FY19 House Spending Bills Boost DOE, NSF, and NASA Science, Cut NIST and NOAA

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Publication date: 
10 May 2018

Draft spending bills advanced this week in the House offer initial indications of the outlook for federal science funding in fiscal year 2019. The picture emerging is largely positive, with House appropriators seeking substantial increases for several science agencies.

With draft spending bills released this week, House appropriators indicated they intend to seek substantial funding boosts for a number of science programs at the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and NASA in fiscal year 2019.

Although the legislation specifies budget cuts for some science agencies and offices, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they are much smaller than those the House proposed in the last budget cycle, when spending caps initially were much more constrained. They also come on the heels of the large budget increases provided in final fiscal year 2018 appropriations, which included one-time facilities investments for NIST and NOAA. 

The chart below depicts the fiscal year 2019 proposals for major science agencies and offices that have emerged so far. Amounts proposed for most programs within these accounts will not be public until the House Appropriations Committee releases the bills’ accompanying explanatory reports, which will include detailed funding and policy direction. The Senate has yet to release any of its spending bills. These figures will be added to FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker as they become available.

Appropriators reject deep cuts to later-stage R&D

At a May 7 meeting, the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee advanced its draft bill to the full committee. The bill would provide a 5 percent overall funding increase for the DOE Office of Science, the largest federal funder of basic physical science research in the U.S., bringing its budget to $6.6 billion.

It also sharply diverges from the Trump administration’s request to dramatically rollback DOE’s applied energy R&D programs and eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. Explaining why the bill largely rejects these proposals, Subcommittee Chair Mike Simpson (R-ID) remarked,

Like the president, we wanted to ensure the best use of each and every tax dollar. This committee, however, has long supported developing the nation’s scientific capabilities in the medium and late-stage R&D as well. This comprehensive approach is more likely to result in the realization of technological advances needed to enable full use of our nation’s abundant energy resources.

The bill does however align with the administration’s vision for the National Nuclear Security Administration, continuing to ramp up support for nuclear weapons modernization and including funding for a new low-yield warhead proposed in President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) said she appreciates how the subcommittee is rejecting the administration’s “ill-considered, draconian cuts,” but also outlined her opposition to aspects of the bill. Beyond its inclusion of some controversial policy provisions, she highlighted how the bill cuts funding for some of Democrats’ “highest priorities,” including ARPA–E, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and nuclear nonproliferation activities.

She also said she “continue[s] to be troubled by the unsustainable spending in DOE’s weapons program” and argued the subcommittee has not had sufficient time to review the low-yield warhead proposal, which the administration formally made in an April amendment to the budget request. “I remain unconvinced that this capability will improve our nuclear deterrent,” she remarked.

Reacting to Kaptur’s complaint about ARPA–E funding, Simpson noted that the amount provided is far higher than requested. Last year the subcommittee accepted the proposed elimination of ARPA–E, but the Senate successfully pushed for a 15 percent budget increase.

Both sides praise NASA and NSF boosts, Dems criticize climate cuts


House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Markup

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), center, chairing a meeting of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee held on May 9.

(Image credit – House Appropriations Committee)

The House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee also advanced its draft bill this week, which funds NASA, NSF, NOAA, and NIST, alongside other agencies.

Among the science agencies, the bill is most favorable to NASA, increasing the budget of its Science Mission Directorate by 7 percent to $6.7 billion. The funding breakout for its four science divisions is not yet public, but a press release accompanying the bill indicates that some of the increase is targeted to planetary science and that it “fully funds” the requested amounts for robotic exploration of the moon.

The bill also would direct $740 million towards development of an orbiter and a lander for Jupiter’s moon Europa, a nearly 25 percent increase over the amount enacted last year. The Europa missions are championed by Subcommittee Chair John Culberson (R-TX), a vocal advocate for NASA and its planetary science program, who for several years has ensured appropriations legislation includes specific funding and target launch dates for the missions. This year the bill specifies separate amounts for the orbiter and lander: $545 million and $195 million, respectively.

At the May 9 meeting held to advance the bill, Culberson said the Europa missions are“vitally important.” Pulling a journal article out of his suit pocket, he remarked,

It’s worth noting that the scientific journal Nature Astronomy just reported that the Galileo mission back in 1997 flew through a water plume on Europa a thousand kilometers thick, so the ocean of Europa is venting directly into outer space. The science community has wanted to go there for years, Mr. Chairman, and this bill makes that happen.

Handing the article to Appropriations Committee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), he joked, “Just in case you hadn’t seen it.”

The bill also would maintain the current development cost cap of $8 billion for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently undergoing an independent assessment that will determine if the cap will need to be raised.

For NSF, the bill would raise its main research account by 5 percent to $6.7 billion, increase its large facilities construction account by 47 percent to $268 million, and maintain its education account at $902 million.

Subcommittee Ranking Member José Serrano (D-NY) applauded the increases for NASA and NSF, saying they “will help ensure our nation remains a leader in scientific discovery and development.” However, Serrano objected to aspects of the bill, such as how it would cut funding for NOAA’s climate programs. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) later added,

This [bill] proposes to cut climate work at NOAA by nearly 40 percent. NOAA’s climate research work has been instrumental in preparing our nation for extreme weather events. Every year it seems storms grow in number and magnitude. Without a solid investigation and understanding of what extreme weather events exists, we’re not going to be able to mitigate their destruction in a sensible way.

He then said that the bill would eliminate NOAA’s climate competitive research program and cut funding for NIST’s climate data coordination work.

It is not yet clear where all the NOAA cuts would fall, but a press release says that the funding is “targeted to important priorities such as the National Weather Service, the reduction of harmful algal blooms, fisheries management, weather research, and ocean exploration while reducing funds for lower-priority programs and one-time investments made in fiscal year 2018.” The press release also says the bill includes “full funding” for the Joint Polar Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite programs, which are developing NOAA next-generation weather satellites.

The bill’s topline amount for NIST represents an 18 percent cut, although the drop is largely due to Congress having boosted the agency’s facilities construction account last budget cycle to accelerate renovation of major facilities in Maryland and Colorado. The bill would fund NIST’s main research account at $720 million, 1 percent below the current level.

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