November 19, 2020

Science stalls in Senate spending bills: Part 2

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. We are breaking down 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. Here, we are diving into the spending bills that fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. Following on to our previous post, we will detail the spending and programmatic highlights for federal Earth and space science agencies. You can read our breakdown of the House companion spending bills here. 


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) 

(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 
NASA  $22,629.00  $25,246.00    $22,629.00  0%  $23,495.00  $866.00  3.83% 
NOAA  $5,352.18  $4,634.03  $6,061.89  $5,454.07  1.90%  $5,402.87  $50.59  0.95% 
NSF  $8,278.33  $7,741.40  $9,000.00  $8,548.34  3.26%  $8,478.00  $199.97  2.41% 


Highlights from Bill and Committee Report: 



  • The Senate provides funding for the PACE mission CLARREO Pathfinder, the Carbon Monitoring System, Earth Venture and NASA instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory. 
  • The report applauds NASA’s use of commercial communications satellite as a host for GeoCARB and hopes this serves as a model for future research needs. 
  • Within Planetary science, the committee provides robust funding for planetary defense , including both DART and NEOSM; the committee directs that the Lunar Discovery and Exploration program should adhere to the decadal surveys and the National Research Council’s Scientific Content for the Exploration of the Moon; funding for Mars 2020 and the Mars Sample Return are also provided. 
  • In contrast with the House appropriations bill, which decreased funding for Heliophysics, the Senate provides a seven percent increase in funding for Heliophysics. 
  • In accordance with recommendations from NASA’s Chief Scientist, Biological and Physical Science from the International Space Station research line will be moved to within NASA Science. 



  • NOAA is encouraged to consider establishing a Cooperative Institute (CI) for Coastal Resilience and Adaptation to provide “additional research, data collection, experience, and strengthened relationships with institutions conducting coastal resilience and adaptation research and applied science activities.” 
  • The bill provides $44 million for Ocean Exploration and Research, for which the Committee directs NOAA to accelerate efforts to map and characterize America’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Extended Outer Continental Shelf. 
  • The Committee rejects the proposed cut to the Tsunami Warning Program within the National Weather Service (NWS), including cuts for the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation program grants, and instead is funded at $500,000 above the FY2020 funding level. 
  • NOAA is encouraged to take steps to promote racial and cultural acceptance and diversity within its workforce and is directed to submit a report to the Committee with an analysis of the current racial and cultural makeup of the agency. 
  • The Committee raises concern that a large percentage of NOAA’s workforce is either currently retirement eligible or soon to be and directs the agency to submit a report to include the age composition of the workforce, a summary of the currency workforce succession plans and any challenges to succession planning that could be remedies through legislative means. 



  • The committee commends NSF for investing in high-performance computing and data analysis capabilities but questions whether NSF’s investment is sufficient to meet science and engineering needs. 
  • The report provides $75 million for NSF’s mid-scale research infrastructure and encourages NSF to award one mid-scale to an EPSCoR state. 
  • The committee recommends funding for the Vera C Rubin Observatory, the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science and the High Luminosity-Large Hadron Collider Upgrade. 
  • The Education and Human Resources directorates receives an increase of $23.5 million over FY2020 funding levels and the committee reiterates its support for many programs in the directorate including informal science education and NSF’s diversity initiative INCLUDES. 
  • Additionally, the Committee encourages NSF to take discrete steps to promote diversity and inclusion at the Foundation. 


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.