Last week the House finally adopted a scaled back version of the Build Back Better Act, the Democrats' long-planned reconciliation spending package, on a 220-213 vote. While at one point the package was envisioned as a $3.5 trillion behemoth, negotiations have scaled it down to approximately half its original size, now at $1.7 trillion. The package now formally heads to the Senate, where it still faces difficult prospects and perhaps a further trim.
As with other parts of the bill, support for science and technology programs was dramatically scaled back from the earlier version of the bill. Nevertheless, the House-adopted package still contains several billion dollars in support for research, STEM education, and R&D infrastructure, as well as substantial climate-related spending. Current highlights are below, organized by funding subcommittee. Note that in most instances, the sums reflect reduced funding even if not noted.
For background on the reconciliation process, see this helpful explainer by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Science, Space and Technology
The latest bill provides Department of Energy’s Office of Science with $985 million, with a near-exclusive focus on fusion research. This contrasts with the earlier version’s $12.8 billion for the office, which had largely been for research infrastructure and construction. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy retains $1 billion for demonstration projects in technology areas across its portfolio.
The National Science Foundation receives $3.5 billion in the House-adopted bill (versus a previous $11 billion). Specific line items include:
- $668 million for new and existing awards, traineeships, scholarships, and fellowships
- $500 million for climate research
- $1.5 billion for a new technology directorate
- $200 million for research capacity and $100 million for facilities at minority-serving institutions
- $200 million each for mid-scale research infrastructure and renovation of facilities
The EPA retains $100 million for climate research. NASA’s climate research and aeronautics research funding remained steady from the earlier version at $85 and $225 million respectively, while NASA’s facilities funding dropped from $4 billion to $748 million in the House-adopted version. FEMA funding for PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) firefighting foam alternatives received $100 million, vastly reduced from the earlier version.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology received $1.3 billion (versus a previous $4.2 billion), half of which is for facilities construction and upgrades. The bill also provides $260 million for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, $220 million for advanced manufacturing R&D and testbeds, and $100 million for fire impacts research.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received $859 million (versus a previous $4.3 billion), for a mix of observations and modeling, climate grants and education, and acquisition of a hurricane hunter aircraft. Funding for high performance computing and data management capacity rose from $70 million in the previous bill to $200 million now, while support for phased array radar and uncrewed systems were left out of the bill text.
The Department of Agriculture research office funding dropped from roughly $8 billion in the earlier bill to $2 billion in the current. Then as now, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) accounts for the bulk of funding. In the new bill, the largest line item is $1 billion for academic facilities at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges, and other such institutions. In addition, the House-adopted bill provides $100 million for HBCU scholarships, and tens of millions more for cooperative extension, scholarships, and centers of excellence at minority-serving institutions.
The competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research each received $210 million for climate research, while the Sustainable Agriculture program received $120 million. Funding for a new Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA) was decreased to $30 million, from an initial $380 million.
The House-adopted bill includes $47 million for the U.S. Geological Survey's 3D elevation program, $50 million for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers, and $50 million for the Water Resources Institutes. All three were trimmed to varying degrees from the earlier version.
The bill still contains billions for climate resilience funding for federal, state, and tribal governments and other institutions, while most Bureau of Land Management funding to address abandoned mine cleanup has been removed.
Energy and Commerce
The bill provides $1.4 billion for renovation, expansion, and modernization of state, local, and CDC public health laboratories, and $1.3 billion for other pandemic preparedness activities including surge capacity, medical countermeasures, and biosurveillance facility modernization; these activities were funded at a collective $13 billion in the earlier bill. Food and Drug Administration capacity and modernization also received $300 million, while funding for vaccine confidence and programs was removed.
The bill continues to fund programs in maternal health and mortality at $1.1 billion, including funding for studies by minority-serving institutions and for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The new House-adopted bill also adds $75 million for NIH grants for HBCU research capacity, and $10 million for speech delay research for $10 million.
The latest version of the bill added $500 million for research and other activities to promote the commercial availability of High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU), important for advanced reactor designs.
Transportation & Infrastructure
Scaled-back climate resilience funding in the bill includes $650 million for Coast Guard infrastructure and $600 million for port infrastructure and supply chain resilience. Research on low-emission aviation fuel is funded at $300 million.
The Growth Accelerator Competition, which provides funding grants to entrepreneurs, receives $190 million, versus $4 billion in the original version.
Education and Labor
In one of the few areas to see substantial increase in the House-adopted package, funding for R&D infrastructure at minority-serving institutions was increased to $3 billion from the initial $2 billion. Funding for research into universal preschool was also increased.
Funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was approximately halved to $400 million.