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This Week in Appropriations: House Continues Refuting White House Science Budgets

NASA, NSF, and energy science were winners in this week’s spending bills, while veterans’ health and agricultural research would receive more modest boosts. 

See also the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard to follow the process as it unfolds.

The FY 2019 appropriations process get rolling in earnest this week as House appropriators, seeking an aggressive timetable, pushed three bills through subcommittee and sent a fourth to the House floor. While not as universally generous as the omnibus for 2018 adopted in March, several science agencies would see sizable gains. And even those subject to reductions would see much smaller cuts than the White House had requested.

Much more detail will be available when appropriators release their reports to accompany each bill, but a summary of highlights for the week is below.

Energy: Basic Science Would Set a New High, While ARPA-E Preserved

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The Energy Department’s Office of Science, its basic science arm and a major funder of physical science research, would continue its recent growth by posting a 5.4 percent gain above FY 2018 to reach $6.6 billion total, an all-time high. Much of this would likely be directed to the exascale initiative, though those details are not yet available.

On the technology front, both fossil and nuclear energy R&D programs would receive increases of at least eight percent versus the steep White House-proposed cuts, and appropriators also added substantial funding for DOE’s new cybersecurity office. On the other hand, R&D programs for energy efficiency and renewables would be cut by $243 million: a large 10.5 percent reduction from FY 2018, but not anywhere near the 70 percent reduction requested by the Administration. Similarly, House appropriators would also reduce funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) by eight percent, but would nevertheless shield it from elimination as proposed by the Administration.

The bill (summary and text) was approved by the Energy and Water subcommittee on a voice vote Monday evening, and heads to the full appropriations committee next.

NSF and NASA Boosted, NIST Research Trimmed

Under the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Subcommittee’s bill approved Wednesday, NSF funding would surpass $8 billion, an historical high. The agency’s core research account was granted a substantive 5 percent gain. House appropriators also boosted the agency’s research facilities construction account by nearly 50 percent, as opposed to the Administration’s requested cut; the Administration has sought to limit the number of new research vessels built by NSF. Elsewhere, the agency’s education directorate would be flat-funded.

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NASA was again tapped for a budget boost that totals $1.7 billion above the request. A substantial 7.4 percent increase is slated for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD); individual account levels within SMD will be known when the panel releases its report to accompany the bill text, though the subcommittee explicitly calls out planetary science as a continuing priority. The legislation does specify that the Jupiter Europa Orbiter would receive $545 million, more than double the amount proposed by the Administration; the House recommends additional funding for a follow-on lander that was not included in the request. The Europa mission has been a priority of Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX).

On the exploration front, both the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Crew Vehicle would be funded at FY 2018 enacted levels, versus the cuts proposed by the Administration. The bill fully funds the requested amounts of $504 million for a proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, $117 million for advanced lunar and surface capabilities, and $150 million for a new Commercial Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Development account. House appropriators again dismissed the Administration’s proposed elimination of NASA’s Education office.

Within the Commerce Department, NIST laboratory funding would be reduced by less than one percent, a far cry from the requested 26 percent cut. House appropriators again rejected the proposed elimination of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), providing flat funding instead. However, the Manufacturing USA program would see reductions under the House bill. Meanwhile, NIST’s research facilities construction account would drop by about two-thirds, following a large one-time increase in FY 2018. While not specifying an amount for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system, the House bill summary promises full funding for both JPSS and GOES in FY 2019, within the context of an overall reduction for NOAA. Additional details on NOAA research will be reported after the committee releases its full report to accompany the bill.

Finally, the Census Bureau would receive a full $2 billion increase above FY 2018 enacted, which is $1 billion above the request, as activities ramp up towards the 2020 Decennial Census. Funds would cover activities such as technology improvements, address listing, and opening of field offices. The CJS bill now heads to the House Committee.

Agriculture and Veterans Research: Moderate Gains

Department of Agriculture R&D programs would see a mix of increases in the spending bill adopted in subcommittee Wednesday afternoon (bill summary and text). The primary research account for the intramural Agricultural Research Service would receive a 4.8 percent increase above FY 2018 levels, and appropriators reject the extensive lab closures recommended by the Administration. Research programs within the extramural National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Agricultural Statistics Service would see somewhat smaller relative increases, while the Economic Research Service would remain flat.

Lastly, the full appropriations committee unanimously approved the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill on Tuesday, including a modest 1.6 percent increase for VA medical research. The increase includes $27 million for a partnership leveraging the Department of Energy’s high-performance computing capabilities. The bill also doubles the requested funding for VA’s Center for PTSD to $40 million total. See the AAAS appropriations dashboard for additional details from the report language. The bill’s next stop is the House floor.

Authors

Matt Hourihan

Director

David Parkes

Program Associate