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Basic Science, Agricultural Research, NASA Would Finish Strong in FY 2019 Omnibus

After much delay, Congress finalizes spending package with boosts for key research agencies, and awaits Trump's approval.

Four months into the current 2019 fiscal year, Congress last night unveiled an omnibus package that would deliver significant funding increases for several principal U.S. science agencies. President Trump has expressed some willingness – though no promises – to sign the legislation, amid ongoing disagreements over border security spending. The omnibus will need to be approved by both chambers and the President before midnight this Friday, February 15th, to avoid another partial government shutdown [Feb 15 Update: The legislation passed both chambers by relatively large margins and was signed by President Trump on Friday.]

Science funding levels in the omnibus match earlier proposals floated by the House and Senate several weeks ago. As anticipated, the final seven-bill omnibus would grant substantive increases for key science agencies including NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. This builds on previous congressional actions to boost NIH, defense, and energy research last fall. Agencies focused on environmental and climate research – EPA, USGS and NOAA – would be protected from the Administration’s proposed cuts (see chart below for comparisons).

FY19 Omnibus_Agencies

Overall Picture

AAAS currently estimates R&D spending in the FY 2019 omnibus at $151.5 billion, an increase of 6 percent or $8.6 billion above FY 2018 estimated R&D. This increase was enabled by last year’s bipartisan budget deal, which raised the discretionary spending caps for FY 2018 and FY 2019. Looking ahead, the new Congress will need to negotiate another budget agreement that would raise spending limits in FY 2020 and FY 2021 – the final two years of sequestration.

RD Character_FY19 Omnibus

A deeper look into the omnibus reveals that basic research would fare somewhat better than applied research, as seen in the chart at right. This reflects strong congressional support for key basic science agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, NASA’s Science Directorate, and the Department of Defense. In contrast, Congress had sought more limited changes for the larger applied research funders like the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy’s technology offices

Total research (basic and applied) in the omnibus is roughly $86.5 billion – the highest point ever for such spending. Research as a share of GDP in FY 2019 would fall slightly to 0.41 percent under the omnibus, in line with pre-sequestration estimates (see AAAS historical chart).

Below is a summary of science agency funding in the omnibus. See the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard for additional details. For an agency summary table, click here or scroll to end of page.

NSF Budgets_FY19 Omnibus

National Science Foundation. NSF is slated for a moderate 4 percent increase overall, roughly the same growth rate as last year. The agency’s core research account was given a total 2.9 percent increase, which is not quite as much as envisioned by House appropriators (see chart at right). NSF’s Education Directorate received targeted increases for select STEM activities, namely the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program. The omnibus funds construction of three research vessels – versus only two requested by the Administration – and initiates funding for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) project, part of a long range investment program for McMurdo Station. See the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard for a complete NSF funding breakdown.

NASA Historical_FY19 Conf

NASA. The U.S. space agency was granted a large $764 million boost in the omnibus, building on recent budget growth. NASA’s FY 2019 budget totals $21.5 billion, which is just shy of the agency’s FY 2010 peak, after adjusting for inflation (see chart at right). Exploration programs and planetary science were the big winners, with robust funding for the Europa mission and the new lunar gateway, while Earth Science was shielded from the Administration’s proposed cuts (see chart below). Notably, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) – the highest priority astronomy mission in the latest decadal survey – was spared from elimination proposed by the White House.

Other notable outcomes:

  • NASA Budgets_FY19 Omnibus
    NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) obtained an additional $48 million for construction of a second mobile launch platform that will be ready by 2024. The Administration did not request funding for the second platform.
  • The new Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program received its $218 million to develop instruments and other payloads for missions on the Moon’s surface.
  • The robotic satellite servicing spacecraft known as Restore-L secured a $50 million boost requested by Senate appropriators, whereas the House and Administration sought to limit its overall cost.
  • As part of the large 5.8 percent increase for NASA Aeronautics, the omnibus includes no less than $35 million for hypersonic research aimed at solving the challenges of high-speed flight.
  • James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) development is fully funded thanks to a provision in the bill that adjusts the cap for JWST to $8.8 billion, an increase of about $800 million above the previous cap. The bill warns that “NASA should strictly adhere to this cap or, under this bill, JWST will have to find cost savings or cancel the mission.”

See the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard for a full look at NASA funding.

Department of Agriculture. The intramural Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was handed a large 8.5 percent increase for core research, alongside a massive $381 million total for construction and modernization of research facilities in accord with the agency’s capital improvement strategy. Meanwhile, the extramural National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) received a moderate 4.5 percent increase, which is above both House and Senate appropriations levels (see chart below). The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), USDA’s competitive grants program, ended up with the higher House-proposed level of $415 million, a 3.8 percent increase above FY 2018 levels.

Another noteworthy outcome: the legislation sidelines the Administration’s attempt to relocate the Economic Research Service and NIFA out of the National Capital Region and directs USDA to report on the costs and benefits of the proposed move as part of the FY 2020 request. However, Congress approved the transfer of National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) operations from the Department of Homeland Security to USDA. NBAF will serve as a biosafety level 4 research center when construction is completed within the next five years.

USDA Budgets_FY19 Omnibus

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s core Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research (OAR) was given an overall 3.2 percent increase, with limited funding gains across most research programs (see chart below). Climate research was spared the large cut requested by the House and Administration. Also protected from elimination was the National Sea Grant College Program, which received a $3 million plus-up to a total $68 million. The U.S. Weather Research Program saw a $3.9 million funding uptick, while funding for ocean exploration and research was increased by $5.5 million.

NOAA OAR_FY19 Omnibus

Funding for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) were subject to funding reductions in line with House and Administration levels, reflecting a scheduled ramp-down of both programs. Meanwhile, funding for the Polar Follow-On (PFO) was decreased by $89 million to a total $330 million in FY 2019. NOAA’s proposal to combine the PFO with JPSS was rejected but will continue to be considered by Congress. See the AAAS Dashboard for more NOAA details.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST lab funding, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), and Manufacturing USA were all flat-funded at FY 2018 enacted levels. The Administration had sought cuts or outright eliminations of these programs (see AAAS Dashboard for comparisons). Following a large one-time boost in last year’s omnibus, NIST’s research facilities construction account is slated for a 67 percent funding drop.

EPA Historical_FY19 Omnibus

EPA. Congress dismissed the Administration’s proposed 24 percent cut to the EPA budget and provided an overall flat appropriation – a repeat from last year’s appropriation cycle. EPA’s Science & Technology account is correspondingly flat, versus a severe 40 percent cut requested by the Administration. Climate change research grants would be protected from proposed elimination.

Congress also rejected the Administration’s attempts to implement a "workforce reshaping" program that would have reduced the number of EPA scientists through organizational restructuring. Meanwhile, the bill continues a prohibition on EPA using funds to implement a mandatory greenhouse gas reporting system for livestock producers.

In total, the FY 2019 omnibus would leave EPA’s estimated R&D budget approximately 36 percent below FY 2005 levels, after adjusting for inflation (see chart above).

USGS Budgets_FY19 Omnibus

U.S. Geological Survey. The total USGS budget is up by only 1.1 percent – still a better outcome than the 25 percent cut proposed by the Administration. Most research areas saw limited funding change, as seen in the chart at right. Energy and mineral resource activities received the largest increase, with $9.6 million provided for a new critical mapping initiative, and an additional $3.8 million to jump-start Alaskan energy production in the National Petroleum Reserve. Climate Adaptation Science Centers funding remains equal to FY 2018 enacted, versus the Administration’s proposed cut. 

Meanwhile, the National Land Imaging Program was granted a $5.8 million increase, but core land change science was flat funded. Landsat-9 is fully funded at $32 million. The Earthquake Early Warning System was shielded from proposed elimination and flat-funded, while the Volcano Hazards Program saw reductions from FY 2018 enacted levels (see AAAS dashboard for additional details).

Notably, the omnibus includes funding that allows the Interior Department to implement reorganizations as part of an overhaul plan spearheaded by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The proposed reorganization has raised concerns within the scientific community. The omnibus legislation does, however, urge the Department to notify and consult with Congress about planned workforce restructures and reshaping.

FY19 Omnibus_Summary Table

Homeland Security. The agency’s Science & Technology account was cut by a total $21 million below FY 2018 enacted, which mostly reflects the transfer of operational responsibility for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from DHS to USDA, as noted above. Core research and development funding was essentially flat-funded. University Programs would also remain equal to the FY 2018 enacted level of $41 million. The omnibus legislation agrees with the Administration’s request to replace the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office with a new Countering WMD Office funded at $435 million with $83 million for R&D programs.

Census Bureau. As part of the ramp-up towards the 2020 decennial headcount, the U.S. Census Bureau received a full $1 billion increase, matching the Senate and Administration’s proposed level. See the AAAS Dashboard for additional details on statistical agencies.

Cover Image Credit: Preston Keres  USDA