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Congress Agrees on Boosts for Energy Science and Technology, Veterans Research

ARPA-E is also preserved from elimination, as expected, in first of three spending packages that could see votes this month.

Late Monday legislators unveiled the first so-called “minibus,” a spending package that combines the Energy & Water, Military Construction & Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch spending bills into one. The package provides some ample increases for Department of Energy (DOE) basic research programs; more modest increases for DOE technology offices; and a healthy increase for Department of Veterans Affairs research. And, the package continues Congressional rejection of difficult budget numbers from the White House.

The package is expected to go to a vote in both chambers Thursday and Friday, after which it would have to be signed by the President. While there is some uncertainty, President Trump appears willing to avert a shutdown. Two other “minibus” spending packages may also proceed this month, covering a diverse array of agencies including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Interior, along with NIH, EPA, CDC, and other agencies. For more on research funding as-it-stands for these agencies, see this rundown. A handful of major research agencies – including NASA and the National Science Foundation – will likely receive stopgap continuing resolutions lasting through the fall midterms.

A summary of research funding provisions in the energy and veterans package follows; detailed explanatory notes and bill text are also available via the House Appropriations Committee.

Office of Science (SC). The Department of Energy’s basic research arm was given a total $325 million increase above FY 2018, good for a 5.2 percent increase and $1.2 billion above the White House budget request. Among SC’s research programs, the largest relative increase went to Advanced Scientific Computing Research at 15.5 percent. DOE’s exascale project received a 13.5 percent increase to $232.7 million, matching the request. The bill also provides sizable increases of more than 20 percent for the Leadership Computing Facilities at Argonne and Oak Ridge, a 12 percent increase for NERSC (Berkeley), and an 8 percent increase for ESNet.

User facilities maintained by the Basic Energy Sciences program received more modest boosts. These included a roughly 3 percent increase for DOE’s Nanoscale Science Centers and light sources, and a less than one percent uptick for neutron sources. Within Biological and Environmental Research, Congress provided roughly four percent increases for the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) User Facility and Environmental Molecular Sciences Lab, along with nearly flat funding for the Joint Genome Institute and an 11 percent increase for DOE’s four BioEnergy Research Centers. DOE’s earth modeling subprogram was given a 7 percent increase above FY 2017 levels, and $10 million was added for a national microbiome database.

Fusion Energy managed to dodge some White House- and Senate-recommended cuts, securing a 5.3 percent increase for domestic research activities. U.S. contributions to the international fusion project ITER were also increased, by $10 million to $132 million total. Both High-Energy Physics (HEP) and Nuclear Physics (NP) received increases of above four percent for their research accounts, though HEP picked up a higher overall increase given a boost in project construction. This included $35 million for the PIP-II project at Fermilab and $130 million for LBNE/DUNE, along with $105 million for Large Hadron Collider upgrade projects. The NP appropriations included increases for the Stable Isotope Production Facility to $11.5 million, and for the GRETA project at Berkeley Lab to $6.6 million. Appropriators also provided $5.7 million for sPHENIX at Brookhaven.

Energy Technology Offices. Among DOE’s energy programs (see chart at right), one of the big winners was of course the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which not only survived another termination attempt by the Administration but received a $13 million or 3.6 percent funding increase. Another winner is DOE’s new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, created this year by absorbing certain programs from DOE’s electricity office, with the goal of protecting critical energy infrastructure from human and natural external threats. The office received $120 million, a roughly 24 percent increase from last year (on a comparable basis), and $24 million more than requested.

The Office of Nuclear Energy also received a large increase of $121 million or 10 percent above FY 2018. This includes a large boost of 36.5 percent for reactor concepts RD&D, primarily due to the inclusion of $100 million for advanced small modular reactor R&D support, though certain other research projects received plus-ups as well. Funding for the Modeling and Simulation Innovation Hub and the Integrated University Program were preserved, while the Nuclear Science User Facilities received a 7 percent increase.

Other offices didn’t fare quite so well – though they all did substantially better than they would have under the White House budget. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewables Energy (EERE) was increased by $57 million or 2.5 percent above FY 2018, a full $1.7 billion above the White House request. The largest gainer among EERE’s program offices is the Advanced Manufacturing Office with a 4.9 percent or $15 million increase, as legislators preserved funding for three public-private manufacturing institutes and two innovation hubs on critical materials and energy-water desalination. Fossil Energy R&D was provided a $13 million or 1.8 percent increase, with flat funding for carbon capture and storage programs overall, but $30 million provided for a design study of two commercial-scale carbon capture retrofits for coal and gas, and $55 million to continue the CarbonSAFE and Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership programs. The bill also picked up the House’s recommendation of $25 million for transformational coal pilots.

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Congress trimmed funding somewhat for NNSA’s research, development, test, and evaluation accounts but still provided the Science and Engineering campaigns with increases of 1.3 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively. Legislators flat-funded the National Ignition Facility, but provided $80 million for Rochester University’s OMEGA facility, nearly double the request; the Administration has recommended a three-year rampdown and eventual termination of support for the facility. Legislators also moderate increased NNSA’s exascale-related spending.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Research. Congress ultimately boosted VA medical and prosthetic research by $57 million or 7.9 percent above FY 2018 levels, matching the higher Senate-recommended amount (see AAAS dashboard for comparisons and details by chamber). Included is $27 million, as requested, for VA’s high performance computing collaboration with DOE. The legislation urges the department to “expedite consideration of proposals for public-private partnerships to leverage co-location of VA and university biomedical scientists engaged in multidisciplinary research.”

Cover image credit: Dept. of Energy


Matt Hourihan


David Parkes

Program Associate