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Senate Appropriators Favor NASA and NIST, Spare NSF from Controversial House Cuts

Last Thursday the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) bill on a 27-3 vote. Based on the Committee’s report released this week, funding in the bill would exceed FY 2015 levels for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and NASA, while the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget would be kept flat and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would fall below FY 2015 enacted. Compared with the House version of CJS, which passed the full House along party lines last week, the Senate bill is more favorable to the two Commerce agencies, and spares NSF from controversial research cuts proposed in the House. Overall discretionary funding in the Senate bill stands currently at $51.06 billion, more than FY 2015 but $985 million less than the President's request, according to the Committee.

An amendment offered during markup by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would have increased funding across various programs within the science agencies covered in the bill, but failed. A brief agency-by-agency recap is below.

National Science Foundation (see budget table)

The Senate Committee funds NSF at $7.3 billion, the same as FY 2015 enacted. The House figure is $50 million higher. Unlike the House, however, the Senate proceedings have not mirrored efforts to cut social science and geosciences research. NSF’s research accounts would essentially remain flat-funded in the Senate’s FY 2016 spending bill. Elsewhere, the Senate included funds to support research in biomanufacturing as part of its Advanced Manufacturing Initiative. The Committee also increases funding for the Innovation Corps (i-Corps) program, while keeping EPSCoR and cybersecurity research equal to the FY 2015 levels.

NASA (see budget table)

The Senate Committee provided a boost to NASA’s overall budget, enough that the space agency would just about keep pace with inflation though still $240 million below the House and President’s request. Like the House, the Senate Committee included additional funds above the request for the Space Launch System, and would grant an even larger increase than both the House and the Administration for the Orion crew vehicle. The Senate Committee also offered slightly more than the request for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), which the House would cut. Within SMD, Earth Sciences would receive a large 8.3 percent boost over FY 2015, which comes close to the Administration’s request and diverges from the House-passed CJS bill.

Dept. of Commerce (see budget table)

The Senate Committee was more generous than the House in funding for NOAA and NIST, but to a much lesser extent than what the President requested for the two major science agencies within the Commerce Department. NIST received $29 million more than the House and $227 million below what the Administration asked for.   Although the Committee provides up to $5 million within the Advanced Manufacturing Consortia (AMTech) to fund NIST’s coordination role for existing National Network for Manufacturing Institutes (NNMI), no

funds are slated for the Department to establish any NIST-led NNMI institutes in FY 2016. While overall funding for NOAA would drop below FY 2015 levels, Senate appropriators matched the President and House in providing an increase for key weather satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R) program. However, the Senate gave a bit less than half the amount requested by the Administration for its proposed Polar Follow-on satellites, whereas the House chose not to fund this new program at all. The Senate Committee also declined to fully fund the FY 2016 request to construct a new ocean-going survey vessel at this time.

Lastly, Senate appropriators provided $372 million, or 25 percent, less than requested for the Census Bureau. The amount provided still runs ahead of the House figure, after the Census budget was targeted by several lawmakers  during House floor proceedings seeking to shift resources to other accounts.

The Senate CJS bill now awaits action from the Senate floor, though future action is uncertain given the Democrats’ intentions of filibustering all sequestration-level spending bills.

Cover photo credit: NASA Flickr