At COL’s annual Public Policy Forum two weeks ago, Representative Don Young (AK-At Large) emphatically proclaimed, “The president doesn’t write the budget … the United States Congress writes the budget! … It’s up to us to spend the money.” While the legislative branch is responsible for drafting and passing the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government, the president kicks off the process with his release of the president’s budget request. Last Thursday, President Trump did just that, laying out his blueprint for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 in a 53-page “skinny budget” titled, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.”
This document is much more emaciated than in previous transition years (consider that President George W. Bush’s was 175 pages his first year in office) and lays out only discretionary spending (one-third of the budget) and does not include information for all federal programs (e.g., the National Science Foundation). The take-home message from President Trump’s request is alarming – a 10 percent increase in defense funding comes at the expense of nondefense discretionary spending. The $54 billion uptick to the Department of Defense (the blueprint makes no mention of science, technology, or the Office of Naval Research) is offset by cuts to more than 18 federal agencies, with geoscience and Earth science agencies and programs taking major hits due to the administration’s desire to reduce investments in climate science. The Department of Commerce, which houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would see a 16 percent cut. Although no topline number was provided for NOAA, some program-specific information was included, confirming what was leaked to the press several weeks ago. This includes the zeroing out of over $250 million in grants and programs that support coastal and marine management, research, and education. The $73 million Sea Grant program, which addresses issues such as coastal hazards, seafood safety, and sustainable coastal development (while serving as the core of a network that includes over 300 institutions and more than 3,000 scientists, engineers, educators, and students) would be eliminated. The budget states that these “lower priority” programs primarily benefit industry and state and local stakeholders. Conversely, funding for the National Weather Service and NOAA’s satellite programs (JPSS and GOES-R) would be maintained.
The National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA) would only see a 0.8 percent decrease from the annualized CR level. However, cuts would land solely on the Earth science missions (a $102 million hit would terminate four missions aimed at understanding climate change and reducing Earth science grants) and the Office of Education (which would be eliminated). One of the proposed Earth-observing terminations, the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, would give scientists unprecedented insight into our planet’s ocean and atmosphere. It would provide information that improves our understanding of how climate is impacted by clouds and aerosol particles, and in conjunction with other missions, would deliver economic and societal benefits, including in the areas of fisheries productivity and coastal health.
Additionally, the president signed an Executive Order last week, the Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, to “reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies” to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch.” Agency heads have been given 180 days to submit plans to Mr. Mick Mulvaney (Director, Office of Management and Budget), who, after receiving public input, is instructed to propose a plan to reorganize the executive branch. Specific considerations when determining the role of the “agency, component, or program” include whether its activities would be better left to state or local governments or the private sector, if redundancies exist (both in function and administrative capabilities), if its costs are justified by the public benefits it provides, and the expense of shutting down or merging with another entity. As with the FY 2018 budget, the decision to approve such reorganization ultimately lies with Congress. To achieve reorganization (which has been attempted for decades by presidents of both parties), President Trump would need to work with both chambers, either to have them give him unilateral reorganization authority (which was denied to President Obama) or to show how these changes are in Congress’ best interest.