A 65-page document passed by the House last week that consists mostly
of numbers and which will never be sent to President Bush provides a
first glimpse of possible parameters of science funding for the next
fiscal year. While devoid of much detail, and requiring some
assumptions, the "Concurrent Resolution on the Budget" outlines
a majority of the House of Representatives recommends for the fiscal
year starting on October 1 for NASA, NSF, and DOE. As it now stands,
the Department of Energy's Office of Science would see its budget
The Concurrent Resolution establishes spending targets for twenty
different categories of federal spending, and sets revenue targets.
It does not have the force of law, and is not sent to the President.
Rather, it provides the basis for how much money each of the thirteen
appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate will have in
crafting their annual spending bills. Ideally, the House and Senate
agree on a final resolution so that the subcommittees on both sides
begin from approximately the same spending base.
While it may be one of the least well-known documents that Congress
works on, the budget resolution can be very important. Behind each
of the figures in that 65-page document are the broad outlines of how
much money will be spent on programs, and how much money the
government will raise through taxes. Failure to adopt a final
resolution can lead to a breakdown in the passage of the
appropriations bills in the fall, which is what happened last year.
The title of the resolution which the House passed on March 21
reflects the times we are in: "The Fiscal Year 2004 Wartime Budget
Resolution." "America's security is threatened; it must be
protected. That is always the highest priority of any national
government; and it is the highest priority of this budget," states
the resolution's summary. The resolution seeks to end deficit
spending, and provides a broad outline of how to do so. A key part
of the strategy is the reduction of 1% in total discretionary
spending (which includes all S&T funding) from last year's level.
How this 1% reduction is to be applied is uneven, with some
categories of spending seeing increases (such as that for national
defense which would increase by an overall 2%) and other categories
decreasing. As might be imagined, this is a very politically
One of the twenty categories or "functions" of spending is
250: General Science, Space, and Technology." One total number
2004 is given for NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the DOE
Office of Science. For the current year, these three agencies (with
perhaps minor funding for other programs) have $23.1 billion. The
resolution recommends that next year this figure decline by $300
million to $22.8 billion.
Breaking this recommendation down requires a few calculations and a
The resolution clearly states that $14.5 billion be provided to NASA,
which when combined with another function of spending yields an
increase of 3.1%.
The resolution also clearly states that NSF should receive $5.5
billion, a 3.8% increase over this year.
The total of these two budget recommendations is $20 billion.
Of the $22.8 billion, that leaves $2.8 billion for the Office of
Science and any other science programs in FY 2004. The current Office
of Science budget is $3.3 billion. The difference between this year's
budget and the resolution's recommendation is -$500 million, or -15.2%.
This calculation assumes that funding for any other science programs
outside of these three agencies be ignored.
A few caveats: the Senate has not completed its budget resolution,
its numbers are likely to be different. The Senate's division of
political power is very narrow, and so their resolution is likely to
more broadly-based. However, the Senate now has a cost projection for
the Iraqi war before it, and so senators will be looking at the budget
and their resolution from a different perspective. When the Senate
completes its resolution, it will have to conference with the House
reach a final budget compromise.
It remains to be seen, as well, what effect one party control of the
White House, Senate, and House of Representatives has on the final
resolution, and much more importantly, the appropriations bills this
fall. Will the leadership use this political alignment to force down
spending, or will it find itself approving appropriations bills that
will increase overall spending? That is a question that will not be
answered for many months.