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Senate Boosts NSF Basic Research, NASA Science and Exploration

The upper chamber also preserved funding for NOAA climate change research grants slated for elimination by the House and Administration.

Last Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science funding bill on a bipartisan 30-1 vote, pushing back against the Administration’s proposed cuts to basic research, earth science, and environmental-related programs. Below is a summary of funding outcomes for key science agencies covered in the bill (see the AAAS appropriations dashboard for additional details and comparisons).

National Science Foundation. NSF would see a total budget increase of $301 million or 3.9 percent above FY 2018 in the Senate bill, while the House version adopted last month was slightly more generous overall. Both chambers differed somewhat in their approach to funding NSF facilities construction. To briefly recap:

  • NSF’s principal Research & Related Activities account was granted an overall 3.5 percent increase. Notably, the Senate Committee included report language supporting NSF’s 10 Big Ideas as a “focusing tool,” while directing the agency to maintain core research at no less than FY 2017 levels.
  • The Education Directorate would see a small 1.4 percent uptick, with funding for NSF Scholarships in STEM, the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, and Graduate Research Fellowships preserved at FY 2018 funding levels.
  • Within NSF’s facilities construction account, Senate appropriators provided funding to build three regional class research vessels (RCRVs), as did the House Committee, while the Administration had requested only two RCRVs. Both the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) were funded at the request levels in the Senate bill. The House, in comparison, had included the requested amount of $16.3 million for DKIST, but funded LSST at $75 million above the Administration’s request. Meanwhile, Senate appropriators would transfer $95 million associated with the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science project, currently funded by the Office of Polar Programs, to NSF’s construction account.

NASA. The space agency would see an overall $587 million or 2.8 percent increase above last year in the Senate bill, with a relatively balanced approach to NASA’s science portfolio. This contrasts with the House Committee, which sought outsized increases for planetary science activities, as in past years. Appropriators in both chambers protected key exploration programs from White House-proposed cuts.

  • Within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), Earth Science would see a slight uptick, with Senate appropriators joining their House counterparts in protecting several earth science missions slated for elimination by the Administration. For Planetary Science, the Senate bill includes the requested amounts for Mars 2020 and the Jupiter Europa mission, which both received substantial increases under the House legislation. Within Astrophysics, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) was spared from requested elimination and would see its funding more than double under the Senate bill; the House had opted for a flat WFIRST budget. See the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard for additional SMD funding details.
  • NASA Aeronautics would see an overall 5.8 percent increase, slightly above the House Committee mark, with additional funding to enable the next X-plane demonstration planned beyond the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator currently under development.
  • NASA’s key exploration programs – the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion – would be funded at FY 2018 levels in the Senate bill, following the House Committee in rejecting the Administration’s proposed cuts; the Senate Committee goes further and provides an extra $255 million for a second mobile launch platform for SLS. Senate appropriators also sided with the House in dismissing the Administration’s proposal to move Human Research Program funding out of the exploration directorate.
  • Space technology funding would fare slightly better compared to the House bill, with Senate appropriators providing a $50 million increase for the RESTORE-L satellite servicing mission.
  • LEO and Spaceflight Operations would see a decrease in line with House and Administration preferences, though notably the Senate Committee explicitly supports maintaining the International Space Station with direct federal funding beyond 2025, as noted in the Senate's CJS bill report.
  • Lastly, the NASA Education Directorate would be spared from requested elimination and given a $10 million increase, versus the $10 million cut proposed by the House Committee.


NOAA. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), the R&D arm of NOAA, would see an overall flat budget, compared to an 8.2 percent cut proposed by the House Committee. Notably, the Senate Committee would preserve OAR climate change research grants targeted for elimination by both the House and Administration. Meanwhile, Senate appropriators slated a large 12.5 percent cut to weather and air chemistry research labs and cooperative institutes, which were flat-funded in House legislation. Overall funding for ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes research essentially matched the House-proposed increase, with the Sea Grant Program protected from requested elimination. See the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard for additional OAR funding details.

As for NOAA’s weather satellites, the Geostationary Systems (GOES) would be funded at the House and Administration’s proposed levels. However, Senate appropriators provided a $50 million increase above the House and request amount for Polar Weather Satellites, which include the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Polar Follow-on (PFO).

NIST. Core laboratory research would be flat-funded overall, with various activities shielded from the Administration’s requested cuts and terminations (see AAAS Dashboard for more details). Senate appropriators rejected the House-proposed $10 million cut to the Manufacturing USA program, and instead provided flat funding. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) would also be flat-funded under the Senate bill, as in the House version, whereas the Administration had slated MEP for elimination. Following a large one-time boost in last year’s omnibus, NIST’s research facilities construction account would see a 50 percent decline, which is still more generous than the 62 percent reduction called for by the House Appropriations Committee.

Census Bureau. The $1 billion increase for the Census Bureau matched the Administration’s request, while House appropriators had proposed a nearly $2 billion boost to ramp up for the 2020 Decennial Census (see AAAS Dashboard for additional details on statistical agencies).

Cover photo credit: NASA HQ