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Omnibus Review: Saga Ends With Broad, But Smaller, Increases

The spending deal, six months late, boosts investments across federal research agencies.

Almost halfway into the 2022 fiscal year, Congress has finally unveiled and adopted a $1.5 trillion omnibus to fund federal agencies for the rest of year, just ahead of the March 11 funding deadline. Congress did also adopt a brief stopgap to give President Biden time to sign the funding measure into law, which he is expected to do in the days ahead.

The omnibus offers increases for most agencies, including a 5% ($2.3 billion) increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 10% increases for applied energy technology, and a boost for defense basic science. But it also represents a sharp reduction from the lofty funding heights envisioned by the Biden Administration and Congressional appropriators last year, and well short of the funding targets Congress is trying to establish in major innovation legislation.

See the AAAS appropriations dashboard for deeper details.

Driven by Discretionary

Graph showing rising defense spending and declining nondefense spending, proceeding from White House, House, Senate, and omnibus.

As always, funding decisions were largely subject to overall discretionary spending levels. In last year’s budget request, the Biden Administration sought a large increase in nondefense spending while only a sub-inflation increase for defense. That meant proposed sizable increases for many nondefense agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Geological Survey, but steep cuts for DOD basic science and university support.

House appropriators went along with these proposals in the broad strokes if not all the details. But many legislators pushed back against the proposed defense / nondefense split: Senate Democrats began to narrow the gap in their own proposals (see graph above), and the annual defense policy bill authorized higher defense spending on a bipartisan vote, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The final discretionary deal – necessary to let appropriators hammer out final spending bills – narrowed the split even further. Legislators went with a 6.7% increase for nondefense and 5.6% for defense, enabling boosts for defense research programs, but also forcing scaled-back funding for several nondefense agencies.

Graph showing agency toplines, with several receiving smaller boosts in omnibus from earlier proposals.

 

New Institutions

In its budget request, the Biden Administration had proposed filling out the federal innovation ecosystem with several new offices.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health (ARPA-H) was appropriated at $1 billion, below the $6.5 billion request and the $2.4 billion and $3 billion previously proposed in the Senate and House, respectively. Funding came with a twist: while appropriators had previously parked ARPA-H as a new NIH office, the omnibus funds it outside NIH, but also gives the HHS secretary the power to transfer it back into NIH. The question of where to put ARPA-H is currently subject to dueling visions in Congress.

Appropriators indicated they support NSF’s new Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate, but did not specify an amount within a larger $250 million boost for NSF’s broader research funding account. This poses a challenge: the Biden Administration had requested a $500 million increase for the new directorate alone, and NSF may have to scale back its ambitions for the time being. The new directorate was also authorized, under different names, at more than $1 billion for FY 2022 in competing House and Senate legislation.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations was provided $20 million versus a request of $400 million, though the real windfall for this office came in the fall infrastructure package, where it received $21.5 billion for hydrogen, advanced reactors, and other technology areas.

Within USDA, the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA) received $1 million for planning and management. Authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill at $50 million but not yet fully funded, the office is intended to be another ARPA-style advanced research program.

One area the Administration was shut out is funding for a new ARPA-Climate office, for which they had sought $500 million across multiple agencies.

R&D Estimates

Below are AAAS estimates of R&D in the omnibus, based on aggregated account-by-account R&D tallies. Note the research estimates are well below earlier White House and Congressional proposals while development spending increased. These changes are consequences of the defense / nondefense changes mentioned above. See the appropriations dashboard for additional details.

  • Total R&D is estimated to rise by $11.3 billion or 7.1% to $169 billion total
  • Basic research is estimated to rise by $2.4 billion or 5.6%
  • Applied research is estimated to rise by $2 billion or 4.4%
  • Development is estimated to rise by $6.4 billion or 9.7%

Agency Highlights

NIH received a 5.3% or $2.3 billion increase to $45.2 billion from all funding sources. All institutes received at least a 3.4% increase, with a few above 5%. The three highest gainers were the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, with a 17.2% to focus on chronic and cardiovascular diseases as well as to support research centers in minority institutions; the Institute on Aging with an 8.2% increase, continuing recent Congressional prioritization of Alzheimer’s research; and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with a 7.8% increase. While the NIH topline appears far below the budget request, this is mainly because appropriators funded ARPA-H outside NIH, as mentioned above: core NIH funding is fairly close to the request level.

NASA received some mild gains, with a 3.3% or $770 million increase overall, though the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) received a 4.3% increase. Within SMD, the largest increase went to Planetary Sciences at 15.6%, as the both the Mars Sample Return and Lunar Exploration missions received their requested increase. The Office of STEM Engagement received a 7.9% increase. 

NSF received a 4.1% or $351 million increase. The NSF topline of $8.8 billion is far below the amounts authorized by Senate and House legislation, $2 billion and $3.7 billion respectively.

NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research received a 6.1% or $37 million increase, with a particularly large increase for Climate Research (10.7%) focused on Climate Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes, and Climate Change Adaptation and Resilient Infrastructure. The office’s high-performance computing activities also received a relatively large increase of 10.9%. Of note, NOAA received an additional $3.0 billion over 5 years from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

Within USDA, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received a sizable boost to Building and Facilities due to earmarks, which more than doubled the facilities budget over last year. ARS research funding also received a sizable boost, and the ARS topline increased by 15.3% all in. The Forest Service's Forest and Rangeland Research account received a similar increase. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) received a 4.3% increase overall, much lower than the president's request. Capacity funds for the 1890 land-grants were boosted by $7 million 9.6%, while the competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) received a $10 million or 2.3% increase in the omnibus, versus a requested increase of $265 million.

Defense research programs generally dodged Administration-backed reductions, with the omnibus providing a 5% or $138 million boost for basic science and a 7% or $472 million boost for applied science. University research initiative funding increased by 6.8% with a substantial restoration of university instrumentation support. DARPA funding was boosted by 10%, with focuses including AI, hypersonics, and microelectronics. The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program was funded at $1.5 billion, a 3% or $47 million increase above FY 2021.

The Department of Transportation's Office of Research and Technology received a $29 million increase, more than double last year's funding. This included $5 million for the Highly Automated Systems Safety Centers of Excellence and $15 million for position navigation and timing (PNT) technologies research, plus another $7 million for global navigation satellite systems. The Federal Aviation Administration received a smaller but still substantial increase of 26% or $51 million, which includes funds for cybersecurity, aircraft standards and community engagement. Notably, DOT also received a research boost from last year's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included increases to the University Transportation Centers and other highway R&D, as well as authorization of a new advanced research office, ARPA-Infrastructure.

 

Authors

Matt Hourihan

Director

Alessandra Zimmermann

Writer/Analyst