Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed their version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, which includes funding proposals for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). During the full committee markup of the bill, which covers a vast array of other agencies and largely prioritizes law enforcement issues like terrorism, cybersecurity, espionage, the opioid epidemic, and border security, both subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (TX-7) and Ranking Member José Serrano (NY-15) expressed their appreciation for each other’s collaboration and friendship during the drafting of the bill, despite their dissimilar policy stances.
The bill funds NSF at $7.3 billion, down 1.8 percent from the FY 2017 enacted level but $6.4 million above the president’s request. Research and Related Activities would receive $6.03 billion, which is equal to FY 2017 and $672 million above the president’s request, while Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would see a 63 percent cut related to FY 2017 down to $77.8 million. This only equals the request for two telescopes and is far from the funding needed for regional class research vessels. During the markup, Chairman Culberson noted the insufficiency of funding for the vessels and said he expects to restore funding while in conference with the Senate. Report language directs the agency to “allocate no less than fiscal year 2017 levels to support its existing research laboratories, observational networks, and other research infrastructure assets, including … the current academic research fleet including global class vessels with unique seismic capabilities.” Additionally, report language added in the manager’s amendment addresses ocean exploration and encourages the agency to expand support for remotely-operated vehicle operations.
NOAA would see only $4.96 billion – a drastic 12.5 percent cut from the last fiscal year. Funding for NOAA prioritizes weather forecasting, ocean exploration, weather research, and fisheries management. However, operations, research, and facilities for the National Ocean Service, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the National Weather Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service would all see decreases from FY 2017 of 10.6 percent, 6.1 percent, 0.7 percent, and 0.4 percent, respectively. Democrats were concerned about large cuts to climate science research and a lack of coastal research, citing sea level rise, ocean acidification, and harmful algal blooms as major issues for their constituents. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-17) proposed an amendment to restore $30 million for climate research at NOAA, but it failed on a recorded vote. Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-6) expressed his concerns over cuts to NOAA and “what this means to some of the coastal communities as they work to address the impacts of climate change.” The bill rejected the president’s proposal to eliminate the popular Sea Grant Program, instead opting to fund it at the FY 2017 level.
While the legislation covers a broad range of subject matter, Chairman Culberson was most proud of their efforts to “return NASA to the glory days of Apollo.” Committee Republicans felt that the bill’s priorities towards space exploration and weather adequately cover America’s needs for national security and innovation. While Democrats did not oppose the increases to exploration, there were concerns over cuts to climate research. The bill represents the highest proposed NASA budget in history at $19.9 billion, but the Earth Science Division would only receive $1.7 billion, down 11.3 percent from the FY 2017 enacted level. The Science Mission Directorate would see a 1.6 percent increase above FY 2017 enacted levels, reaching $5.9 billion.
Dramatic cuts, such as the one to NOAA, hamper agencies’ abilities to complete their missions. While decreases, in most cases, are not as extreme as the president requested, the impacts of such cuts, if enacted, would be felt throughout the nation. It remains to be seen how this bill will line up with the Senate version, as the upper chamber has not yet released their CJS bill.
View funding tables here.