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Appropriations Update: House Committee Increases Physical Science and Space R&D

Basic research at NSF and NIST received strong support, while NASA’s proposed lunar activities took a back seat to legislators’ exploration and science priorities.

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science funding bill, pushing back against the Administration’s proposed cuts to basic research, earth science, and key space exploration programs. The bill was passed on a partisan 30-22 vote.

A major source of congressional dispute has been the Administration’s accelerated moon plans. The White House had just last week requested an extra $1.6 billion, to be taken from Pell grants, to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. But House appropriators sidelined that request, and instead directed funding to existing exploration programs and other priorities including earth science and astrophysics.

Below is a summary of funding outcomes in the bill for physical science and space R&D programs; see the AAAS appropriations dashboard for additional details and comparisons. The bill now heads to the House floor, likely sometime in June.

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

The House Committee recommends a total $561 million or 6.9 percent increase for the NSF budget, which the Administration sought to cut by a total $1 billion (see table below). The Committee expects NSF to use its 10 Big Ideas as a “focusing tool” and that funding for the agency’s fundamental scientific disciplines will be maintained, according to the bill report.

20hc_NSF Budget

 

NSF’s Research & Related Activities account is slated for an overall 9 percent increase, with investments directed to Administration priorities around artificial intelligence, quantum information science and advanced manufacturing. Notably, the House report accompanying the bill includes supporting language for NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate, and mandates no less than the FY 2019 level for SBE (note: directorate-level allocations for FY 2019 are still pending). The Committee report also commends NSF’s use of high performance computing capabilities to advance earth science.

The Education Directorate was given an overall $40 million increase, with funding upticks for the Louis Stokes and Robert Noyce programs. The largest increase was directed to the Computer Science for All initiative, which received an additional $10 million. The recently established Hispanic-Serving Institution Program would see its funding grow by $5 million to a total $45 million. Funding for NSF’s CyberCorps program would be funded at no less than last year’s levels.

Funding for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would drop by a quarter, in accordance with the Administration’s request. The House bill matches the Administration's proposals of $97.9 million for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science project initiated last year and $46.3 million for continued development of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). The Committee also includes the requested $45 million for the new Mid-scale Research Infrastructure program, as well as $33 million to begin upgrading components of the Large Hadron Collider.

As shown below, the NSF budget would reach an all-time high under the House figures.

20hcNSFhist

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION

The House would boost NASA by $815 million or 3.8 percent above FY 2019 enacted levels to a total $22.3 billion, which is $301 million below the Administration’s request (see table below), after adjusting for a budget amendment submitted by the White House last week that provides an extra $1.6 billion in support of the President’s goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024. The Committee report accompanying the bill expresses concerns about the Administration's "unfortunate shift from legacy programs and programs with clear environmental and educational interests," and scrutinizes the elevated request amounts for the Lunar Gateway and proposed missions to the lunar surface.

20hc_NASA Budget

 

Science Mission Directorate (SMD). The House bill would grant SMD an overall increase of $256 million or 3.7 percent, which is 12 percent above the Administration’s request level. Like last year, the House rejects the Administration's proposed elimination of the PACE and CLARREO Pathfinder missions, as well as the Carbon Monitoring System. House appropriators provide the requested $593 million for the Jupiter Europa mission, and recommend an orbiter launch no later than 2023 and a lander launch no later than 2025; the Administration has sought to terminate the lander portion of the mission.  Notably, the House rejects the proposed elimination of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, and instead provides a $199 million or 63.6 percent boost for WFIRST.  For additional SMD details, see NASA in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard.

Exploration. The Committee recommends funding above the request level for both the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle; support would be maintained for Exploration Upper Stage development, which was postponed by the Administration. The House also preserves funding for a second mobile launch platform for the SLS, which was shelved in the Administration’s request. The Exploration R&D account, which includes funding for the Lunar Gateway and Advanced Cislunar and Surface Capabilities account, would be essentially flat-funded by the House.

Orion_NASA
Orion crew vehicle. Image courtesy NASA.

Other NASA funding elements in the House bill:

  • NASA’s STEM Engagement activities were spared from elimination, with the Space Grant program slated for a $4 million increase.
  • Within the Space Technology Mission Directorate, a total $180 million is recommended for the RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission, which was downsized in the Administration’s budget.
  • The Aeronautics Directorate would see a $25 million increase for hypersonics technology activities.
  • Amid a declining LEO and Spaceflight Operations account, funding is provided at the FY 2019 level for NASA's Rocket Propulsion Test Program.

For complete NASA details and funding comparisons, see the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard.

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY

The House bill would allow NIST’s budget to grow by $55 million or 5.5 percent above FY 2019 enacted, and surpass $1 billion in total for FY 2020. The Administration had proposed steep reductions to NIST research and manufacturing programs in its March budget.

NIST laboratory funding would see an overall $27 million or 3.3 percent increase under the House bill, compared to the 15.6 percent cut requested by the White House. The House Committee recommends increases for artificial intelligence research and quantum information science activities in support of the National Quantum Initiative Act. House appropriators also propose upticks for the Greenhouse Gas Program and Urban Dome Initiative to continue and expand greenhouse gas sensor network deployments. For additional details, see NIST in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard.

Notably, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) would be spared from proposed elimination and would see its funding grow by $14 million or 10 percent. The House Committee also proposes a slight inflationary increase for the interagency Manufacturing USA program, a public-private network of 14 manufacturing innovation institutes.

Cover image credit: NASA

Author

David Parkes

Program Associate