Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations Update

August 2, 2013

The House and Senate Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies recently passed their respective appropriations bills, but they have yet to receive floor votes. Even if the bills are passed by each chamber, they are so far apart that conferencing them seem unlikely at this time.

Request in Billions of Dollars
  President’s Request Senate House
NSF 7.60 7.42 7.00
R&RA 6.20 6.01 5.68
MREFC 0.21 0.21 0.18
EHR 0.88 0.88 0.82
NIST Core 0.75 0.76 0.66
NIST STRS 0.69 0.70 0.61
NIST CRF 0.06 0.06 0.05
NASA Science 5.02 5.15 4.78
OSTP 5.66 5.66 5.45

The sharp contrast in appropriated amounts begins with the House and Senate budget committees. House appropriators are working under a total discretionary spending cap of $966B, with $414B for non-defense discretionary. The Senate appropriators are working under a total discretionary spending cap of $1,058B, $91B more than the House. Moreover, the $91B is entirely located in non-defense discretionary where Senate appropriators are working with $506B.

For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Senate appropriates a similar amount to President Obama’s budget request, though it is lower in Research & Related Activities (R&RA). The Senate would provide $7.42B to NSF, $6.01B for (R&RA), $210M for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC), and $880M for Education and Human Resources (EHR). The Senate appropriations are a significant increase over the sequestered funding NSF received this year. Additionally, the Senate appropriations bill includes language praising NSF for its “merit-reviewed, competitive process,” noting that companies such as Google got their start with an NSF grant.

The House opted to stick more closely with the FY13 sequestered funding that NSF received. Overall, the House bill would provide $7.00B to NSF, $5.68B for R&RA, $182M for MREFC, and $825M for EHR. Of note is the fact that the House appropriations bill admonishes NSF and instructs NSF to “improve its ability to articulate the value and scientific merit of its research grants and explain the peer review process that results in research funding decisions.” Such a statement from House appropriators speaks to a growing concern among House Republicans that the NSF is not appropriately stewarding taxpayer dollars, and that Congress may need to step in with greater oversight. One example of increased oversight: House Science Committee Chair, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), recently sent a letter to NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett requesting confidential information on five grants NSF chose to fund.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appropriations did not contain language as ideologically divided as NSF, but still there are significant differences in funding. The House bill would appropriate $609M for Scientific and Technical Research Services (STRS) and $55M for Construction of Research Facilities (CRF). The Senate bill would appropriate $703M for STRS and $60M for CRF.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would receive similarly scaled funding from the House and Senate bills. The House bill would appropriate $5.45B for OSTP and the Senate would appropriate $5.66B.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Science is, again, similarly scaled in funding between the House and Senate. The House bill would appropriate $4.78B for NASA Science and the Senate would appropriate $5.15B.

What is worrisome is that science has long been a bastion for bipartisan effort. A decade ago, Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass America COMPETES in a bipartisan effort. These days, however, the bipartisan landscape is shifting toward partisanship. And the ideological divides mean that not only is another Continuing Resolution likely, but also that mission agencies must focus on winning political battles rather than overcoming scientific hurdles.

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.