FY 2016 Appropriations Bill Released, Science to Receive Funding Increases

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Publication date: 
16 December 2015

Congressional negotiators released the FY 2016 annual spending bill, which would boost year-over-year funding to the science agencies and offices, ranging from a 1.6 percent increase for the National Science Foundation to an 11.6 percent increase for the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Last night, Congressional leaders and appropriators filed and released the text of the FY 2016 year-end spending bill, which contains $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending authority and designates funding levels for the nation’s major science agencies and programs through the end of September 2016. The bipartisan legislation and the accompanying joint explanatory statement contain line-by-line guidance and funding levels for science agencies, offices, and programs.

Agency or Subunit FY14 Actual FY15 Enacted FY16 Request FY16 Enacted Change FY15-16
NSF 7,131.4 7,344.2 7,723.6 7,463.5 1.6%
NASA 17,646.5 18,010.2 18,529.1 19,285.0 7.1%
NOAA 5,322.5 5,448.9 5,982.6 5,765.6 5.8%
NIST 850.0 863.9 1,119.7 964.0 11.6%
DOE Office of Science 5,070.2 5,071.0 5,339.8 5,350.2 5.5%
DOD S&T 12,008.6 12,252.0 12,266.3 13,250.7 8.2%

*Figures are in millions of U.S. dollars

The FYI chart above highlights the trends among a number of major science agencies and offices funded in the legislation, ranging from a modest 1.6 percent funding increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to a giant 11.6 percent jump for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). FYI will provide more detailed, agency-by-agency coverage of the FY 2016 spending bill in the upcoming days. In addition, funding levels and details are available in the explanatory statements for NSF, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NIST here; for the Department of Energy (DOE) here; and for the Department of Defense (DOD) here.

As expected, the agreement increases overall federal discretionary spending levels for FY 2016 by 5.2 percent above the FY 2015 level. As FYI reported, this year-over-year boost was agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 signed into law last month. By comparison, most of the major science agencies and offices are slated to receive increases greater than the 5.2 percent overall discretionary spending increase (with NSF as the notable exception).

At first glance, the bill does not appear to contain any of the most controversial policy riders that were of deep concern to the scientific community this year. One such House proposal that, as FYI reported in May, would have significantly reduced funding for the Geosciences and the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) research directorates at the NSF was excluded from the legislation, although SBE funding is still capped at the FY 2015 level. House-led policy riders that would have limited agency participation in climate change science and related climate activities were also not included.

While provisions promoting open access to taxpayer-funded scientific results have been included in spending bills in recent years, it does not appear this year’s bill includes any language related to the open access to scientific publications or data. The bill does, however, prohibit departments and agencies from spending funds on travel to conferences and related activities if that travel does not comply with a 2012 White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo on the subject, or any subsequent revision to that memo. Advocates pushing for a removal of the travel restrictions on federal employees believe the language could provide an opening for the White House to issue a revised OMB memo that would loosen travel restrictions at some point in the future.

The FY 2016 spending legislation is the culmination of the annual budget process that began in public view with the President’s budget request in February and continued throughout the year with an extensive congressional budget process, including hearings, votes, and closely held negotiations between the President and congressional leaders in the House and Senate. As FYI reported, before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, Congress passed and the President signed a continuing resolution that funded the federal government at flat levels through Dec. 11 in order to provide more time for spending negotiations that were underway. When Congress reached the Dec. 11 deadline without a resolution to negotiations, it passed another short-term stop gap funding resolution through Dec. 16, and last night it passed another resolution that will keep the federal government’s doors open through Dec. 22.

The House is expected to vote on the annual FY 2016 spending package this Friday, and a Senate vote will likely follow shortly behind. Congressional leaders anticipate that the President will be able to sign the package into law by Dec. 22.