November 19, 2020

Science stalls in Senate spending bills: Part 1

Posted by Stephen Albright

While Congress is still at odds over COVID-19 pandemic relief, we are nearly two months past the end of the fiscal year without a new budget. The House passed its spending bills in July, the Senate delivered their FY21 spending in mid-November. Over the next two posts, we will detail the spending and programmatic highlights for federal Earth and space science agencies, including highlights from the reports and comparing funding across the House, Senate, and previous year’s budget. Today’s post covers the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Forest Service. You can read our breakdown of the House companion spending bills here.


National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)  

(In millions of dollars, rounded to the nearest million) 

  FY20  FY21 PBR  FY21 AGU Request  FY21 House  % Change from FY20  FY21 Senate  $ Change from FY20  % Change from FY20 
NIEHS  $ 802.60  $730.15  $860.30  $809.50  0.86%  $828.73  $26.13  3.26% 
w/ SRP  $ 883.60  $803.84  $944.30  $892.50  1.01%  $910.23  $26.63  3.01% 


Highlights from Bill and Committee Report 


  • NIEHS receives $81.5 million, an increase of $500,000 above the FY2020 funding level, to help institute meet the demands of the Superfund Research Program (SRP) and to support research on PFAS and other contaminants of emerging concern. 


Department of Energy (DOE) 

(In millions of dollars, rounded to the nearest million) 

  FY20  FY21 PBR  FY21 AGU Request  FY21 House  % Change from FY20  FY21 Senate  $ Change from FY20  %Change from FY20 
Office of Science  $7,000.00  $5,837.81  $7,400.00  $7,050.00  0.71%  $7,026.00  $3,452.81  .37% 
ARPA-E  $425.00  $0.00  $497.00  $435  2.35%  $430.00  $5.00  1.18% 



Highlights from Bill and Committee Report: 


DOE Office of Science: 

  • The committee encourages the office to expand its relationship with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and continue to leverage the departments scientific user facilities and research capabilities. 
  • Mirroring Administration priorities the bill contains robust funding for quantum information science and artificial intelligence. 
  • The bill provides over a billion for advanced scientific computing research, including supercomputers. 
  • Recognizing the importance of snowmelt for Western states, the Committee encourages DOE “to develop an integrated mountainous hydrology focus.”


  • Once again, Congress rejects the Administration’s proposal to terminate ARPA-E and provides an increase in funding for the program. 


United States Geological Survey (USGS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Forest Service (USFS) 

(In millions of dollars, rounded to the nearest million) 

  FY20  FY21 PBR  FY21 AGU Request  FY21 House  % Change from FY20  FY21 Senate  $ Change from FY20  %Change from FY20 
USGS  $1,270.96  $971.19  $1,350.00  $1,292.99  1.73%  $1,265.91  -$5.05  -0.40% 
EPA  $9,057.40  $6,700.00    $9,375.69  3.51%  $9,085.37  $27.97  0.31% 
Forest & Rangeland Research  $305.00  $249.33    $311.83  2.24%  $260.80  -$44.20  -14.49% 


Highlights from Bill and Committee Report: 



  • Recognizing the increasing challenges resulting from harmful algal blooms (HABs) in freshwater and coastal ecosystems, the Committee encourages the EPA to fund research grants that “help promote scientific progress towards preventing and controlling HABs.” 
  • Noting its concern regarding the adverse health effects that smoke from wildfires has on impacted communities, the Committee expresses support for the agency’s efforts to develop community-based interventions and communication strategies for affected communities. 
  • The Committee urges the EPA to continue its efforts towards implementation of its Plan to Increase Access to Results of EPA-Funded Scientific Research and directs the agency to provide an update on its efforts in its FY2022 budget request.

Forest & Rangeland Research: 

  • The Committee applauds the Forest Service’s work to modernize the research program and expresses its commitment to partner with the agency to restructure its research program for FY2022 “…to enhance coordination on forest related research and development for improved relevance, global competitiveness and effective coordination.” 


  • The Committee expresses concern regarding resources approved for regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) are unnecessarily delayed and directs the USGS to prioritize the CASCs’ funding needs and expeditiously distribute the funds in a manner “consistent with the allocation methodology used in previous years to ensure all Centers remain open and operational.” 
  • $30.3 million is provided in the bill for the Volcano Hazards program, while the Committee relays its continued concern that the systems and equipment used to monitor, detect and warn the public of volcanic and seismic hazards are outdated and not adequate to address risks posed by those hazards. 
  • The Committee modifies and expands upon the Administration’s proposed budget restructure, including: 
    • Eliminating the Land Resources Mission Area.
    • Relocating the Land Change Science program and the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) to the Ecosystems Mission Area.  
    • Relocating the National Land Imaging program to the Core Science Systems Mission Area.  
    • Relocating the Environmental Health program to the Ecosystems Mission Area—rejecting the proposed elimination of the program.  
    • Rejecting the proposed restructuring of the Water Resources Mission Area. 

Next Steps

Federal spending is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (C.R.) set to expire 11 December. Both chambers of Congress and the President either need to agree on FY21 spending, sign another C.R. to buy more negotiation time and keep the government operating, or the government will shut down.