Earth Science Given “Low Priority” Status In House Appropriations Bill That Would Also Reduce NOAA Funding?
While President Trump proposed some of the most dramatic budget cuts in recent history, Congress ultimately has the responsibility of appropriating funds. Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science marked up their Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 bill, which funds the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The legislation contains $54 billion, a $2.6 billion decrease from the FY 2017 enacted level and $4.8 billion above the president’s request. The draft bill prioritizes national security and law enforcement, reducing “lower-priority programs” to make these investments. Specific funding for several programs and agencies will not be available until the committee report is released prior to the full committee markup.
NSF and NOAA would both see reductions compared to FY 2017 levels. NSF would be funded at $7.3 billion, which is $133 million below the FY 2017 enacted level but more than half a billion above the president’s $6.7 billion request. The $6.03 billion for Research and Related Activities is the same as in FY 2017 and includes $544 million for polar research and operations. The legislation calls for only $77.8 million for Major Research Equipment Facilities Construction – axing money for the construction of regional class research vessels.
NOAA would face the steepest cuts; the legislation contains $4.97 billion for the agency, which is $710 million (14 percent) below the FY 2017 enacted level. Priorities listed in a committee press release include the National Weather Service, fisheries management, weather research, and ocean exploration. Additionally, the bill includes full funding to continue the current Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program. Conversely, NOAA climate research would be cut by 19 percent, which Ranking Member José Serrano (NY-15) condemned as “jeopardize[ing] our ability to improve our scientific understanding of our planet and its changes.”
The bill would fund NASA at its highest level in history at $19.9 billion, $219 million above the FY 2017 enacted level. According to Chairman John Culberson (TX-7), “NASA has been overloaded with too many missions and not enough funding. This bill guarantees NASA receives the funding they need to lift America’s space program above the glory days of Apollo.” Unfortunately, space exploration would come at the expense of Earth exploration; NASA’s Earth Science program, which advances scientific understanding of our planet and improves climate and weather predictions, would see a $217 million (11 percent) cut. This $1.7 billion would also be $50 million less than the administration’s request. The legislation would not eliminate the Office of Education, which the administration proposed, and NASA Science programs (which the president’s budget proposed reducing by one percent) would receive $5.9 billion, which is $94 million above the FY 2017 enacted level.
While funding increases in some key areas relative to the president’s budget request, the House bill severely downplays the importance of oceanic and atmospheric research and observation to our national security and economy. Democrats on the committee uniformly expressed concern about the lack of climate change research included in the bill, which passed out of the subcommittee and now awaits a full committee markup.