research initiatives, a category including Defense EPSCoR (which received an additional $12 million above the request), the Minerva social science initiative, and the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowships.

Cybersecurity programs remain a priority. Appropriators added an additional $8 million above the request for basic cyber research and a combined $47 million for cybersecurity-related education programs: $12 million for the National Centers for Academic Excellence Cyber Defense program; $25 million for a workforce development pilot program; and $10 million for DOD-designated Cyber Institutes at institutions of higher education.

DOD Table 20hs


Appropriators also added $45 million for manufacturing engineering education grants, under the manufacturing innovation institutes program. This continues such support from last year.

On the other hand, DOD university initiatives were reduced by $29 million or 7.4 percent, with the reductions falling heaviest on Navy programs; and In-House Lab Independent Research was reduced by $12 million or 38 percent, matching the budget request and House figures. DARPA was penalized across multiple line items for what appropriators called program delays. The National Defense Education portfolio, often a target for legislative support, was reduced by $100 million or 26.2 percent below FY 2019 levels.

Differences with House: The Senate would provide a small uptick to defense science and technology programs overall and is more generous than the House across the board on basic and applied science and early-stage technology and prototyping. At the same time, House appropriators were far more generous to DOD university initiatives – increasing funding by $27 million above FY 2019 and $77 million above the request – and to the National Defense Education Program. In addition, DARPA received over $150 million more in the House, and peer-reviewed medical research  received $954 million in the House versus $809 in the Senate thus far.

The Defense bill is also one of those tied up with the border wall debate, which may continue to trip up proceedings barring a bipartisan agreement.

National Institutes of Health

Senate Highlights: Senate appropriators pulled their Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill from subcommittee consideration when conflict emerged over abortion-related funding, but did release their draft bill and report. That draft would provide NIH with a $3 billion year-over-year boost, good for an increase greater than seven percent, and would mark the fifth year in a row of multibillion increases for NIH. The House has recommended a $2 billion increase.

The Senate bill would give most NIH institutes and centers increases north of five percent. Among major initiatives, Alzheimer’s research would receive a year-over-year increase of $350 million to $2.8 billion total in FY 2020, continuing  substantial Congressional support of recent years. The BRAIN Initiative would receive an $71 million increase to $500 million total. Construction and modernization of NIH facilities would receive $300 million, a $100 million increase from last year. The latter boost follows a recent National Academies report arguing NIH will need an additional $1.3 billion for facilities over the next several years. Each of these priority areas surpasses the funding provided in House appropriations earlier this year.

The Senate matches the House with $50 million in requested funding for the new pediatric cancer data initiative and $500 million for the All of Us precision medicine initiative. The Senate also rejects any changes to the NIH salary cap, and includes $100 million as requested for dedicated funding for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative.

Missing from this year’s House and Senate appropriations are funding for NIH’s special Type I Diabetes research program. That program was first established in FY 1998 and received $150 million in mandatory funding in each of the past two years. But that funding expires in FY 2020. A bill to re-up that program at $1 billion over five years has been introduced in the House.

NIH Hist 20hs


In short, NIH is lined up for another strong funding year if appropriators can seal the deal. As seen above, current figures would return NIH to roughly FY 2006 levels in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Differences with House: Obviously, the major difference is the billion-dollar topline gap and the resulting discrepancies in institute and priority funding outlined above. Resolving those discrepancies may partly depend on what happens with other healthcare programs in the bill and whether there’s enough room in the final bill: Republican leadership wants to divert some Labor-HHS funding for the border wall.

Another point of departure is gun violence research: House appropriators want to give NIH $25 million and another $25 million to CDC. Senate Republicans have said the agencies can freely pursue such research, but don’t want to carve out a separate line item for it.

With the abortion dispute also in the mix, House Democrats and Senate Republicans have some talking to do.

Department of Energy

Senate Highlights:  In their FY 2020 Energy and Water bill, appropriators granted the basic research-funding Office of Science a sizable boost, with most programs receiving at least a 6.7 percent increase above FY 2019. Several areas received generous plus-ups, including math and computer science research and facilities. DOE light sources and neutron sources would receive year-over-year increases of 8.9 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. The Energy Frontier Research Centers program would receive an 18.2 percent increase to $130 million, matching the request. Also matching the request is $75 million for five Quantum Information Science Centers to be established in FY 2020, as part of the broader federal quantum strategy.

Senate appropriators kept funding flat for earth modeling, which had again been slated for steep cuts by the White House, and protected student and educator support programs from proposed reductions, matching the House at $25 million, an 11.1 percent increase. The Senate figures are also fairly similar to House appropriations for the High Energy Physics and Nuclear Physics programs, with several projects – including, for instance, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), the sPHENIX detector at Brookhaven, and the GRETA detector at Berkeley Lab – receiving sizable boosts.

One area that doesn’t do so well in the Senate bill: fusion energy, which would see research reductions of 13.1 percent or $56 million below FY 2019. The bill does provide a sizable boost to $30 million for the new Materials Plasma Exposure eXperiment (MPEX) at Oak Ridge; $20 million for public-private fusion demonstration partnerships; and a 36.4 percent increase to $180 million for U.S. contributions to the ITER project, among certain other provisions.

DOE Table 20hs


The Senate is also generous to several applied programs. For instance, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would receive a 17.7 percent or $421 million year-over-year boost – even greater than the House increase. It’s a similar story for DOE’s cybersecurity and grid technology offices. On the nuclear energy front, Senate appropriators provide $300 to establish a demonstration program for advanced reactor technology.

Like the House, Senate appropriators would prevent major White House-backed reductions to carbon capture and storage (CCS) programs. And the House and Senate match in their desire to rescue and substantially increase funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E): both would provide 16.9 percent or $62 million increases.

Differences with House: As mentioned above, and seen in the above table, there are several areas for which the Senate is more generous. One question is how they’ll resolve disparities over nuclear demonstration funding and over R&D boosts for advanced coal R&D beyond CCS. The chambers are also at odds over Fusion Energy Sciences funding, with the House providing $118 million more.

National Science Foundation

Senate Highlights: The Senate Committee’s FY 2020 Commerce-Justice-Science bill recommends a total budget increase of $242 million or 3.0 percent above FY 2019 enacted, with NSF’s Research & Related Activities account, which funds the agency’s six research directorates, rising by 3.8 percent (see table below). Senate appropriators propose $106 million for quantum information science (QIS) research, as authorized in the National Quantum Initiative Act, and include $50 million for up to five Multidisciplinary Research Centers for Quantum Research and Education. Artificial intelligence research activities would be fully funded at the request level. Senate appropriators support NSF’s growing research portfolio of 10 Big Ideas as a “focusing tool” and expect NSF to maintain core research at no less than FY 2017 funding levels.

NSF Table FY20hs


Within NSF’s Education Directorate, appropriators would preserve FY 2019 funding levels for key STEM programs including the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program and the Graduate Research Fellowships Program. The Senate bill designates $20 million for NSF INCLUDES, which is one of the 10 Big Ideas noted above. Within NSF’s research facilities construction account, the committee provides the requested amounts for continued construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile, the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) project initiated last year, and the new Large Hadron Collider upgrade. Senate appropriators also provide an extra $30 million above the request and House for the agency’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure projects, and encourage NSF to award at least one project led by an institution in an EPSCoR state.

Differences with House: The House was somewhat more generous for NSF overall, having recommended a total 6.9 percent boost. The House-proposed amounts for NSF’s research and education accounts are both above Senate levels. The House figure would represent an all-time high, while the Senate amount is on par with the recent FY 2010 peak (see graph below).

NSF Hist FY20hs



Senate Highlights: The U.S. space agency received a total $1.3 billion or 5.8 percent increase above FY 2019 enacted (see table below). Funding is prioritized for deep space exploration, which would see a 23.2 percent boost to support the Artemis mission and the Administration’s accelerated goal of landing American astronauts on the Moon by 2024. Senate appropriators recommend a large 20 percent increase for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to “ensure the earliest possible” crewed launch of SLS, amid recent delays and cost overruns. The agency’s proposed spaceship orbiting the Moon, known as the Lunar Gateway, would obtain a $50 million increase to a total $500 million in FY 2020. The Senate also proposes a massive boost for Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities, which would balloon from the FY 2019 enacted level of $117 million to $744 million in FY 2020.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate would be flat-funded. Senate appropriators reject the Administration’s proposed elimination of several Earth Science missions, namely PACE and CLARREO Pathfinder as well as the Carbon Monitoring System. The Senate also dismisses the requested elimination of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and prescribes a 42.8 percent boost to enable a 2025 launch for WFIRST. James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) funding would be allowed to grow by 12.8 percent, versus a 6.0 percent decline in the President's request; the Senate's recommendation is based on a June 2018 independent cost analysis of JWST. Senate appropriators match the requested 37.6 percent increase for Lunar Discovery and Exploration, funded within the Planetary Science account, and propose a regular cadence of at least one robotic mission to the lunar surface per year. Funding for Mars Exploration would decline in accordance with the upcoming launch of the Mars 2020 rover, while support is maintained for a future Mars Sample Return Mission planned for 2026.

NASA Table 20hs_0

Elsewhere, the Senate grants a sizeable 5.8 percent increase for NASA’s Aeronautics Directorate, with funding provided to enable the next X-plane demonstration. The Senate bill funds commercial low-Earth orbit (LEO) activities at $15 million, versus the $40 million provided last year. Notably, the Senate bill supports maintaining the International Space Station with direct Federal funding beyond 2025 "until a viable alternative exists to achieve NASA's objectives in LEO." STEM Engagement funding would be shielded from proposed elimination, with a $3 million plus-up for the Space Grant Program.

Differences with House: The House has sought to restrain funding for NASA’s exploration and lunar activities – a major departure from the Senate’s plans outlined above. House appropriators provided flat funding for SLS and the agency’s Exploration R&D account, which includes the Lunar Gateway. Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the House appropriations committee with jurisdiction over NASA, has expressed skepticism over the Administration’s accelerated moon landing goal. On the other hand, the House was more generous for earth science and astrophysics as well as NASA’s STEM education activities.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Senate Highlights: The intramural Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would see an overall 9.3 percent boost for its primary research account in the Senate’s FY 2020 Agriculture bill, which rejects the Administration’s proposed elimination of ARS research programs and laboratory closures. The Senate committee provides an additional $41 million for the continued transfer of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from the Department of Homeland Security to USDA. Funding for ARS buildings and facilities would drop from the historically large FY 2019 appropriation, but would still surpass $300 million, far larger than either the budget request or House figures.

The extramural National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive a 0.9 percent increase, with mostly flat funding for NIFA’s capacity grant programs and extension activities (see table below). The Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is slated for a $15 million or 2.4 percent increase, compared to the large 20.5 percent boost recommended by the Administration.

USDA Table 20hs


Notably, the Senate Committee includes funding for the controversial relocation of NIFA and the Economic Research Service (ERS) to Kansas City.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service would see an essentially flat budget for activities including the Census of Agriculture. Elsewhere, USDA’s Forest Service research account would drop by 14.1 percent due to a budget-restructuring; the Committee notes that programs would be funded at no less than last year’s levels.

Differences with House: Overall, the House was less generous for ARS research and facilities, and more favorable to NIFA programs – the opposite of Senate appropriators. The House also funds AFRI at significantly higher levels than the Senate (see table above for comparisons).

Another major difference is the House’s rejection of President Trump’s proposed relocation of NIFA and ERS outside of the DC area, whereas the Senate has embraced the move, as previously noted. The issue promises to be thorny during negotiations.

Other Agency Notes

  • NOAA’s Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research saw a slight 1.1 percent uptick in the Senate, versus a 13.8 percent boost in the House; the Administration had requested a 40.8 percent cut. Notably, NOAA climate research was granted a large 17.3 percent increase in the House.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey secured total increases of 6.5 percent and 4.2 percent in the House and Senate, respectively, whereas the Administration sought a 15.3 percent cut. The House recommends a substantial $13 million boost for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers to a total $38.4 million.
  • EPA Science & Technology funding would be protected from the 34.5 percent cut requested by the Administration, but received only a 3 percent plus-up in the House and a sub-inflationary increase in the Senate.
  • NIST laboratory research is slated for roughly 4 percent increases in the House and Senate, with both chambers seeking additional funding in support of the National Quantum Initiative Act. Both chambers also rejected the proposed elimination of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), though House appropriators funded MEP at higher levels than their Senate counterparts.
  • DHS Science & Technology funding would decline by 18.8 percent and 13.3 percent in the House and Senate, respectively, compared to a larger 29 percent cut called for by the Administration.
  • The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) would be held flat at $615 million in the draft Senate Labor-HHS bill, versus a $94 million reduction requested by the Trump Administration and a $35 million increase by the House. All IES program areas would be held flat from FY 2019. Like their House counterparts, Senate appropriators rejected the Administration's proposed elimination of the Regional Educational Laboratories and the Statewide Data Systems program.

Visit the AAAS appropriations dashboard for more.

Cover Image Credit: Architect of the Capitol


Matt Hourihan


David Parkes

Program Associate