Following last week’s budget deal that all but guarantees huge government spending increases over the next two years, the Trump administration made last-minute changes to its budget request for fiscal year 2019 that spare the Department of Energy Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health from proposed cuts. But other science agencies and programs are again slated for double-digit cuts or elimination.
On Feb. 9, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan budget agreement that raises discretionary spending caps and paves the way for huge federal spending increases over the next two years. Three days later, on Feb. 11, his administration submitted its fiscal year 2019 budget request to Congress.
Because the administration prepared the request before the budget agreement was reached, the White House hastily assembled an addendum that proposes how to allocate the expected increases. The administration was poised to propose even deeper cuts than last year’s for several science agencies, but the addendum added back funds to many programs, including the Department of Energy Office of Science, NASA, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health. For example, the main budget document indicates that the proposed cut for NSF would have been 29 percent, far steeper than the 11 percent cut sought last year.
With the addendum, the proposed budget would maintain funding for NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and NIH near current levels. However, the administration chose not to reverse proposed cuts to other science programs, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Geological Survey, and DOE’s applied energy offices, all slated to receive cuts of 20 percent or greater. These proposals echo the president’s austere fiscal year 2018 budget request for science agencies.
Bipartisan budget deal authorizes two-year federal spending spree
As the White House was putting final touches on the fiscal year 2019 budget request, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders were closing in on their two-year budget agreement. The enacted agreement permits discretionary spending to increase by $385 billion above the previously established caps over the next two years, through a combination of $165 billion in new defense spending, $131 billion in new nondefense spending, and another $89 billion in one-time spending on disaster relief.
The agreement also extends government spending at fiscal year 2017 levels through March 22, giving appropriators another six weeks to prepare legislation that will allocate funding within the new spending caps, which permit a 14 percent spending increase for defense programs and a 12 percent increase for nondefense programs.
Historically, spending increases of this scale have translated into significant funding boosts for federal science agencies and programs. National scientific and university organizations advocated for raising the caps and wrote to Congress urging that it prioritize science funding when allocating increases among the appropriations subcommittees. Several AIP Member Societies are among the signatories of these letters.
Under the terms of the deal, a portion of the increases will go toward certain priorities, including rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, addressing the opioid epidemic, and supporting research at the National Institutes of Health. The administration also offered its own guidance to Congress on how to prioritize fiscal year 2018 funding under the raised caps. In a document obtained by CQ Roll Call, the administration proposes topline spending levels for the DOE Office of Science, NSF, and NIH at their current fiscal year 2017 levels, echoing proposals in the fiscal year 2019 addendum. It also seeks $551 million of one-time funding to revitalize several DOE Office of Science facilities, $261 million to reconstruct two NIST laboratories, and $300 million for new NASA priorities.
The budget deal also raises the nation’s debt ceiling through March 2019, and includes multiple tax credit extensions, including for nuclear power plants, electric and fuel cell vehicle purchases, as well as a new tax credit for carbon capture and sequestration.
Administration objects to new nondefense spending, will proceed with agency reform
The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget addendum might have provided larger increases to the science agencies, but the administration decided against incorporating much of the agreement’s nondefense spending boost. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney explained,
The administration does not believe these non-defense spending levels comport with its vision for the proper role and size of the federal government.
In addition, the budget request includes a fact sheet on the administration’s agency reform and workforce reduction plans, which were expected to be released with the budget. It indicates the administration will release the “President’s Management Agenda,” which will include workforce reform priorities, in March. Other complementary reorganization proposals are also expected to be released later this year “to refocus programs around current and future needs.” For example, the administration says it is undertaking a review aimed at “increasing efficiencies across the Department of Energy’s existing laboratory network.” The administration is also proposing to freeze all federal pay for the next year and pare back a slew of existing federal benefits, while creating a new interagency workforce fund that replaces across-the-board pay increases with “targeted pay incentives to reward and retain high performers and those with the most essential skills.”
The extent to which Congress will rely on the administration’s budget and management reform priorities as it drafts fiscal year 2019 appropriations is an open question. Congress’ decision to set overall spending levels higher than the president’s preferences indicates that it is already taking a different path. Congress has also already demonstrated in the last year that it has the will to chart its own directions on spending, having mostly rejected the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2017 and 2018 budget requests.
Agency-by-agency highlights for FY19 request
FYI will provide details on the fiscal year 2019 budget request in a forthcoming series of bulletins, as full documentation becomes available. Several agencies, including DOE, NSF, and NIH, have yet to release their full requests likely because they require considerable revisions to reflect the increases provided in the addendum.
A few first-glance highlights from the funding proposals are below. Percentage changes are expressed relative to fiscal year 2017 enacted levels since final amounts for fiscal year 2018 are not yet set.
DOE Office of Science — Flat (22% decrease before addendum)
- Ramps up resources for the effort to achieve exascale computing by 2021, and provides a 39 percent funding increase for Advanced Scientific Computing Research;
- Emphasizes the importance of strengthening U.S. capabilities in quantum information science, providing $105 million for quantum computing-related efforts;
- Cuts funding for Biological and Environmental Research by 18 percent, Fusion Energy Sciences by 11 percent, High Energy Physics by 7 percent, Nuclear Physics by 4 percent, and Basic Energy Sciences by 1 percent;
NASA — 2.3% increase (1.7% increase before addendum)
- Cancels the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, the top-recommended project of the 2010 astrophysics decadal survey, and decreases funding for the Astrophysics Division by 10 percent;
- Cancels the same five Earth Science missions proposed for cancellation last year, and decreases funding for the Earth Science Division by 7 percent;
- Directs increased science funding toward exploration-related goals, and increases funding for the Planetary Science Division by 22 percent;
- Again eliminates the Office of Education;
NSF — Flat (29% decrease before addendum)
- Provides a 2 percent funding increase for the foundation’s six research directorates, which “will allow NSF to invest in priority areas like advancing NSF’s big ideas”;
- Accelerates focused, cross-disciplinary efforts around two NSF big ideas: "Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier," and "Harnessing the Data Revolution";
- Cuts in half the foundation’s facilities construction account, a move attributed to decreased support for in-progress acquisition of several research vessels;
Department of Defense S&T — 2% decrease
- Increases overall funding for DOD Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) by over $20 billion or 27 percent, emphasizing late-stage development, testing, and evaluation;
- Decreases the earlier-stage S&T accounts (6.1 Basic Research, 6.2 Applied Research, and 6.3 Advanced Technology Development) by about 2 percent;
NOAA — 20% decrease
- Eliminates multiple research, education, and research-to-operations programs, including the Office of Education, Sea Grant program, Joint Technology Transfer Initiative, aviation science research-to-operations; and all competitively awarded climate research;
- Eliminates hundreds of forecasting staff positions at the National Weather Service;
- Consolidates the new Polar Follow On weather satellite program into the long-standing Joint Polar Satellite System, and cuts their combined budget by $238 million or 21 percent;
NIST — 34% decrease
- Eliminates 325 laboratory program staff positions, including 200 science and engineering positions;
- Stops funding for the renovation of the Radiation Physics Building for one year;
National Nuclear Security Administration — 17% increase
- Focuses on implementing the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review;
- Includes a 9 percent increase for salaries to support the recruitment, training, and retention of “a highly skilled workforce essential to achieving success in technically complex 21st Century national security missions”;
- Again zeroes out funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy;
- Cuts funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 67 percent, the Office of Nuclear Energy by 26 percent, and the Office of Fossil Energy by 25 percent;
NIH — Flat (28% decrease before addendum)
- Caps the percentage of grant recipients’ salaries that can be paid for with grant funds, and reduces the limit for salaries that can be paid for with grant funds;
- Acknowledges the new congressional prohibition on any reforms of NIH’s indirect cost rate methodology or processes;
USGS — 21% decrease
- Continues support needed for the development of the ground systems for the Landsat 9 land imaging satellite, in preparation for fiscal year 2021 launch;
- Again restructures the Climate and Land Use Change mission area into a Land Resources mission area, and eliminates five of the agency’s eight regional Climate Science Centers;
EPA S&T — 36% decrease
- Eliminates the Climate Change Research and Partnership Programs, and Environmental Education;
- Terminates EPA research supporting the U.S. Global Change Research Program; and
- Again eliminates three programs that states and districts can use to support STEM education: Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, Student Support & Academic Enrichment Grants, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.