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House Commerce, Justice, Science Bill: Floor Amendments

On June 3, legislators on the House floor passed the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill with relatively limited change to the funding levels recommended by the Appropriations Committee two weeks ago. The CJS bill, which passed by a 242-183 vote, provides funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Commerce, and NASA, among other agencies. Though changes to agency funding were minimal, there were a number of amendments worth highlighting. A brief review of these is below (see also prior AAAS coverage of the CJS bill).

National Science Foundation (download budget table)

A failed amendment put forward by Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) sought to prohibit funding for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which aims to broaden funding and avoid concentration of NSF research dollars throughout the states. Although no other NSF amendments were debated, the agency has been at the center of partisan conflict over proposed cuts to the social and geosciences. Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) has suggested that extra funding could be provided to NSF should a broader deal on discretionary spending be reached.

NASA (download budget table)

Ultimately, no NASA amendments were proposed in the bill. The space agency’s budget in the House thus matches the President’s request of $18.5 billion, or a 2.9 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. However, the previously-reported divergence on allocations remains in place, with the House cutting the earth sciences while boosting planetary sciences in support of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. An amendment initially considered by Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), and published in the Congressional Record, would have further reduced NASA’s science budget by $103.7 million and added $67 million for the Orion crew vehicle, but Babin ultimately decided not to present it.

Dept. of Commerce (download budget table)

Two amendments dealt with spending at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Ranking Science Committee Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced and withdrew an amendment to increase funding for the NIST forensics standards study, while Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) sought to boost the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program. Esty’s amendment failed by just one vote.

For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO) each introduced amendments that would have increased climate research but withdrew them for lack of support. An amendment put forward by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), however, was approved to shift $21 million from NOAA’s administrative account to the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, in support of his separate weather forecasting bill (H.R. 1561) currently making its way through Congress. Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) was also successful in passing an amendment to shift $2 million from the Justice Department to a National Marine Fisheries Habitat Conservation Initiative. The House Committee’s recommendations for NOAA’s satellite programs were otherwise unchanged, though Rep.  Suzanne Bonamici (R-OR) offered an amendment – which she subsequently withdrew – to maintain the $380 million requested for NOAA’s Polar Follow-On (PFO) program that addresses future weather data gaps.

The Census Bureau budget in particular was targeted by several lawmakers seeking to shift resources to other accounts.

Next Steps

Repeating prior threats to veto the CJS bill, the Administration once again released a statement opposing the proposed funding levels and the overall spending limits in FY 2016.

The Senate Appropriations Committee plans to mark up its CJS bill next week.