Budget Accord Offers Opportunity to Increase Federal Science Funding

Congress approved a two-year budget plan on February 9 that would increase authorizations for federal spending. The agreement passed in the Senate (71-28) and House (240-186) and was signed into law by President Trump. The bipartisan agreement raised the caps on defense and nondefense discretionary spending by nearly $300 billion over two years, with nondefense discretionary spending - the biggest source of research funding - getting a $63 billion boost in FY 2018 and an additional $68 billion in FY 2019.

Congress has yet to complete work on FY 2018 appropriations, however. Appropriations legislation is the legislative vehicle that actually provides funding for government operations.

Almost all agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are funded under the discretionary budget might now be able to receive modest budget increases if Congress so chooses to appropriate additional funding.

Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee said, “We are not handing these increases out uniformly and some areas will get cuts, it’s not like everyone is going to be spared by this.”

Senate lawmakers have proposed a $2 billion increase in the NIH budget for FY 2018, $1 billion more than the level proposed by the House. The new agreement tags a $2 billion increase in NIH’s budget over two years. The agency would get another $500 million from the 21st Century Cures Act in 2018.

NSF might also receive a bump in funding from the deal. The House had earlier proposed to keep NSF’s budget flat in 2018. However, Representative John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science that funds NSF, indicated that he would consider increasing the budget if the spending caps were raised.

Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA), chairman of the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee, indicated that many EPA grant programs would get a “strong look” for increased funds. These might include State and Tribal Assistance grants, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act grants and Diesel Emission Reduction Act grants. He also expressed concern about capital spending accounts being severely cut in recent years to help cover operating costs and indicated interest in raising capital funding for overdue Interior Department projects.

There is bipartisan support in the House for restoring some of the funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy projects on the Energy and Water spending bill. Senate appropriators would like to see an 8 percent increase in the agency’s annual budget.

Infrastructure programs in rural water, wastewater, clean and safe drinking water, rural broadband, energy, and surface transportation could receive an increase of about $20 billion over two years. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, stated that the additional funds would be appropriated to these programs later.

Congressional appropriators are currently working on an omnibus appropriations bill. Federal agencies will continue to operate under FY 2017 levels through March 23, 2018. If an appropriations package has not been passed by March 23, the government will once again face another shutdown.

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White House Reverses Plan to Cut NSF

The White House rolled out its fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request in two parts; the original request and then a short addendum that reflects the recent budget agreement by Congress to lift spending caps for 2019. The original proposal called for a 30 percent cut to the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, which would have rolled funding back to $5.27 billion. In the more recent twenty-six-page addendum to the budget, the White House would restore the proposed cuts and fund NSF at its 2017 level of $7.472 billion.

Some highlights from the budget request:

  • Funding for the six research directorates would increase by $145 million (2%), primarily due to a proposed upgrade to Antarctic Research facilities.
  • Funding for the education directorate would remain flat at $819 million, after initially being slated for a 29 percent cut.
  • The cost of salaries and operations would decrease by $25 million (7 percent).

As with all aspects of the President’s budget request, these are only requests. Congress must now review the budget request and is likely to make significant adjustments to the President’s budget requests.

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NIH Budget Remains Flat Under Trump Budget

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would see roughly flat funding if the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request were enacted as proposed. The White House has requested $34.8 billion for NIH, approximately $2 billion below the 2018 level approved by Congress in the recent budget agreements. Late adjustments to the budget reversed an originally proposed 27 percent cut to NIH.

The FY 2019 budget for NIH is slated to increase only slightly by $538 million over 2017 levels because it would absorb three agencies under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that fund research on healthcare quality, occupational health, and disabilities. According to the proposal, the institutes would function as separate entities at first, but their activities could later be integrated into NIH’s existing institutes. The National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality would replace the $324-million Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within HHS, a move that was also proposed in Trump’s 2018 budget and was rejected by the House and Senate. The plan would also transfer the National Institute of Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health into the NIH.

The budget request for HHS details two initiatives to “stretch” NIH research funding. First, capping the percentage of salary investigators can draw from an NIH grant at 90 percent and reducing maximum salary paid with NIH grant funds from $187,000 to $152000. The former move has seen support from scientific groups because it prevents faculty from depending entirely on soft money for salary. The latter move of reducing the NIH salary cap has received criticism from academic medical centers.

The HHS proposal also includes $750 million in additional funding for NIH to deal with the opioid crisis. Of this, $400 million would be allocated to investing in a public-private partnership to find new treatments and alternative medication.

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President's Budget Would Cut USGS by 21 Percent

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would be funded at $860 million, a 21 percent cut from the fiscal year (FY) 2017 level.

Funding for the water resources program would be reduced by 23 percent to $165 million. The administration’s budget would also reduce support for the natural hazards program by 19 percent. These include programs to monitor earthquakes and volcanoes, which would each be slashed by 21 percent. Other programs would also see deep cuts, with budget for the ecosystems program reduced by 40 percent, core science systems reduced by 20 percent, and science support programs cut by 15 percent. The 40 percent cut to the ecosystems accounts would significantly reduce the agency’s ability to conduct biodiversity-related research and efforts to inform sound conservation and natural resource stewardship decision-making by other federal, state, and local agencies.

The President’s plan would allocate $84 million to the energy and mineral resources programs, a 15 percent increase from the 2017 level, while providing no funds for the environmental health program. The plan also includes a new “administrative initiative to help spur critical mineral resource development” for economic growth and national security.

The agency’s current “climate and land use change program” would be restructured and renamed to “land resources”, which would focus on land imaging, land change science and climate change adaptation. The plan would provide $13 million in funding for only three out the eight regional climate science centers and one national climate adaptation center, presumably closing the other centers. This is $4.4 million below the level proposed for 2018, and less than 50 percent of 2017 enacted levels. Climate science centers are responsible for developing science and tools to address effects of climate change on land, water, wildlife, fish, ecosystems and communities.

The plan would also provide $73 million to support satellite operations, including continuing ground system development for launching Landsat 9 in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2021.

The budget provides $112 million for facilities, an increase of $12 million over the 2017 level. The increase would be allocated to relocation of some activities from the Menlo Park campus to Moffett field, California, a part of the NASA Ames Research Center to facilitate collaboration between the agencies.

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Trump's NASA Budget Cancels Space Telescope and Five Earth Science Missions

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would receive $19.9 billion if Congress adopts the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget. At this level, the agency would see an increase of about 1.3 percent over the enacted FY 2017 level. Under the President’s budget the White House would cancel numerous missions and a major telescope.

The budget would zero out the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. The orbiting observatory is designed to study dark energy and explore exoplanets. NASA has struggled to keep the costs of the program below a $3.2 billion cap, but the cancellation of a project that was a major priority for astrophysicists was not expected.

The administration also calls on the agency to stop contributing to the International Space Station, a 15-nation facility, when the current commitment ends in 2024. The proposal encourages NASA to explore private investment opportunities for that work, a plan that is likely to be viewed skeptically by many in Congress.

The budget request also proposes ending five earth science satellite programs; including some that have climate-related functions and some that are currently in orbit, saving $133 million in FY 2019. The Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission designed to forecast algal blooms which are a major problem for the Great Lakes is one of the missions that would be abandoned. The budget would also eliminate the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which observes the earth and measures solar storms. Other missions that would be terminated are the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder, and the Radiation Budget Instrument.

The plan would reduce climate research at NASA by calling for a 6 percent cut to the earth science program that include GRACE gravity-measuring satellites and ICESat-2 to measure polar ice.

Astrophysics would see a 12 percent cut, whereas planetary sciences would get a 22 percent increase in funding towards a robotic moon discovery and exploration program as well as continued support for the missions to sample rocks on Mars and visit Jupiter’s moon Europa.

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Energy Budget Cuts Research Funding, Eliminates ARPA-E

The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request would fund the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) at $30.6 billion, or a level that is approximately 2 percent below 2017 enacted levels. The administration proposes to increase spending for nuclear weapons while reducing funds for core research programs.

The request would provide DOE Office of Science flat funding at $5.4 billion for basic research, which is $1.2 billion or 22 percent more than the amount stated in the original budget proposal. The number increased after Congress struck the budget deal to raise spending caps in FY 2018 and 2019.

Basic energy sciences would receive a 2 percent increase in funding to $1.85 billion and advanced scientific computing would see an increase of nearly 42 percent to $899 million. Fossil energy research would grow by 24 percent, while nuclear energy would face a 30 percent cut. The budget for nuclear weapons, however, would swell by 19 percent over 2017 enacted levels.

The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office was slated for a draconian cut of 65 percent in the original budget proposal. The addendum released after the recent congressional deal to raise the budget caps, however, added back the $120 million initially proposed to be cut.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a high-risk energy research division at DOE, would be eliminated under Trump’s budget plan. This proposal is unlikely to receive a warm welcome in the Senate, where support for ARPA-E has been strong and members have advocated for increased funding.

According to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, “Budgets are about priorities, and a close examination of this year’s request shows the direction we’re seeking to lead the department. Budgets are also about making difficult choices, but it would be a mistake to judge our view of the merits of any program solely on a one-year budget request.”

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement, “When I was first briefed on ‘highlights’ of President Trump’s budget request, I was incredulous at its treatment of our federal science agencies.” She added, “The only good thing about this budget is that it’s so extreme, I have no doubt that it will be summarily rejected by both sides of the aisle.”

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President's Budget Slashes NOAA

President Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request would provide $4.6 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a 20 percent reduction compared to enacted 2017 funding of $5.7 billion.

The proposal would slash spending for climate change-related activities across the agency by $40 million, ending competitive grants for climate-change research and studies aimed at understanding the impacts of global warming on the Arctic.

The administration seeks to eliminate $273 million in grants, including the National Sea Grant College Program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, coastal zone management grants, the Office of Education and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. The National Sea Grant College Program supports more than thirty American universities that conduct research, education and training programs on ocean-related topics. Congressional appropriators have previously rejected this proposal.

Trump’s plan would shutter NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland, which studies air chemistry and atmospheric transport of hazardous chemicals. The White House also calls for closing the office that supervises the use of aircraft for weather, polar, and marine observations.

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which supports laboratories and programs across the country and enables accurate weather forecasts, would receive $322 million in 2019, compared to $511 million in 2017. The National Marine Fisheries Service would be cut by 15 percent.

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Trump Budget Offers More Deep Cuts for EPA

The White House plan for fiscal year (FY) 2019 would reduce spending for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 25 percent, reducing the budget from $8.1 billion in FY 2017 to $6.1 billion. This would be the smallest budget for the EPA since the 1990s.

The proposal would gut funding for climate-change research and reorganize research programs related to clean water, land preservation, and healthy communities. To replace these, the budget would allocate $112 million for “core mission” and $357 million for “Rule of Law and Process.” These new items might provide the agency with some leeway to move money around to support its priorities.

The budget request would reduce funding for EPA’s Office of Science and Technology to $449 million, a 37 percent cut from 2017 levels. The proposed budget also slashes the number of full-time-equivalent staff positions from 2,124 in FY 2017 to 1,481 in FY 2019. The Environmental Program Management effort would absorb a 34 percent cut.

The plan seeks to end the Climate Change Research and Partnership Programs at EPA. Although, the agency would continue to implement renewable fuel provisions under 2005 and 2007 energy laws, monitor national greenhouse gas emissions, ensure compliance of regulations aimed at reducing emissions, and maintain the Energy Star program.

The superfund program would receive an additional $327 million in funding and the State and Tribal Assistance Grants account for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) would receive an additional $397 million, as laid out in the addendum to the budget proposal that reflects the new congressional budget agreement.

The administration highlighted EPA’s commitment to air and water quality, with the budget request reading, “These activities prioritize robust science, refocusing EPA’s research and scientific analysis to inform EPA policy and regulatory development actions, and creating consistency and certainty that outlines exactly what is expected of the regulated community to ensure good stewardship and positive environmental outcomes.” EPA released a separate strategic plan along with the budget request, in which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt emphasized the need to work in partnership with states and focus on core issues such as clean air, clean water, contaminated sites clean up, and chemical safety, with no mention of climate change.

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President Calls for Big Cuts for ESA Listings

The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 Interior Department budget proposal would limit Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing activity to $10.9 million, which is about half the $20.4 million received in FY 2017.

Gavin Shire, public affairs head of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), said in a statement, “Our focus is on prioritizing species recovery, where we have funding for recovery planning, five-year reviews and down- and delisting packages.” The budget proposal for Interior notes that officials want to focus “available resources on the recovery of the more than 1,660 species listed domestically as threatened or endangered, nearly 400 of which were listed between 2010 and 2017.”

According to conservation groups, the massive reduction in funding would force officials to “triage” species. FWS funding for ESA listing work has remained roughly flat at around $20 million for the last six years. The White House proposed cutting it last year but would have still allocated about $17 million for listing-related funding. If Congress approves this budget request, the agency will have to carefully select which species receive protection.

Other ESA-related cuts include a $25 million decrease in funding for habitat conservation and $53 million less for Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund grants, which support habitat conservation on non-federal lands.

The FWS has detailed a seven year “national listing workplan” for the ESA that can be read here: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/listing-workplan.html

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Pruitt's Reform Plan Details Major Reorganization and Workforce Reshaping

In conjunction with the fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a “reform plan” along with its strategic plan. The plan is in response to a Presidential executive order asking for a major reorganization of the federal government and includes eleven projects to streamline EPA operations to ensure faster contracting and permitting and fewer requests for industry information.

Administrator Scott Pruitt stated in an internal email, “Together the Strategic Plan and Reform Plan set a roadmap for EPA to better achieve our mission of protecting human health and the environment, while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our processes and operations.”

Stan Meiburg, a former acting deputy EPA administrator under Obama, indicated that some elements of the plan have merit in principle, such as the use of lean techniques, streamlined procurements, and stronger partnerships with state regulators, but warned that faster permitting should not be “a code word for permitting that neglects essential environmental obligation.”

A set of “organizational efficiencies”, released along with EPA’s reform plan, noted that “Both small reorganizations and larger ones will result, along with informal internal realignments.” Some of these reorganizations started or were proposed in FY 2018; such as consolidating the EPA staff that processes Freedom of Information Act requests with the agency’s legal oversight staff and moving National Environmental Policy Act work and environmental justice work to the Office of Policy.

EPA is now looking into combining the Office of Environmental Information with the Office of Administration and Resources Management (OARM) to “create efficiencies through housing much of the infrastructure support for the agency in one entity.” Karl Brooks, former acting chief of OARM, is concerned about “trying to combine two different cultures” and wondered if Pruitt would have the necessary resources to pull off the consolidation and make the projected savings, especially because the President has yet to appoint anyone to run either office.

Like last year’s proposal, Trump’s FY 2019 budget for EPA also allocates millions in funding to “workforce reshaping”, suggesting another round of buyouts in the future. EPA would take $31.54 million from different programs to offer buyout packages as the agency reshapes its workforce. Last year hundreds of EPA employees left under the buyout program.

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Short Takes

  • In congressional testimony, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, warned of the potential for drastic climate change: “The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent - and possibly upheaval - through 2018.” He continued, “Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. Research has not identified indicators of tipping points in climate-linked earth systems, suggesting a possibility of abrupt climate change.” Coats also asserted that climatic changes could result in far-reaching global disruption. This is the first time a high-profile Trump intelligence official has used such direct language to address the threats associated with climate change.

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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 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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