October 2, 2019
On Friday, 27 September, President Trump signed into law a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government funded through 21 November 2019. The CR extends 2019 funding levels into the start of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, which began on 1 October. Although this means that science agencies will remain operational, while under a CR agencies cannot award new grants, plan new programs, or budget appropriately. Additionally, the CR can cause a disruption in some federal scientists’ ability to travel and participate in conferences. Although CR’s prevent government shutdowns, they are in effect budget cuts when inflation is taken into account.
The CR gives Congress much-needed additional time to complete the appropriations process. Every year, Congress must pass all twelve appropriations bills – bills that collectively fund all government agencies and departments. The appropriations process generally starts with the President’s annual budget request, which can inform Congress’s funding decisions, although the bills that come out of each chamber often differ substantially from the White House proposal, and from one another. The differences between the appropriations bills passed by the House and the Senate are then resolved by a conference committee, where representatives from both parties and both chambers agree to a final package of spending bills. Once that final package passes in both chambers, the bills head to the President for approval.
The House Appropriations Committee began advancing appropriations bills in early summer and the full House passed ten of the twelve appropriations bills before their August recess. However, the two-year budget agreement made between Congress and the Administration at the end of July (and signed into law by President Trump on 2 August) conflicts with the spending bills passed by the House. In order to begin working on their appropriations bills in a timely manner, the House deemed a top-line fiscal year 2020 spending level and then allocated funding for each of the appropriations bills. The budget agreement overall provides $10 billion less in funding for FY2020 than the House appropriated, so House appropriators will now have to rectify a $10 billion discrepancy. This discrepancy will necessitate cuts to the House’s proposed funding levels, which currently increases funding for all Earth and space science agencies.
After waiting for the terms of the bipartisan budget agreement to be announced, the Senate started considering and advancing its own set of spending bills throughout the latter half of September. On 12 September, the Senate allocated funding for each of the twelve spending bills based on the agreement. As of 2 October, the Senate has advanced ten appropriations bills out of committee, although none have yet received a vote on the Senate floor. While final appropriations are likely to change during conference with the House, the Senate bills that have advanced out of committee provide moderate top line increases for science agencies. With Congress now at the start of a two-week recess, any further action is not expected until both chambers reconvene on 15 October. And while the impact of the continuing resolution on science agency operation will be limited in scope, the effects are likely to be felt throughout the scientific community in the coming months.