May 5, 2016
Well, it’s official – the appropriations season in Congress has begun. That’s not to say that Congress hasn’t been contemplating where to spend – and not spend – money all year, but we now have actual legislation that tells us what Congress’ funding priorities are – and more specifically, what their science funding priorities are.
On 14 April, the Senate Appropriations Committee finished work on the Energy and Water spending bill, which includes funding for the Department of Energy (DOE), including the Office of Science. Shortly after, the companion House Subcommittee followed suit and passed its own version.
The following week, on 21 April, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) spending bill – the bill that funds NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), among other agencies. The House has yet to act on the CJS bill.
Of course, none of this means that these bills are law yet – there’s a long way to go before that. For example, the full Senate attempted to vote on the Energy and Water spending bill, but were stymied when Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to add an amendment that many Senators objected to. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives’ failure to pass an overarching budget for this year invokes a rule in which the House must wait until 15 May to bring any spending bills to the floor.
On the flip side, both chambers have vowed to pass all 12 appropriations bills by July 15, in time for Representatives and Senators to attend the national conventions. So it looks like it’s going to be a very busy spring and early summer!
There’s a lot to cover, so we are going to break the information up into two posts. Up today is DOE Office of Science and NASA. Next week will will cover NOAA and NSF. Here is what we’ve learned so far about Congress’ science funding priorities:
- DOE Office of Science:
- Although the House funded DOE at almost $1 billion less than then the Senate, both committees gave the Office of Science about a 1% increase over last year’s funding level.
- NASA, the Bad News:
- NASA received a mere $21 million increase above last year’s funding levels or a .11% increase.
- The NASA Science Mission Directorate overall saw a 3% decrease.
- Planetary science saw an almost 17% decrease.
- NASA, the Good News:
- Within NASA SMD, Earth science saw a 3% increase. (While we don’t know for sure, we suspect that the Senate Committee’s action to bolster Earth science at the expense of planetary science may be an attempt to counter the House Committee’s committee well-known enthusiasm for NASA’s planetary science mission.)
- Heliophysics, which did not see big funding increases in last year’s omnibus received a more than 4% increase. Last year’s release of the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan, as well as recent legislation in the Senate led to a noticeable prioritization of solar research in this year’s appropriations. In explaining their decisions, the Committee referenced the importance of the decadal surveys and several key missions keeping to timelines outlined in the 2016 omnibus bill.
Check back next week for analysis on current NOAA and NSF appropriations. Until then, you can ask your legislators to fund science during the appropriations process here.