White House Offers More Details on Proposed 2017 Budget Cuts

The Trump Administration recently offered additional details about its proposal to cut $18 billion from non-defense spending in fiscal year (FY) 2017. These cuts would partially offset a recommended $33 billion increase in military spending. Research programs represent a disproportionate amount of the suggested cuts. Nearly $4 billion would be cut from science agencies. This is more than 20 percent of the proposed cuts, even though science represents only 1 percent of total federal spending.

Among the proposed reductions is $350 million from research and education grants supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, this 5 percent cut to NSF’s budget would reduce the number of grants awarded in the second half of FY 2017, if enacted by Congress.

The National Institutes of Health would lose $1.2 billion. Most of this cut would come from a reduction in research grants, as well as the elimination of $50 million for the new Institutional Development Awards, which aim to broaden the geographic distribution of biomedical research funding.

Other science agencies targeted for cuts are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (-$300 million), National Institute of Standards and Technology (-$115 million), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (-$50 million), Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (-$150 million), Department of Energy Office of Science (-$37 million), Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development (-$48 million), Food and Drug Administration (-$40 million), and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (-$100 million).

These proposed reductions are in addition to the $54 billion in cuts proposed by the White House for FY 2018.

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Congressional Leaders Close to Reaching Deal on FY 2017 Spending

Lawmakers seem to be inching closer to an agreement on current year spending levels. The federal government has been operating on a continuing resolution since 1 October 2016, which has kept government agencies open but at FY 2016 funding levels.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) told reporters that Congress is “very close” to a deal to finish FY 2017 appropriations. Lawmakers aim to pass an omnibus that will combine the 11 remaining bills into one package for final passage.

On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that “about 200 unresolved issues” remained in the negotiations.

“The last thing that we want is a continuing resolution or a shutdown of government,” said Moran, who chairs the Senate panel responsible for military construction funding. The Senator added that Congress “couldn’t get an appropriations bill passed” at the reduced spending levels proposed by President Trump for FY 2017.

House appropriator Ken Calvert (R-CA) agreed. “Those cuts are highly improbable.”

When Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) was asked about the President’s proposed cuts to FY 2017 spending, he said, “no, no.” Blunt chairs the subcommittee responsible for labor, health, and education.

Criticism of the proposed cuts has been bipartisan.

The President wants to “cut off NIH cancer research funding to pay for the wall,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Current government funding runs out on 28 April.

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"Honest" Science Bill Advances in House

The House of Representatives passed legislation on 29 March 2017 that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating a rulemaking that relies upon science that is not publicly available.

H.R. 1430, the HONEST and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017, was passed largely along party lines—225 Republicans and 7 Democrats supported the bill; 3 Republicans and 187 Democrats opposed it.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences was among a group of scientific societies and universities that wrote to Representatives in advance of the vote to express concerns with the legislation. The letter called for “additional time to evaluate the unintended consequence of this bill before considering it on the House floor.”

Some of the concerns included the possible misinterpretation of key terms in the bill and the inability to reproduce certain types of research, especially in public health, which would disqualify such studies from being used in EPA decision-making.

Read the letter at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170328letteron_hones.html.

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NSF Oversight Hearing Covers Little New Ground

On 21 March, the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology considered how to keep the National Science Foundation (NSF) at the forefront of innovation. The oversight hearing addressed issues relating to the agency’s reauthorization, including reproducibility of scientific findings and the balance of funding across scientific disciplines. All of these issues have been subjects of interest to the Committee in recent years.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) opened the hearing stating: “We will examine particular challenges such as setting priorities during a time of budgetary constraints, and ensuring that all taxpayer-funded research is high quality, reproducible and conducted with integrity.”

“Funding for the NSF has not been what I would have liked to have seen in recent years,” said Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “I think many of my colleagues agree. This committee needs to push to make NSF funding a priority in this Congress as we face possible significant budget cuts. While we do this, we also need to make sure that NSF does the most possible with limited resources.”

The Science Committee recently proposed directing 70 percent of NSF research funding to math, computer science, biological sciences, and engineering as part of the panel’s views on the 2018 budget. This is not the first time that Representatives have proposed specifying directorate level funding at NSF. This specific proposal would result in significant cuts to social science and geoscience directorates.

Democratic members of the committee pushed back against this proposal during the hearing. Top Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) rejected the idea of “slashing funding for the geosciences or social and behavioral sciences in order to increase funding for other fields.”

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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