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Appropriations Update: House Wraps Up First Phase

The full U.S. House adopted broad support for research dollars, but without a cap deal it won't mean much just yet.

The House took a major step forward for science appropriations in the past two weeks by amending and adopting FY 2020 funding legislation for nearly every federal research funder. Votes came in two batches, with passage of a combined four-bill defense, health, foreign affairs, and energy package last week on a 226-203 vote, followed this week by a five-bill science, justice, agriculture, environment, transportation, and veterans package on a 227-194 vote.

In so doing, the House has continued the recent Congressional pattern of clear and firm pushback against historically difficult science budgets coming out of the Trump White House. As can be seen below per AAAS estimates, House legislators would increase total research spending by over $5 billion above FY 2019 appropriations – and by over $17 billion above the FY 2020 budget request.

Funding table for estimated House R&D appropriations.


The table below shows final House-recommended spending levels for several research-relevant agencies and programs, including floor amendments. Several would see increases above FY 2019 and the White House request. See the AAAS appropriations dashboard for greater details and program drilldowns.

Agency RD House FY20 - 10.03.2019


While strong for many research programs, these figures are only the latest step in what will have to be a multilateral negotiation with the Senate, which has yet to begin consideration of its own appropriations legislation, and the White House, which has threatened to veto both spending packages in their current form (see the June 11 and June 18 messages here).

The greatest issue, of course, are the discretionary spending caps, which are scheduled to drop by 10 percent or $125 billion in the next fiscal year. Such a drop would all but guarantee substantially reduced research funding, but Congressional leaders and the White House have been unable to reach a deal to avert the drop. Without a deal, the House instead adopted a so-called “deeming resolution” to increase the spending cap for the House alone. This meant House appropriators could work with a $51 billion increase above FY 2019 levels when they wrote their legislation earlier this year – including a $34 billion increase for nondefense spending (see graph below) – and this, in turn, enabled the increases reviewed above and below.

Graph showing increased nondefense discretionary spending in the House for FY 2020.


But a deeming resolution doesn’t apply to the Senate, where appropriators will start marking up their legislation next month, and doesn’t change the underlying law establishing the caps, leaving a large gap between current law and the House figures (seen as the shaded area above). Without such a change the House figures have limited meaning at this point. In contrast, the White House has floated a full-year continuing resolution with a spending freeze at FY 2019 levels.

Select Highlights

  • As previously reported, NIH and CDC would receive increases of approximately $2 billion and $1 billion respectively under House legislation; several floor amendments added nearly $40 million more to CDC’s budget for an array of program areas including domestic violence, opioid-related infectious disease, and others.
  • Floor amendments also added over $80 million for Defense Department research and education, with varying extra sums for Congressionally-directed medical research, the National Defense Education Program, Army basic science, Defense EPSCoR, Naval applied research, and support for minority-serving institutions. This is in addition to a 6.9 percent increase for basic university research programs coming out of committee.
  • In addition to some small sums shifted between Department of Energy efficiency, renewables, fossil energy, and nuclear energy, floor amendments shifted an extra $15 million to the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility; directed the Nuclear Energy office to engage with the National Academies on a review of accelerator-driven systems as part of a broader evaluation of nuclear technology via Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL); and directed the same office to establish a pilot program for a commercially-sourced micro-reactor serve federal facilities via Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC). Other details can be found in this report on the committee bill.

Mira Supercomputer
Mira supercomputer at Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. Photo courtesy DOE.

  • NASA saw a $1 million plus-up for its Space Grant Program, which was slated for elimination by the Administration. Additionally, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) was approved to direct $20 million within the Aeronautics Directorate for research on ultra-efficient flight, including electric flight.
  • At NSF, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) granted $1.2 million to support a National Academies study on Revitalizing the Historical University-Government-Industry Partnership.
  • NOAA was tasked with carrying out the inaugural decadal survey of the U.S. weather enterprise, via an amendment sponsored by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX).
  • EPA was directed to set aside $8 million for the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, which investigate how exposures to chemicals and pollutants impact children and pregnant women. EPA’s Science Advisory Board received additional funding for its review of the Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science proposed rule.
  • For the Department of Transportation, $2 million was approved to support a study on the impacts of climate change on all modes of transportation, through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA). Other amendments were approved for research on wheelchair restraint systems in airplane cabins, implementing connected vehicle and autonomous vehicle technologies at highway-rail grade crossings, and aircraft technologies that reduce aviation noise.
  • Veterans Affairs research was not impacted; the House bill funds VA’s medical and prosthetic research account at 7.8 percent above FY 2019 levels.

Meet the New House…

In several ways, the Democratically-controlled House differentiated itself from last year’s Republican-controlled House. For instance, in recent years the Republican House has recommended substantial reductions for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, particularly in FY 2018 as part of a broader effort to cut nondefense spending. This year’s appropriations have been very different, with House legislators recommending an 11.8 percent increase (see graph below). The Energy Department’s ARPA-E funding has followed a similar trajectory.

Graph showing varying EERE funding under different Congresses.


Climate science is a now a major priority among House appropriators, with renewed support across several key agencies. Within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, funding for earth science is prioritized, while planetary science has taken a back seat. Notably, NOAA climate research is slated for a 17.3 percent increase in the House, in a sharp turnaround from recent years (see graph below). At USGS, there is a proposed increase for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers, which have been targeted for cuts in the previous Republican-controlled House.

NOAA FY20 House Hist


Manufacturing R&D is also seeing somewhat of a revival in the House. Current House appropriations provide a 10 percent boost for MEP, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership that assists small and medium-sized manufacturers to adopt new technology and expand their market shares. The House has previously sought to downsize MEP as well as the interagency Manufacturing USA program, a public-private network of 14 manufacturing innovation institutes. Elsewhere, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office has received additional funding in the House for a range of activities including a new harsh environment materials research initiative. 

…Similar to the Old House?

On the other hand, the differences are smaller on certain other agencies. For instance, NIH has gotten a more generous appropriation this year, but has been up for at least billion-dollar increases in the House in each of the past three years (see graph below).

Graph showing NIH increases across multiple years.


The Office of Science and NSF’s research account are somewhat in the middle: flat funding recommended in FY 2018, but stronger House appropriations last year.

NSF FY20 House Hist


Meanwhile, NASA continues to enjoy bipartisan backing, building on recent funding growth (see NASA historical chart). There has also been consistent support for VA medical and prosthetic research, which grew by $197 million or 34 percent between FY 2013 and FY 2019, according to AAAS historical R&D data.


Matt Hourihan


David Parkes

Program Associate