Committees Approve Transportation Appropriations Bills

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their Transportation / HUD spending bills yesterday. The House bill passed on a 28-20 vote, and makes some targeted cuts to the Department of Transportation's R&D agenda for FY 2014. Overall departmental R&D would decline to $832.9 million under the House bill, 9.4 percent below FY 2012, 2.8 percent below current FY 2013 post-sequester estimates, and 11.3 percent below the request. At the agency level, the Federal Highway Administration appears to have made it through committee unscathed, with the Committee fully meeting the Administration's request for highway R&D, intelligent systems, and other work.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fares less well, receiving an 18.1 percent cut below FY 2012, 13.8 percent below current FY 2013 post-sequester estimates, and 11.9 percent below the request. While the agency's advanced technology prototyping program received the request funding levels, various facility investment accounts received small reductions, and the budget for the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development received a 21.4 percent cut below the request. A variety of programs supporting NextGen — FAA's technology program to modernize the nation's air travel system — were also trimmed. The Committee also mostly matched the Administration's request for R&D at the Federal Railroad Administration, but declined to provide funding for the new Railroad Research, Development and Technology Program. The program would primarily focus on high-performance rail R&D through upgrades to the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, CO, and also would fund university-based research centers among other activities, but the new program has not been authorized by Congress.

On the Senate side, the Appropriations Committee approved the bill (S. 1243) by a 22-8 vote, and generally remained closer to the President's request. Under current estimates DOT R&D would reach $888.7 million under the Senate version of the bill, 3.3 percent below FY 2012, 3.7 percent above FY 2013 post-sequester estimates, and 5.4 percent below the President's request. The Senate Committee made relatively small reductions to assorted select FAA programs, though most R&D programs were funded at or near the request, and the Committee managed to increase funding for alternative fuel and environmental research associated with NextGen. As in the House, the Senate Committee declined to fund the Railroad Research, Development and Technology Program.

In historical terms, the House bill would drop DOT R&D to roughly FY 2004 levels, while the Senate bill would drop DOT R&D to roughly FY 2007 levels.

Table: Congressional Action on DOT R&D