Senate Appropriators Find Science Funding Appropriate

2017-07-31T14:47:39+00:00 July 31, 2017|
Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) (Credit: NASA)

(Click to enlarge) Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) (Credit: NASA)

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations passed the $53.4 billion Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018 (S. 1662) in a 30-1 vote.

“The committee has made difficult but responsible decisions to produce a bill that strikes a financial balance between the competing priorities of law enforcement, national security, scientific advancement, and economic development,” declared Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (AL). In the Senate bill, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would be funded at $7.31 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.59 billion, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at $19.5 billion, representing cuts from FY 2017 of 2.2 percent, 1.5 percent, and 0.6 percent, respectively. The total reductions in the bill amount to $3.2 billion below the FY 2017 enacted level, but overall funding remains $4.4 billion above the president’s budget request.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (NH) expressed her mixed feelings on the bill as well as the lack of a budget deal to guide the appropriations process. She stated she is “pleased that this legislation rejects most of the egregious cuts and program eliminations proposed in President Trump’s budget” yet feels it “should do more to invest in infrastructure, science, and law enforcement, which is why Congress must approve a new budget deal that provides the necessary resources for both military and domestic programs.” Ranking Member Shaheen offered a $6.51 billion amendment that would have increased defense spending $54 billion above post-sequester spending caps – and nondefense spending an equal amount – providing more money for public safety, job-creating infrastructure and economic development, and the 2020 census. The amendment, which was rejected along party lines, would have increased investment in research and education, specifically providing support for an additional 13,000 scientists, research technicians, teachers, and students.

The $7.31 billion to NSF would be on par with the House bill, which would fund the agency at $7.34 billion. Funding for basic research would support development of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction program would see a funding decrease of 12.5 percent compared to FY 2017, a level equal to the president’s request. However, the committee provided for the design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels rather than two, as proposed by NSF.

The Senate’s version of the bill is much friendlier to NOAA than the House’s; their $5.59 billion proposal is more than 12 percent higher than the House’s $4.96 billion bill. Within NOAA, funding would be provided in full for weather satellites and would target new areas of investment for fisheries management, including novel monitoring technologies and support for state-led management efforts. The Senate bill proposes increases from FY 2017 for operations, research, and facilities for several line offices, including the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (3.9 percent); Mission Support (3.8 percent); National Ocean Service (3.1 percent); National Marine Fisheries Service (1.8 percent); Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (0.9 percent); and National Weather Service (0.8 percent). Additionally, it includes a three percent increase for Sea Grant (which the president would have eliminated altogether), and a five percent boost to ocean acidification research. Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would see equal funding to FY 2017, as would climate research funding ($158 million).  Not all line offices would see flat or increased funding – NOAA’s Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction would see a 5.8 percent decrease from FY 2017, and Ocean Exploration and Weather and Air Chemistry research would be cut entirely.

While the House bill has the highest proposed budget for NASA in its history ($19.9 billion), the Senate isn’t far behind at $19.5 billion. Both chambers prioritize space exploration. The Senate bill would keep Earth Science funding at $1.92 million (equal to FY 2017), whereas the House would drop that to $1.704 million, an 11 percent decrease from FY 2017 and a number even lower than the president’s $1.754 million request. Senate prioritizations include satellite funding for the Plankton, Aerosol, and Cloud ocean ecosystem (PACE) mission to maintain a 2022 launch date, funding for Landsat 9 to maintain a 2020 launch profile, and NASA instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

Now that both the House and Senate have passed CJS appropriations bills, the next step will be for conferees to come to consensus on a single version of the bill. With October 1 marking the beginning of FY 2018, time is running low.