Congress returned to Washington this week to a long list of appropriations and authorization bills awaiting action. Although the new fiscal year begins in less than three weeks, few anticipate that Congress will complete any of the appropriations measures funding science agencies, or pass bills reauthorizing NASA’s programs, the America COMPETES Act, or elementary and secondary education. Congress will recess late this month or early in October for November’s election, and then return for a lame duck session later that month.
Fundamental differences between the political parties about spending and conflicting demands from the electorate dim the outlook for prompt passage of appropriations bills funding the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, NASA, Department of Defense, National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Institutes of Health. Congress will pass legislation continuing current funding levels until final FY 2011 appropriations legislation is enacted, most likely in the form of an omnibus funding bill. When that omnibus bill passes will depend on the outcome of November’s elections and whether party control of the House or Senate changes. What follows is a brief recap of the status of FY 2011 appropriations bills:
Department of Energy:
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed its version of the FY 2011 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. It would increase funding for the Office of Science by 2.2 percent. While the companion bill has not cleared the full House Appropriations Committee, the subcommittee’s bill provides essentially flat funding. The funding outlook is much more promising for Weapons Activities, with the bills recommending 8.2 percent and 10.0 percent increases. Funding for Nuclear Energy would decline by a half-percent in the Senate bill, and increase 4.7 percent in the House bill. There is considerable disagreement about the future funding of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository that must be resolved.
National Science Foundation:
Senate appropriators have cleared their Commerce, Justice, Science bill that provides funding for NSF, NASA, and NIST. Senate appropriators recommended a 7.0 percent increase for NSF. The House Appropriations Committee has not passed its bill, but the outlook is promising as its subcommittee bill would increase NSF funding by 8.0 percent.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill and the House appropriations subcommittee’s bill both provide an overall increase of 1.5 percent. The House bill would increase science funding by 5.3 percent, the Senate bill by 12.0 percent. Ultimate passage of this funding bill may depend on the enactment of a NASA reauthorization bill.
National Institute of Standards and Technology:
The Senate committee’s bill provided a 13.0 percent increase; the House bill a 3.1 percent increase.
Department of Defense:
Neither the House nor Senate bills have moved through the full appropriations committees.
U.S. Geological Survey:
The House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee recommended a 3.5 percent increase for USGS. Senate appropriators have not yet acted.
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering:
The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended an increase of 2.8 percent. The House figure has not been released by the subcommittee.
America COMPETES Reauthorization Bill:
The full House, after considerable deliberation, passed its version of this reauthorization bill. The outlook for the Senate bill is uncertain: one of three committees has passed the bill, although a key Republican senator said more work is needed. At a recent forum, the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee told participants to urge their senators to act on this measure. Timing is working against the ultimate passage of this bill.
NASA Reauthorization Bill:
Efforts are being made to resolve differences between the NASA reauthorization bills passed by the full Senate and the House Science and Technology Committee. The two bills differ considerably in the amount of federal funding authorized for commercial cargo and crew development.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act:
It now appears there will not be enough time for either the House or Senate to move a reauthorization bill in this legislative year.