This Week in Appropriations: House Gets Rolling, Rejects Some White House Cuts, Embraces Others
The House Appropriations Committee took advantage of a hoped-for increase in FY 2018 defense spending by bumping up DOD R&D above the Pentagon’s request. Under the House Defense bill adopted Thursday by the full committee, DOD research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funding would increase by over $10 billion or 14.3 percent above FY 2017 levels, and $1.2 billion above what was already a rather robust request. This only partially translated to an increase for early-stage science and technology, however, with some programs increased and others reduced (see tables at right and linked above).
One of the big winners was Navy basic research; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was also granted a large increase of 6.3 percent in the House bill, not quite as much as requested but still $181 million above FY 2017 levels. House appropriators also added over $600 million more for medical research in cancer and other areas, a much smaller amount than that provided in the FY 2017 omnibus; total medical research funding would thus drop by 38.1 percent in FY 2018. Elsewhere, appropriators gave DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office a smaller increase than requested, though the office would still see a billion-dollar budget in FY 2018. Appropriators also cut funding below FY 2017 levels for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), an Obama-era effort to build bridges with technology innovators in Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin. Appropriators also adopted the Pentagon-proposed cuts for DOD's manufacturing innovation institutes, while adding in $250 million for the Rapid Innovation Program.
Appropriators also took the step of creating a “National Defense Restoration Fund” that provides an additional $2 billion in flexible dollars for DOD RDT&E programs, to be used at the discretion of the Secretary of Defense with Congressional oversight. Adding up to an extra $2 billion in total, it’s conceivable some portion of this funding might trickle down to research programs should it be enacted, though these programs have not been the first priority of late.
The bill introduced and approved by the House Energy & Water subcommittee this week plots a somewhat different course than the Administration’s tough budget request for DOE. Appropriators refuted the deepest reductions sought by the White House, but still cut most technology programs at least somewhat below FY 2017 omnibus levels. The bill was adopted by voice vote in subcommittee Wednesday, and will go next to the full committee.
The most striking development in the House bill is the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a relatively young innovation agency focused on high-risk, pre-commercial technology. The elimination accords with the White House request, and runs in contrast with recent appropriations decisions. Beyond ARPA-E, both the fossil and nuclear energy offices would see reductions of around five percent, while DOE’s office for efficiency and renewable energy technology would be cut by 47 percent – all three reductions far smaller than the Administration had requested.
Many in the science community will breathe a sigh of relief as DOE’s basic research arm, the Office of Science, escaped a White House-proposed 17.1 percent cut, as appropriators opted for flat funding from FY 2017 levels. The bill also provides large increases for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Further detail on all programs will become available when report language is released.
The cuts were necessitated by a $209 million reduction in total spending within the bill below FY 2017 enacted levels, coupled with the billion-dollar NNSA increase. With the House of Representatives mulling a $5 billion reduction in nondefense spending in FY 2018, it puts the squeeze on many science and technology programs in House legislation. If Congress does come up with a deal to raise the spending caps later, that could ease the way for more technology program funding. The House bill’s numbers may also have a hard time finding support in the Senate, where some influential Republicans are open advocates for DOE’s science and technology programs.
Yesterday the House Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) spending bill, which covers NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce, on a voice vote. House appropriators altogether rejected the Administration’s proposed cuts to NSF basic science and to some extent NIST laboratory research and manufacturing programs, while providing targeted increases above the President’s request for NASA activities.
Within NSF, the House CJS Subcommittee provided flat funding for the agency’s main Research & Related Activities (R&RA) account, sidelining the Administration’s proposed $672 million cut. However, this would mark the second year in a row of flat funding for R&RA; the FY 2017 omnibus was less generous to NSF compared to other nondefense science agencies. Offsetting the R&RA investment is a large cut to NSF’s research facilities and construction account, which would drop by $131 million or 62.8 percent below last year’s enacted levels. The FY 2017 omnibus had provided a plus-up – against the recommendations of House appropriators – for NSF to begin construction of three research vessels as directed by their Senate counterparts. The agency’s education directorate, which funds STEM education research activities and fellowships, would be flat-funded under the House CJS bill.
The NASA budget would total $19.9 billion, a full $780 million above the President’s request and $219 million above FY 2017 levels, building on several years of strong funding growth due in no small part to House appropriators. The House spending bill contains a $94 million or 1.6 percent increase 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. Within Exploration, the bill provides $495 million for the Jupiter Europa mission, which would fund both an orbiter and a lander, whereas the President proposed $425 million for the Europa orbiter mission and not a lander. Both SLS and Orion would be flat-funded, as opposed to the cuts recommended by the Administration. Aeronautics and Space Technology also received flat funding from the House subcommittee. NASA’s Education office, which was slated for elimination in the FY 2018 request, would see a 10 percent cut under the House bill.
Within the Department of Commerce, NIST’s core research laboratories would be subject to a $30 million or 4.3 percent cut below FY 2017, much less severe than the 13 percent reduction called for by the Trump Administration. NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) would escape elimination prescribed by the President, and instead would receive $100 million in the House bill; last year’s MEP funding totaled $130 million. However, House appropriators recommend that Manufacturing USA receive a total of only $5 million, which is $10 million below the request and $20 million below FY 2017 enacted. 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 2018. Additional details on NOAA research will be reported after the committee releases its accompanying CJS bill report.
For the Census Bureau, the House subcommittee matched the President’s requested 4.3 percent increase for periodic censuses and programs, which funds the Decennial Census. The total Census Bureau budget would increase by $37 million or 2.5 percent above FY 2017 enacted as activities ramp up for the 2020 decennial census.
The CJS bill’s next stop is the House Committee, while the Senate has not released its own version.
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2018 spending bill by voice vote. House appropriators rejected the bulk of President Trump’s proposed cuts to USDA research, though total USDA R&D spending would still fall somewhat below last year’s omnibus levels. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) – USDA’s principal in-house research agency – would see a decrease of $77 million or 6 percent below FY 2017 enacted, whereas the Administration had slated a large 29.6 percent cut. During markup, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) expressed opposition to the President’s request to close 17 ARS laboratories across the country.
Funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – USDA's extramural science agency – would amount to $1.3 billion, a 1.6 percent decrease below FY 2017 enacted, as opposed to the Administration’s proposed 8.1 percent cut. The Economic Research Service (ERS) would be subject to a $10 million or 11.5 percent reduction in accordance with the Administration’s request. Meanwhile, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) would receive an overall $13 million or 7.3 percent discretionary funding boost as NASS activities ramp up for the 2020 census. At the time of this writing, the subcommittee has not released the full Agriculture bill report, which will provide additional funding details for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) as well as USDA formula fund programs for colleges and universities. The Agriculture appropriations bill now heads to the House Committee for consideration.
Quote of the Week
“It’s almost like we’re serving in the minority right now. We just simply don’t know how to govern.” – Rep. Steve Womack (R-AK), a House Budget Committee member, commenting on House Republicans’ struggle to pass a budget resolution