Senate Unveils Defense, Environment, Homeland Security Spending; Stopgap Emerges

The final batch of Senate spending bills offer steep reductions for EPA and a very mixed bag elsewhere, while the spending debate promises to drag on.

With most oxygen in Washington being taken up by tax reform, it emerged late this week that House Republicans will pursue a two-week continuing resolution (CR), a stopgap measure to avoid a December 8 shutdown and give legislators time to craft a deal on the spending caps. The new stopgap would run until December 22, though a cap deal in that time frame is not a sure thing, and another extension into January will likely be necessary. In recent weeks, Republicans did offer a deal to raise both the defense and nondefense caps and wipe away sequestration, but by unequal dollar amounts, and the deal was rejected by Democrats on those grounds.

In addition, Senate appropriators recently released their final four spending bills for FY 2018, covering defense, homeland security, environment, and other programs. But with the annual appropriations process (hopefully?) nearing a final resolution, none of the measures are yet scheduled for votes in committee.

Senate Defense: Basic Science Cut, With a Sequestration Trigger

Science and technology (S&T) numbers in the Senate Defense bill are higher than those recommended by the White House and House, but are still likely to disappoint, with overall S&T roughly flat from FY 2017 levels. Whereas the Defense subcommittee has been a supporter of Department of Defense (DOD) basic science in the past, this year’s legislation would cut basic research programs by $17 million or 0.8 percent (see the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard for more detailed numbers). About half of this reduction would come at the expense of university partnerships. Naval basic science is actually increased by 5.8 percent across an array of fields, but this is offset by Army and Air Force reductions.

It’s a somewhat mixed bag for DARPA. While the agency received a 4.9 percent increase, with space and electronic technology research boosted, the increase is smaller than that provided by either the House or the Pentagon, with constrained or reduced funding for materials, biotech, aerospace, and sensor technology.

Elsewhere, manufacturing R&D is one of the brighter spots, with several manufacturing science and technology programs granted extra funding. An extra $25 million was also added to the National Defense Education Program for manufacturing-oriented grants. Appropriators also increased DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental by $5 million above the request, and added $25.5 million for the new National Security Technology Accelerator, a public-private-academic consortium. Peer-reviewed medical research via the Defense Health Program received several hundred million dollars, though less than last year.

However, spending in the Defense bill also exceeds the current caps by $70 billion (while simultaneously falling short of what Congressional defense hawks actually want). As Democrats pointed out in a statement, that would mean DOD spending would be ratcheted down substantially via a sequestration should it become law, unless Congress can come up with a sufficient cap deal.

Senate Interior Bill Constrains Environmental and Climate Research

The Senate Appropriation Subcommittee’s draft Interior bill would hamper EPA’s environmental and climate research activities, while keeping U.S. Geological Survey programs funded at last year’s levels.

Within EPA’s discretionary budget, the Science & Technology (S&T) account would drop by 11.2 percent below FY 2017 levels under the Senate bill; most core S&T research programs would be subject to reductions in the order of 10 to 12 percent. This is only slightly better than the House-passed version of the bill, while the Administration had proposed even further drastic cuts in its FY 2018 request (see EPA in the AAAS R&D Appropriations Dashboard for side-by-side comparison). Had the Senate bill received a markup, Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM) said he would have offered an amendment including $200 million to restore proposed cuts to EPA’s core research and regulatory programs.

Of note, a provision in the Senate’s Interior bill continues prohibition on EPA using funds to implement a mandatory greenhouse gas reporting system within the agricultural sector. A separate provision would change federal policy to treat forest biomass activities as non-contributors of carbon dioxide, a concept known as ‘carbon neutrality.’

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would see overall flat funding, compared to a 4.2 percent reduction recommended in the House and a large 15 percent cut requested by the Administration (see USGS in the AAAS R&D Appropriations Dashboard). USGS climate R&D and Climate Science Centers would be flat-funded, in contrast to House and Administration preferences. Meanwhile, Senate appropriators joined their House counterparts in rejecting the Administration’s proposed elimination of the agency’s earthquake early warning system. Landsat 9 development is fully funded in the Senate bill.

Homeland Security R&D Facing Sharp Cuts

The Senate’s draft Homeland Security appropriations bill would cut the Department of Homeland Security’s research activities and laboratory facilities funding. Overall DHS R&D funding in the Senate bill, however, remains significantly higher than both the House version and President’s request (see DHS in the AAAS R&D Appropriations Dashboard).

Within the DHS Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate, Senate appropriators would fund core research activities at substantially higher levels than their House counterparts and the Administration. However, S&T laboratory facilities would be subject to a large 23.8 percent cut, whereas the House had recommended flat funding. University programs would also see a moderate reduction under the Senate bill.

For the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office’s (DNDO) R&D account, the Senate prescribes a 7.8 percent cut, in line with House and Administration budget proposals. The bulk of this reduction would come from detection capability development and assessment programs. The Transformational R&D account, which supports a full pipeline of basic and applied research and development to support detection, as well as university and SBIR activities, would see a small cut. Nuclear Forensics would also be trimmed.

Also included in the Senate’s Homeland Security bill is a provision that would provide $1.6 billion for President Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) ridiculed the border wall proposal as ‘bumper sticker budgeting,’ and said he would have offered an amendment that would have blocked funding for the wall unless it was paid for by Mexico, as Trump promised during his election campaign. 

Congressional Research Spending Topping the White House

Now that all twelve Senate spending bills are available, AAAS estimates total Senate-appropriated R&D at $168.8 billion in FY 2018, a 7.7 percent increase. Basic research would rise to $36.0 billion. A comparison with the House and White House figure is shown at right; see the AAAS dashboard for more details and figures.

The Senate research figures are somewhat higher than the House’s because of the extra funding for NIH in the Senate; Senate appropriators also granted about $1 billion more for applied low-carbon technology research than the House. The difference on R&D facilities is mainly due to differences over funding for NSF research vessels.

Hurricane Supplemental

This past week, House appropriators held a series of oversight hearings on the Administration’s third supplemental request for ongoing hurricane relief efforts. Within the total proposed $44 billion in additional FY 2018 emergency funding, NASA would receive $58.1 million to repair facilities and equipment at Johnson and Kennedy space centers. NOAA would see $50.9 million for facilities repair and mapping and charting needs. USDA would be granted $21.7 million to address damages at Agriculture Research Services facilities and equipment. And the U.S. Geological Survey would receive an additional $20 million to provide geospatial information in critical storm impacted coastal areas. “Frankly, after being in Puerto Rico and visiting with U.S. Geological Survey staff, this might be the single most important component of our request,” noted David L. Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee yesterday.

Cover Image Credit: Architect of the Capitol