The House’s draft Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill resembles last year’s version, rejecting or softening many of the cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018.
On June 28, the House Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee unveiled the draft of its fiscal year 2018 spending bill. The CJS bill allocates funds for NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other agencies.
For many science agency accounts, the bill resembles the version the committee approved last year. For NASA, the bill would once again prioritize planetary science and astrophysics over earth science. For NSF, it would hold funding for research grants and education programs flat while apparently zeroing out funding for construction of new research vessels.
However, there are a few large deviations from last year’s bill, namely a much deeper overall cut to NOAA and a cut to NIST that is comparable to last year’s but distributed differently across its main programs.
Funding allocation much higher than Trump request
At the bill markup on June 29, Subcommittee Chair John Culberson (R-TX) said that the subcommittee received a $54 billion overall discretionary funding allocation, which is $2.6 billion below the fiscal year 2017 amount but $4.8 billion higher than the Trump request.
House Republicans have yet to agree on a formal budget framework for the fiscal year, but the House Appropriations Committee has tentatively set the topline for non-defense discretionary spending at $511 billion and defense discretionary spending at $621 billion. Both numbers represent a significant break from the Trump administration, which requested $462 billion and $603 billion for non-defense and defense discretionary programs, respectively.
“The [CJS] allocation is sufficient to fund priority programs while reducing funding for activities that are less essential to the operations of the federal government,” Culberson said. He also expressed a desire to restore funding to various programs, remarking, “We’re counting on a bigger overall budget deal that hopefully will give us a little more room to take care of some of these important things."
The bill only includes numbers for the largest accounts within the agencies. The numbers for all subaccounts will not be revealed until the full committee markup, which has not yet been scheduled. However, subcommittee members revealed some details during their markup.
Subcommittee Ranking Member José Serrano (D-NY) noted his opposition to the bill’s 19 percent cut to NOAA Climate Research and 11 percent cut to NASA’s Earth Science Division. The subcommittee’s bill from last year contained similar cuts for these programs, indicating that, although in line with Trump’s request, they are not necessarily motivated by it. Ultimately, these programs were held flat in the final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2017.
The bill would provide $19.87 billion for NASA overall and $5.86 billion for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), which are increases of between 1 and 2 percent above the fiscal year 2017 amounts. At the markup, Culberson noted that the bill would provide NASA the highest funding level in its history not adjusting for inflation.
“For too many years, NASA has been overloaded with too many missions and not enough funding,” Culberson said. “This bill guarantees NASA receives the funding they need to lift America’s space program above the glory days of Apollo.”
The bill does not contain figures for the divisions within SMD, but a press release accompanying the bill says it “targets funding to planetary science and astrophysics to ensure the continuation of critical research and development programs, while reducing funding for lower-priority research.”
The bill also preserves the $8 billion development cost cap for the James Webb Space Telescope and specifies $495 million for “an orbiter and a lander to meet the science goals for the Jupiter Europa mission as outlined in the most recent planetary science decadal survey.” It also directs NASA to plan for launching the orbiter no later than 2022 and the lander no later than 2024, both using the Space Launch System.
The subcommittee rejected the Trump administration’s proposal to terminate the Office of Education, although the bill would trim $10 million from its budget while maintaining level funding for the Space Grant program and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
The bill would hold funding for NSF’s Research and Related Activities account flat at $6 billion, rejecting Trump’s proposed $672 million cut. Explaining the reversal at the markup, Culberson said simply, “Funding basic science research is critical to our nation.” The bill also maintains funding for NSF’s Education and Human Resources program at $880 million.
The large cut the subcommittee specifies for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account reflects an ongoing quarrel between the House and the Senate over funding for new research vessels.
As was the case last year, the House bill only provides an amount equal to the sum requested for construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, implicitly zeroing out funding for the Regional Class Research Vessel project. In contrast, the Senate CJS bill last year provided funding for three ships, one more than NSF requested.
NIST & NOAA
The bill would spare NIST from the full cuts proposed by the Trump administration, but the subcommittee is still seeking a near 10 percent cut to the agency, as it pursued last year. The reductions are distributed differently this year, though, falling more heavily on science and manufacturing programs.
Funding for NIST’s laboratory programs would fall to $660 million, $30 million below the fiscal year 2017 level. Although the bill rejects the proposed elimination of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, it would shave $30 million from the program’s current budget of $130 million. Also, the bill would only provide $5 million to Manufacturing USA (formerly the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation), $10 million below the request and $20 million below the fiscal year 2017 level.
NOAA would be cut at a level comparable to the Trump administration’s request. The bill would fund NOAA at just under $5 billion, $710 million below the fiscal year 2017 level. A press release accompanying the bill explains, “Funding is targeted to important priorities such as the National Weather Service, fisheries management, weather research, and ocean exploration while reducing funds for lower priority activities.” The release also indicates that the bill provides full funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite programs.