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NASA, NSF Continue R&D Budget Recovery in House, But Climate Research Cut

Yesterday the House Appropriations Committee passed on a voice vote the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill. The bill (PDF) provides funding for multiple agencies; on the R&D front, it includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, and the Department of Commerce, which houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

According to current AAAS estimates, while the overall bill would trim spending from FY 2014, R&D would actually come out ahead of the current year even adjusting for inflation, due to increases in NSF and NASA R&D. This is in spite of relative cuts to NOAA and NIST, though both agencies' R&D budgets would remain above FY 2012 funding levels, prior to sequestration. President's budget would have taken a different tack, trimming NASA and NSF R&D while boosting funding at the two Commerce agencies (see chart at right).

To summarize the totals (scroll down for more detail, explanations, and table links. All R&D figures are current AAAS estimates):

  • The total NSF budget would increase by 3.2 percent above FY 2014 funding and 2.1 percent above the request. R&D-specific spending would increase by 2.8 percent above FY 2014 and 2.5 percent above the request.
  • The total NASA budget would increase by 1.4 percent above FY 2014 funding and 2.5 percent above the request. R&D-specific spending would increase by 4.0 percent above FY 2014 and 3.4 percent above the request.
  • The total NIST budget would increase by 0.7 percent above FY 2014 funding and decrease by 4.9 percent below the request. R&D-specific spending would increase by 1.2 percent above FY 2014 and decrease by 2.2 percent below the request.
  • The total NOAA budget would decrease by 0.1 percent below FY 2014 funding and 3.3 percent below the request. R&D-specific spending would decrease by 3.7 percent below FY 2014 and 6.9 percent below the request.

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (download budget table)

The Committee topped the President's request for NSF by $149 million, by increasing research activity funding while matching the request for facilities construction and trimming education and agency operations; spending in the latter two areas would remain above FY 2014 levels, however. But the research funding increase came with a catch: in the report accompanying the bill (PDF), the Committee mandates that "any increases provided above the request and not otherwise specified below shall be applied to math and physical sciences; computer and information science and engineering; engineering; and biological sciences." This can be taken to mean that the Social Sciences and Geosciences directorates would receive their requested amounts under the bill, but are cut out of any increases on top of that, in another extension of the current, long-running battle over the social sciences. The above table thus reallocates the research increase proportionally across the four other directorates for illustrative purposes.

Based on these estimates, this would mean all but Geosciences would remain ahead of inflation in FY 2015 (see chart at right), and similarly, all but Geosciences would grow faster than other discretionary spending, which will only increase by 0.2 percent this year under the current spending caps. In historical terms, the general upward trajectory for most directorates would also continue.

Additionally, the Committee provided $35 million for neuroscience and cognitive science activities at NSF, including the BRAIN Initiative; this represents a $21.2 million increase above FY 2014 funding, and is $6 million more than the President had asked for. The Committee also provided $159.7 million for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), matching the request and providing a slight increase above FY 2014, and kept NSF's advanced manufacturing R&D investments flat, rather than granting the cut sought by the Administration.

Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Jim Moran (D-VA) offered an amendment to substantially increase NSF funding but withdrew it for lack of support, while Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) offered a successful amendment to trim NSF funding for Pacific salmon recovery. The numbers cited here reflect this amendment.

NASA (download budget table)

The Committee was relatively less generous with NASA overall, but still granted a moderate $435 million increase above the request. This would allow NASA to nearly keep pace with inflation and, like NSF, to keep ahead of the overall discretionary spending curve. It would also allow NASA to maintain the fiscal gains received in FY 2014, though it would remain well below the earlier budget peak in FY 2010.

The Science Mission Directorate is something of a mixed bag in the Committee bill, as another year of boosts for Planetary Science would be offset by cuts to Earth Science. The Committee continues to show interest in a Europa mission, and restored funding for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

Notably, the Aeronautics Research Directorate would receive by far the largest relative increase, compared with a small cut proposed by the Administration. The Space Technology Directorate would also receive a sizable increase, though by not quite as much as the Administration had hoped, and the Committee has also encouraged the program to seek out technology development partnerships with regional university consortia. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) offered an amendment to further boost Space Technology funding, but withdrew it for lack of support.

Elsewhere, the Exploration program was boosted above request amid Committee frustration with the Administration's budget policies in this area. The increase is targeted at development of the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System, though this only means a smaller cut or flat funding from FY 2014 for the two programs, respectively. Lastly, the Committee maintained its skepticism of NASA's proposed asteroid retrieval mission; urged increased funding for research activities aboard the International Space Station; and granted a boost for NASA education activities above the request, partially offsetting proposed cuts there.

COMMERCE: NIST and NOAA (download budget table)

While the Committee was willing to go above the request for NASA and NSF, the two major R&D agencies within the Department of Commerce were not quite so lucky.

NIST funding would receive a small boost above FY 2014 funding levels, but would fall short of the request. What increase NIST does receive is confined to NIST's laboratory programs, including for cybersecurity and disaster resiliency, and a small increase for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The Committee declined to provide $5 million in requested funding for the coordinating office for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a multi-agency initiative setting up public-private manufacturing institutes across the country, and eliminated funding for the related Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program, while simultaneously providing supportive rhetoric for such public-private manufacturing efforts. These activities had been established following recommendations delivered in a report (PDF) by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

NOAA is the lone R&D agency in the bill that would receive a cut below FY 2014 levels in nominal dollars, albeit a very small one. Regarding research, the steepest break with the request is a recommended $37.5 million cut from FY 2014 levels to climate research within the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; most other accounts would be funded at or near the request. Rep. Moran offered an amendment to restore this climate research funding, but it was withdrawn. The Committee also voiced general support for NOAA's extramural research activities and encouraged increased funding for climate modeling and atmospheric data sets at academic institutions.

Within the Ocean Service, the Committee matched the request for the Integrated Ocean Observing System, and provided funding to keep open a North Carolina research lab NOAA had proposed for closure. The Committee also granted funding increases for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series Program (GOES-R) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

The bill now moves to consideration by the full House of Representatives.