This Week in Appropriations: In House, Another Billion for NIH; Others Not So Lucky

In a busy week that saw House movement on seven science-relevant spending bills, several research agencies were dealt cuts, while the Senate also began its own process.

The House continued its breakneck pace on appropriations bills this week, moving three major science spending-relevant bills out of committee, and initiating subcommittee votes on four more. At least three of those subcommittee bills will get full committee markups next week, which means the funding picture in the House is rapidly gaining clarity, and it's something of a mixed bag (though most programs have managed to avoid the sharp White House-proposed cuts). To summarize what happened this week:

  • The Agriculture, Energy & Water, and CJS bills were all voted out of committee. Within these bills, NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have fared best; some major research programs were held flat, and several others were recommended for reductions.
  • The House Labor-HHS subcommittee bill provided a boost for NIH, while cutting CDC and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  • The House Interior & Environment subcommittee bill recommended cuts for research programs at the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Forest Service.
  • The House Homeland Security subcommittee bill recommended steep cuts for Department of Homeland Security science and technology offices.
  • The House Transportation & HUD subcommittee bill provided a mix for transportation research programs; details will be provided next week when the bill goes to full committee.
  • In addition, the Senate got rolling on its own set of spending bills, providing a boost for Veterans Affairs research funding. The recent decision to delay the August recess may buy some additional time for Senate appropriators.

Many of these reductions are the result of limited nondefense spending in the House this year. Should Congress reach a broader deal to raise the current spending caps later this fall – as many in both parties would like to see – then many research programs would stand to benefit. The Senate is likely to mark up their own spending bills at a somewhat higher spending level than the House, even without an agreement in place.

Bill: Energy & Water
Key Agency: Department of Energy (DOE)
Bill Text & Report | Markup Video | Funding Table
See also: DOE in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

As previously reported, the House Energy & Water bill for FY 2018 – which was adopted by voice vote in the full Appropriations Committee this week – is working with $209 million less than in FY 2017. Within that tighter context, the bill prioritizes the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers first, with a mixed approach to DOE R&D programs.

While the broad funding contours were previously known, additional details emerged this week. We now have the House’s distribution of funding among programs within the Office of Science (see graph at right). The Advanced Scientific Computing Research program is the biggest winner, with a 3.7 percent boost above FY 2017 levels for its exascale project (which, it should be said, is well short of the President’s request); a 25 percent increase for the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility; and a near-doubling for the Energy Sciences Network, alongside roughly flat funding for facilities at the Oak Ridge and Berkeley labs. Fusion Energy Sciences would also see a modest increase, though primarily for the international fusion energy project, ITER. The project would match the request at $63 million in FY 2018, 26.0 percent above FY 2017 levels but well below funding of earlier years, which routinely surpassed $100 million even amid growing Congressional skepticism. Domestic fusion research would see only a slight increase. Nuclear Physics activities funding is essentially flat in the House bill. High Energy Physics is also flat-funded, but with a 4.2 percent cut to research activities, to enable a $30 million increase for Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment construction.

The 4.9 percent reduction for Biological and Environmental Research is rather unsurprising as that program has long been a lower priority for the committee. The Bioenergy Research Center re-competition would receive the requested $40 million in FY 2018, against $75 million provided for the three existing centers in FY 2017, their final year. Appropriators did signal support for the program’s study and evaluation of earth observation data. Basic Energy Sciences (BES) is a similar story to High Energy Physics: flat funding in FY 2018, but with a 4.1 percent reduction to research to enable increases for construction. In the BES case, the program’s two innovation hubs on solar fuels and battery technology would be zeroed out under the House bill as requested, and replaced with a $10 million competitive grants program on similar topics. Light source operations would see a one percent reduction; high flux neutron source operation would see a 1.9 percent reduction; and the nanoscale science centers would be flat. On the construction front, the committee provided $67 million for the Advanced Photon Source upgrade at Argonne, compared to a $20 million request.

Needless to say, most of these funding levels are well above what the Administration had recommended. The Appropriations Committee says that they have “placed a high priority on funding [the Office of Science] in fiscal year 2018, given the private sector is not likely to fund research whose findings either have high non-commercial value or are not likely to be commercialized in the near or medium term. This work is vital to sustaining the scientific leadership of the United States and can provide the underpinnings for valuable intellectual property in the coming decades.”

Additional details are also now available on DOE’s technology programs. The Committee would moderately trim carbon capture and sequestration and natural gas technology activities funded through the Fossil Energy R&D program, while providing $25 million for continued advanced coal pilot projects and adding a $10 million increase above FY 2017 levels for plant optimization technology. Appropriators also protected efforts to advance and commercialize solid oxide fuel cells and the Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP) initiative, both of which had been targeted for elimination in the request.

While the Office of Nuclear Energy would receive a 4.7 percent reduction overall, the office would see a mix of programmatic increases and decreases in the House bill, and some of the “decline” is simply the movement of some funding into a new separate account for the proposed Yucca Mountain licensing restart. Advanced reactor R&D would be increased by nearly 60 percent above FY 2017 levels, with $60 million provided for “a solicitation to support technical, first-of-its-kind engineering and design and regulatory development of next generation light water and non-light water reactor technologies, including small modular reactors,” according to the Appropriations Committee. Appropriators also granted $35 million for a new fast test reactor, compared to $10 million requested, and provided varying increases for advanced fuels R&D, crosscutting enabling technology, the Nuclear Science User Facilities, and the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) project. The Light Water Reactor Sustainability program would be flat-funded from FY 2017. As with other hubs elsewhere, the Appropriations Committee provided no funds as requested for the Energy Innovation Hub for Modeling and Simulation, but provided additional funding to continue these activities as a competitive grants program.

As previously reported, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would be reduced by 47.2 percent below FY 2017 levels in the House bill. All programs would be hit with at least a 36.9 percent reduction (see table above), which the Committee says “reflects a gradual shift towards early stage research and development activities.” Appropriators provided no funds for the Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub, the newly-established water desalination hub, or the six Obama-era energy manufacturing institutes, directing all entities to be shut down and replaced with competitive grants. During the bill markup, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) offered an unsuccessful amendment to restore EERE to FY 2017 levels. House appropriators also granted a small increase for Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability cybersecurity R&D while cutting resiliency research; other office activities were unchanged from FY 2017 levels.

While the House allocation for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) remains zero, Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Mike Simpson (R-ID) noted that he’s actually a supporter of ARPA-E, but that the proposed elimination of the agency was the result of a “difficult choice.” Simpson also noted that ARPA-E funding could be restored later in the funding process (especially given strong support for ARPA-E in the Senate) and warned that ARPA-E should stay open until Congress directs it to shutdown – a veiled reference to the controversial slowdown in ARPA-E funding at the hands of the new Administration earlier this year.

As expected, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) R&D programs were generally increased substantially above FY 2017 in the House bill, though not always as much as the request. The National Ignition Facility, Omega, and Z Facilities were flat-funded in the bill, while appropriators also granted the request of $25 million for exascale-related construction.

Bill: Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS)
Key Agencies: NSF, NASA, NIST, NOAA, Census
Bill Text | Report Language | Markup Video
Funding Tables: NSF | NASA | Commerce
See also: NSF in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

Yesterday the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Committee marked up its FY 2018 funding bill, which covers NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce. The bill was approved on a vote of 31-21.

As reported last week, NSF’s principal Research & Related Activities (R&RA) account would see flat funding in the House CJS bill, whereas the President’s budget proposed a $672 million or 12.5 percent cut. During markup, Rep. David Price (D-NC) introduced and subsequently withdrew an amendment that would have increased NSF R&RA by $604 million to a total $6.6 billion in FY 2018, an amount he cited as the 2013 authorized level under the America COMPETES Act. In the bill report, supporting language is included for the Astronomical Sciences Division, which would be funded at no less than last year’s level by the House. Within NSF’s facilities construction account, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) would be funded at the requested levels, while the Regional Class Research Vessel (RCRV) project would receive no additional funding in FY 2018; the Administration had proposed building out three RCRVs next fiscal year. Of note, the House bill report directs NSF to address GAO’s recent findings on indirect costs for research, such as the costs of operating and maintaining facilities, and why the've been apparently rising in recent years.

With the Committee’s bill report now published, a clearer picture of NASA’s Science portfolio has emerged (see chart at right). House appropriators recommend further cuts below the request to Earth Science, which would decline by a total $219 million or 11.3 percent below FY 2017 enacted. Meanwhile, the Planetary Science account would increase by $191 million above the Administration’s proposed amount, with funding boosts above the request for core planetary science research and the Discovery and New Frontiers missions. For the Mars Exploration program, the Committee recommends $647 million, the same amount as last year’s omnibus, including the requested level of $374.3 million for the Mars 2020 rover. The House bill grants $74.1 million, the requested amount, for Astrophysics Research and Analysis. House appropriators provide the FY 2017 enacted level of $85.2 million for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), while the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is funded at the requested amount of $126.6 million. During markup, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) introduced an amendment to fund NASA’s Aeronautics account at $712 million, the amount requested by House appropriators last year, but withdrew it for lack of support. As reported in last week’s update, the House flat funded both SLS and Orion as well as the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and rejected the Administration’s proposal to eliminate NASA’s Office of Education.

A more detailed funding picture for NOAA was also made available in the House report. Notably, the agency’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) would be spared the deeper cuts proposed by the Administration, though total OAR funding would still fall by 7.7 percent (see agency breakdown at right). The House Committee’s $30 million proposed cut to OAR climate research matched the President’s FY 2018 proposal, while Weather and Air Chemistry Research and Great Lakes Research would see significant funding boosts above the request, as seen in the funding table linked above. During markup, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) offered an amendment to restore the $30 million in OAR climate research, but failed by voice vote. House appropriators dismissed the proposed elimination of the National Sea Grant College Program, instead opting for flat funding. The Committee also rejected the Administration’s proposal to terminate federal funding for the National Estuarine Research Reserves System. NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system are funded at the request levels in the House bill, while the Polar Follow On would be gutted by $130 million below the FY 2018 request level of $180 million.

To recap from last week’s coverage of NIST, House appropriators rejected the Administration’s recommendation to eliminate the agency’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), and restored a large portion of the proposed cut to NIST laboratories (see chart at right). Of note, the House bill report specifies that the Committee does not adopt the proposed reductions for NIST research areas including: Advanced Networks, Connected Systems, and Data Science; Advanced Materials Manufacturing; Semiconductor and Microelectronic Measurements; Time and Fundamental Measurement Dissemination; Resilience and Structural Engineering; Biological Science and Health Measurements; Quantum Science; and User Facilities. For the Census Bureau, the House Committee matched the President’s requested 4.3 percent increase for periodic censuses and programs, which funds the 2020 census.

The CJS bill awaits action from the House floor, while the Senate has not released its own version.

Bill: Agriculture
Key Agency: Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Bill Text & Report | Markup Video | Funding Table
See also: USDA in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

As previously reported, the House Agriculture Appropriations bill, approved by the full committee this week via voice vote, would mostly reduce USDA research office funding in FY 2018, though via much smaller cuts than the Administration had requested. While no amendments changed the research funding picture, a few additional details emerged thanks to report language. First, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, USDA’s premier competitive grants program, would be flat-funded from FY 2017 levels at $375 million, $25 million more than requested. There were limited other changes for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, with the major formula fund programs all flat, but multiple smaller grant programs in alfalfa, sustainable agriculture, aquaculture, and global change were reduced or eliminated. The report language sheds less light on appropriators’ motivations for reducing the Economic Research Service by 11.5 percent. Notably, the committee report also directs the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics to provide information on indirect cost policies for USDA research programs.

Relatedly, House appropriators in a different subcommittee – the Interior and Environment subcommittee – also reduced Forest Service Rangeland Research this week by 3.5 percent below FY 2017 levels.

Bill: Military Construction & Veterans Affairs (“Milcon”)
Key Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Committee Summary
See also: VA Research in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

Earlier this summer House appropriators recommended a 3.7 percent increase for VA medical and prosthetic research. This week their Senate counterparts topped that number, as the full Senate Appropriations Committee provided a 7.3 percent increase above FY 2017 levels to VA research. The bill, adopted unanimously, is the first taken up by Senate appropriators this year.

About a third of the Senate increase was achieved via an amendment sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), which added $17 million on top of the original $32 million increase coming out of subcommittee. Total VA medical and prosthetic research would reach $722 million under the Senate bill, 12.9 percent above the requested amount. While neither the House nor Senate Milcon bills have yet reached the floor of their respective chambers, appropriators appear to have lined up VA research programs with another year of moderate increases – if VA appropriations can be finalized and signed into law.

Bill: Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-H)
Key Agencies: NIH, CDC, BARDA, AHRQ, Institute for Education Sciences
Bill Text | Markup Video
See also: NIH in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

The House Labor-H spending bill, adopted in subcommittee late Thursday on a party-line 9-6 vote, will give many in the science and engineering realm another reason to breathe a sigh of relief, as NIH is slated for a $1.1 billion increase in the bill. Total NIH funding from all sources would rise to $35.4 billion in FY 2018, a 3.2 percent increase above FY 2017 (see breakdown by institute in our appropriations dashboard). That includes a $400 million increase for Alzheimer’s research and other boosts for the BRAIN Initiative, precision medicine, regenerative medicine, antimicrobial resistance research, and the Institutional Development Awards program; portions of these and other activities are funded through the 21st Century Cures Act. The bill also preserves the Fogarty International Center, which had been slated for eliminated by the Administration; rejects the proposal to consolidate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) within NIH; and includes language prohibiting the Administration from unilaterally adopting its controversial proposal to uniformly cap indirect costs. It also contains language prohibiting the use of fetal tissue in research.

During the markup, Labor-H Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK), an NIH supporter, referred to the $1.1 billion increase as a “floor, not a ceiling.” Cole expressed a similar sentiment last year, when his subcommittee provided NIH a $1.3 billion boost en route to a final appropriated increase of $2 billion. The House number continues the recent run of bipartisan funding support for NIH.

Beyond NIH, the bill also increases funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) by $8.3 million to $520 million total and Project Bioshield by $20 million to $530 million total. Within the Education Department, the Institute for Education Science was flat-funded at FY 2017 levels, at $605.3 million total.

Given total spending in the bill declined by $5 billion from FY 2017 levels, there were some research-relevant reductions: CDC is cut by $198 million below FY 2017 in the bill, and AHRQ funding is reduced by $24 million, according to subcommittee’s summary.

The bill is likely headed for markup by the full House Appropriations Committee next week.

Bill: Interior and Environment
Key Agencies: USGS, EPA
Bill Text | Markup Video
See also: ‘Other Agencies’ in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee passed by voice vote its FY 2018 Interior and Environment spending bill covering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S Geological Survey (USGS). According to the subcommittee’s bill summary, EPA would be funded at $7.5 billion, a reduction of $528 million below FY 2017 enacted and $1.9 billion above the Administration’s request. Additional details on EPA’s Science & Technology account will be provided when the associated bill report is made available. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would be spared the large $163 million cut recommended by the Administration, but would instead see a $46 million or 4.3 percent reduction under the House bill. The subcommittee also provides $10.2 million for the agency’s earthquake early warning system, which was slated for elimination under the FY 2018 request.

The Interior bill now heads to the full Appropriations Committee for consideration, while the Senate has yet to release its own version.

Bill: Homeland Security
Key Agency: DHS
Bill Text | Markup Video
See also: ‘Other Agencies’ in the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard

On Wednesday the House Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2018 Homeland Security funding bill. Within DHS Science & Technology (S&T), the Research and Development account would see a large $87 million or 18.5 percent reduction, only slightly better than the President’s proposed 20.8 percent cut. Full funding details on S&T programs will be provided after the bill report is released. For the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), House appropriators slated an overall $22 million or 6.3 percent cut, the same as recommended by the Administration in its FY 2018 budget.

The bill now heads to the full committee for further consideration.

Quote of the Week

"If you were going to school and were getting failing grades in spring semester, you better go to summer school, not take a recess." – Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) on the Senate delaying its August recess

Cover Image Credit: Architect of the Capitol