A Periodic Federal Science Update

President to Propose 10% Increase for Defense Spending at the Expense of Non-defense Spending – This week the White House provided a preview of the FY 2018 budget plan they expect to submit to the Congress in mid-March.  According to many press reports, the Administration’s budget will propose to increase defense spending in FY 2018 by $54 billion, about a 10% increase in defense spending.  The $54 billion increase for defense comes from an identical reduction for non-defense programs such as the State Department, foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, NSF, NIH, and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. 

Under this plan non-defense spending would be 11% below this year’s level.  Moreover, the reductions in specific non-defense spending would likely be even larger than 11%.  Accounting for the increase in Veterans Administration (VA) funding that Congress has already approved for 2018 and assuming that Congress doesn’t cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security below current levels, the cut to all other non-defense discretionary programs would be 15%. If Congress raises homeland security funding above this year’s level, to boost funding for border security, cuts in other non-defense programs would have to be even deeper.  The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports that under the Administration’s reductions, non-defense spending will be 16% below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation.

Press reports are suggesting the reduction at the State Department and foreign aid could approach 37% and EPA could see a 25% reduction.  Other programs said to be slated for large proposed reductions and/or elimination include: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Legal Services Corporation; AmeriCorps; the White House Office of National Drug Policy; and the Export-Import Bank.  The shift in spending likely to be proposed by the White House will require Congressional approval to amend the Budget Control Act which sets in law spending levels or caps for defense and non-defense programs.  It will require 60 votes in the Senate to bring up legislation to amend the spending caps as well as to proceed to consideration of appropriations bills that implement the President’s proposed budget changes.  Congressional leaders have given such proposals a lukewarm reception cognizant of the fact that putting such legislation on the floor of the Senate requires more votes than the Republicans currently have.

In about two weeks, the White House is expected to release some “top line” numbers – a so-called “skinny budget” -- summarizing their FY 2018 budget plan and programmatic priorities.  The White House has said that in developing its list of budget reductions their focus is on reducing duplication, eliminating unauthorized programs, and eliminating activities for which a federal role is inappropriate.  Many of the reductions are likely to be drawn from budget blueprints published by the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee. A more complete set of budget details for FY 2018 is expected in late April or May.

Confirmations Move Ahead – On February 27, the United States Senate confirmed Wilbur Ross to the be next Secretary of Commerce by a vote of 72 to 27.  Mr. Ross was quickly sworn in by Vice President Pence and began his tenure as the 39th Secretary of Commerce.  More on Wilbur Ross can be found here.  On Friday, February 17, the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt to be EPA Administrator by the vote of 52 to 46. On March 1, 2017, the Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke from Montana to be the next Secretary of the Interior by a bipartisan vote of 68 to 31.

NSF Hearing Before House Research and Technology Subcommittee – The Director of the National Science Foundation is expected to testify before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology on March 9.  Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is expected to chair this hearing.  This will NSF’s first opportunity to testify on its programs and activities since the 115th Congress convened in January.