A Periodic Federal Science Update

President Releases Budget Blueprint for FY 2018 -- Proposes 10% Increase for Defense Spending at the Expense of Nondefense Spending – On Thursday, March 16, the White House released an overview of the FY 2018 budget plan.  Consistent with prior press reports, the Administration’s budget is proposing to increase defense spending in FY 2018 by $54 billion or 10% above the current estimate for FY 2017.  The $54 billion increase for defense comes from major proposed reductions for non-defense programs such as the State Department, foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, NIH, and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.  No information on the National Science Foundation’s FY18 budget was included in the blueprint released by the White House.  Information on NSF is likely to be part of the more detailed budget expected to be released in May.

 [Cautionary Note:  comparisons to prior year spending levels should be “taken with a grain of salt” as FY 17 baselines are still in flux in the absence of a year long appropriations bill or continuing resolution.]

The EPA is reduced by 31%; the State Department by 29%; Department of Agriculture and Labor Department, each by 21%; and the Department of Health and Human Services is reduced by 18% with a nearly $6 billion (19%) reduction to NIH which would take NIH down to a level of $26 billion. 

The Department of Commerce is reduced by 16% with dramatic cuts in climate change and ocean research programs at NOAA including $250 million from coastal research programs and elimination of the $73 million Sea Grant program.  At the same time, it appears that core functions such as surveys, charting, and fisheries management have been maintained.  The National Weather Service will be funded at more than $1 billion – a level similar to the FY17 estimate.  With respect to satellites at NOAA, JPSS and GOES-R are maintained while expanding the use of commercially provided data to improve weather models.

The Department of Education is reduced by 14% with $3.7 billion cut from teacher training, after-school and summer programs.  The Department of Energy is down by 6% with a $900 million reduction in the Office of Science.  ARPA-E is proposed for termination.  Within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs are re-focused on limited, early-stage applied research where the Federal role is stronger. 

NASA is funded at $19.1 billion, a 1% decrease from the estimated FY 2017 level.  A reduction of just over $100 million is taken from NASA Earth Sciences and proposes the termination of four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR earth viewing instruments and CLARREO Pathfinder), and provides an unspecified reduction in Earth Science grants.  The budget eliminates NASA’s office of education.

Research and development at EPA is reduced to $250 million, a reduction of $233 million from the estimated level for FY 2017.  EPA R&D would prioritize activities that support decision-making related to core environmental statutory requirements, as opposed to extramural activities, such as providing STAR grants. The EPA budget eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs. These geographic program eliminations are $427 million lower than the 2017 annualized CR levels. The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities. 

The budget provides more than $900 million for DOI’s U.S. Geological Survey to focus investments in essential science programs. This includes funding for the Landsat 9 ground system, as well as research and data collection that informs sustainable energy development, responsible resource management, and natural hazard risk reduction. 

Other programs slated for large proposed reductions and/or elimination include: the African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the ChemicalSafetyBoard;  theCorporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission;  the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United StatesInteragencyCouncil on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

 In addition to Defense, Homeland Security is up by 7% and Veterans programs increase by 6%.

White House Supplemental Request for FY 2017 Seeks $18 billion Reduction in Nondefense Spending with Five Months Remaining in the Fiscal Year – As part of the Administration's FY 2018 Budget Blueprint, on the last page of the blueprint, is a table that proposes an increase of $25 billion in the existing defense spending cap for 2017 and a $3 billion increase for the "Border wall and implementation of executive orders."  These requests are partially offset with a decrease of $18 billion to the non-defense cap. There is no further detail on the Administration's requested increases, nor on the non-defense accounts recommended for reduction. As you may know, currently the U.S. Government is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2017 and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working to complete the FY 2017 spending bills before the CR expires on April 28, seven months into FY 2017.  The table shows that the impact on non-defense spending would be a 3% reduction.  But with just 5 months left in the fiscal year to absorb that $18 billion reduction, an across the board cut may be greater than 3%, if the Appropriations Committee support the FY 2017 supplemental request.

The Appropriations Committees Chairmen have issued brief statements on the overall Budget Blueprint:  Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS), "President Trump's budget request underscores his commitment to make the nation more secure through increased defense and homeland security funding.  I commend his focus on national security.  I look forward to receiving additional details about the request, which will help the Congress in making final funding decisions. The House and Senate are making progress on resolving the outstanding issues with the remaining FY2017 appropriations bills.  I encourage all Senators to work in good faith to complete our work on FY2017 appropriations before April 28."

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), "Our Committee will take a close look at the budget and supplemental requests we received today. As directed under the Constitution, Congress has the power of the purse. While the President may offer proposals, Congress must review both requests to assure the wise investment of taxpayer dollars. Over the next several weeks, our Committee will work quickly to complete the 2017 Appropriations bills, analyze and make decisions on supplemental funding for national and border security, and begin the task of funding the federal government for 2018. I'm optimistic that we can strike a balance that will enable us to fund the federal government responsibly and address emergency needs, while ensuring this legislation will clear the Congress." 

 White House Issues Executive Order on Reorganization of Agencies and Programs – On March 13, the White House issued an Executive Order calling on all agencies within 180 days to submit to the Director of OMB a proposed plan to reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency.  The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions.  The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.

House Science Committee Transmits Views and Estimates Report to House Budget Committee – In advance of the President’s budget for FY 2018, in a letter dated March 10, 2017, the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology sent a report to the House Budget Committee outlining the Science Committee’s priorities for FY 2018.  The Committee states that it seeks “to increase support for basic research in the physical sciences…” The report goes on to say the Committee intends to enact reauthorizations of appropriations for the agencies under its jurisdiction including NIST, NSF, the DOE Office of Science and NASA.  For NSF, the Committee’s report says “The Committee will require that NSF research funding be appropriated at the Directorate level with 70% of the research funding allocated to the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, the Biological Sciences Directorate, and the Engineering Directorate.”

For the DOE Office of Science, the Committee says, “The Committee seeks to prioritize basic research and science at the DOE national labs consistent with H.R. 589, the "Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act," which has already passed the House this Congress. The Committee seeks to enable researchers in all 50 states to have access to world-class user facilities, including supercomputers and high intensity light sources. Government subsidies that pick winners and losers diminish competition and rarely benefit the American taxpayer. A better role for the government is to support investments in basic scientific research in our universities and national labs…. The Committee will seek to prioritize Basic Energy Sciences, Advanced Scientific Computing Research, and Fusion Energy Sciences offset by reducing Biological and Environmental Research…”

For NOAA, the Committee intends to prioritize weather programs.  The report goes on to say, “Hundreds of millions of dollars in saving are available by reducing NOAA climate change programs and big, government satellite system costs.”

For NASA, the Committee will emphasize the Space Launch System and Orion programs in support of manned space flight. The Committee intends on maintaining “…the overall level of investment in NASA by reducing NASA Earth Science funding to $1.45 billion, the level authorized in Committee­ approved H.R. 2039 last Congress, and reallocate the resulting $471 million to Planetary Science, Astrophysics, Heliophysics, the Orion Space Exploration Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, the Commercial Crew Program, and Exploration R&D.”

Senate Commerce Committee Democrats Release Recommendations for FY 2018 – On March 10, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, along with the rest of his Democratic colleagues, released a letter addressed to the Senate Budget Committee laying out their FY 2018 views and estimates for the agencies under their jurisdiction.  Their recommendations are expressed as changes relative to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) January 2017 baseline.  The Democrats on the committee layout their strong support for science and technology funding for NSF, NIST, NOAA, and NASA.  Download a copy of their letter here.

Joint Ocean Commission Releases Ocean Action Agenda – The Joint Ocean Commission has released a new report this week entitled, Ocean Action Agenda – Supporting Regional Ocean Economies and Ecosystems.  The report is addressed to the new Administration and provides a series of recommendations that will help ensure a vibrant and healthy future for the country, an ocean and a Great Lakes nation.  The key recommendations focus on the following broad areas:  promote healthy and safe ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes communities and economies; promote and support regional ocean collaboration; sustain leadership on international ocean issues; close critical gaps in ocean science to spur economic growth; demonstrate leadership in the Arctic; sustain a healthy economy by supporting healthy ecosystems; promote sustainable fisheries that support healthy ecosystems and coastal communities; encourage sustainable approaches to offshore energy development; and provide consistent financial support for ocean and coastal priorities.