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Bullet policy · Nov 08, 2021

Science Funding Shrinks in Pared Down Build Back Better Legislation

After prolonged negotiations, Democratic lawmakers in Congress and President Biden have released a $1.75 trillion spending plan based on the Administration’s “Build Back Better” agenda, which is primarily focused on social welfare and climate change programs.

The new framework is a trimmed down version of the $3.5 trillion partisan spending package the House developed back in September with the goal of passing it through the budget reconciliation process. The new version still includes $550 billion to promote renewable energy and address climate change, but funding for several research agencies and programs has been significantly scaled down or removed and spending time frames shortened.

Highlights of science related funding and changes in the new bill include:

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) is now slated to receive $3.5 billion over 5 to 6 years instead of the $11 billion over 10 years initially allocated to the science agency. Of the $3.5 billion, $1.52 billion would go to a new technology directorate, which was not specifically mentioned in the previous bill. Core research activities would receive $1.2 billion, with $500 billion set aside for climate change research. Research infrastructure projects would receive an overall funding of $500, with $200 million directed to midsize facilities and major research instrumentation. NSF would now receive $300 million, down from $1 billion, to build research capacity and modernize infrastructure at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The bill also includes $25 million “to ensure broad demographic participation” in all NSF programs.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive $75 million to expand research capacity at MSIs and $10 million for research on developmental delays in children.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science would get $985 million, down from $12.8 billion, with $885 million set aside for a wide array of nuclear fusion energy projects. The remaining $100 million would fund low-dose radiation research. The bill no longer includes funding to support research infrastructure improvements at the national labs managed by the Office of Science.
  • The National Institutes of Standards and Technology would receive $1.2 billion, down from $4.2 billion, with $650 million dedicated to infrastructure upgrades and $220 million directed to advanced manufacturing research and development.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would receive $1.7 billion, down from $6.3 billion, with $210 million targeted to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $759 million, down from $4.3 billion, for weather and climate forecasting research, competitive research grants, climate education, and computing and forecasting infrastructure. Over the next five years, NOAA would also receive an additional $6 billion to help coastal communities adapt to climate change and $1 billion for pacific salmon restoration.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey would receive $150 million, including $50 million each for climate adaptation science centers, a 3D elevation mapping program, and water resources research and technology institutes.
  • Total funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is down from $4 billion to $1.1 billion, with $750 million dedicated to infrastructure improvements and $365 million set aside for climate research.

The Build Back Better spending package could undergo further alterations as it moves through Congress. A group of moderate Democrats have held up its passage in the House until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) completes its economic analysis of the bill’s long term impacts on the budget deficit. The timeline for the release of the CBO analysis is currently unsolidified but President Biden has urged the House to pass the bill during the week of November 15.

Meanwhile the House approved a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package last Friday that the Senate approved back in August. The legislation, which contains billions for climate resilience and public transit, now awaits the President’s signature.

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