House Subcommittee Picks Science Funding Winners and Losers (Spoiler Alert: NOAA’s Taking A Hit)
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science passed their fiscal year (FY) 2017 bill by voice vote this week; it is responsible for funding the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Commerce (including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; NOAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In total, it contains $56 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $279 million above the FY 2016 enacted budget and $1.4 billion above the president’s request for these programs.
The bill targets increases to some programs of national importance, such as federal law enforcement, national security (including cybercrime and counter-terrorism activities), economic development, illegal drug efforts, trade enforcement, and space exploration programs. Ranking Member Mike Honda (CA-17) was disappointed that there wasn’t a greater increase in overall funding that would have ensured that other successful programs, including those in the sciences, are not terminated.
The bill proposes NSF funding to be $7.4 billion, $57 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $158 million short of the administration’s request. Though the Research and Related Activities line increased by $46 million above last year (targeted to programs that foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for STEM education and for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, and neuroscience), reductions would be made in equipment and construction costs, which could impact larger infrastructure projects.
Additionally, the bill includes $9.1 billion for the Department of Commerce, a reduction of $194 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $677 million below the administration’s request for these programs. Out of the total Department of Commerce budget, $5.6 billion is allocated to NOAA. Subcommittee Chairman Culberson said the bill “prioritized funding for NOAA to improve weather forecasting and fisheries management;” however, to “make these investments, the bill reduces funding in lower-priority NOAA activities such as climate research, ocean services, and others.” The proposed NOAA budget is $185 million below the FY 2016 funding level and $268 million below the president’s request. Proposed priorities include the National Weather Service, which receives $1.1 billion in funding, $12 million above President Obama’s request, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. The bill includes full funding for the continuation of the current Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program to help maintain and improve weather forecasting and to warn communities about potentially devastating natural disasters. Overall, climate research was cut by 20 percent from last year’s enacted funding, owing to what full Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (NY-17) described as, “continued disbelief in the seriousness of climate change.”
While some programs will be taking a hit, NASA is slated to receive $19.5 billion in the bill, which represents a $223 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level and $1.2 billion over the president’s request. This includes $5.6 billion for NASA science programs, $8 million above the 2016 enacted level and $295 million above the president’s request. The funding primarily targets planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics to ensure continuation of critical research and development programs while reducing funding for purportedly lower-priority research. A mission to Europa, Jupiter’s sixth-closest moon, is also included in the bill owing to the “very high likelihood that life will be discovered in those oceans,” said subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (TX-7).
While Ranking Member Honda was pleased about some of the funding decisions, he showed disappointment about several research investments, stating, “This is a time where we need to be increasing, not decreasing, our investment of fundamental basic research that is a foundation for supporting an innovative and globally competitive economy.” He also voiced disappointment for underfunding innovation and issues affecting Native Americans, and both he and full committee Ranking Member Lowey expressed concern over firearm riders.
The bill will be marked up in the full House Appropriations Committee next Wednesday and funding charts will be updated at that time. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 (S. 2837) last month.