Senate Appropriations Committee Advances Spending Bill for NASA, NSF, NIST and NOAA

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Publication date: 
26 April 2016
Number: 
49

After commending retiring vice chairwoman Barbara Mikulski for her years of effective service, Senate appropriations committee members unanimously approved a bill which would provide close to flat funding for NASA, NSF, NIST, and NOAA in fiscal year 2017. 

You can follow the spending proposals and outcomes of the fiscal year 2017 budget process for the agencies that sponsor the physical sciences using AIP’s new Federal Science Budget Tracker. The Tracker is updated on a rolling basis as new budget information becomes available.

The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee that authors the legislation that funds NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), met on April 19 to approve the Senate’s fiscal year 2017 spending bill.

This year, the subcommittee received an allocation of $56.3 billion – a sparing 1.1 percent increase above its fiscal year 2016 spending allocation. Currently chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and either chaired or vice-chaired by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) since 2007, the members of the subcommittee weigh funding levels for the four science agencies against justice and other commerce programs.

The subcommittee markup was easygoing, bipartisan, and collegial, although the Senate’s proposal had some notable departures from the president’s budget request. In particular, the bill dispenses with the president’s billions of dollars in mandatory spending proposals, and it provides an increase in discretionary funding for NASA, especially for human space exploration, a rebuff to the president’s proposed cuts.  Shelby stressed,

The budget request that NASA presented to Congress included a disingenuous combination of discretionary spending and an unprecedented amount of funding disguised as mandatory spending. … Cuts, if enacted, would erode on-going science missions, jeopardize core operations, and delay exploration launches. Instead, this bill funds NASA at $19.3 billion, preserving the funding Congress provided in fiscal year 2016.

In full committee markup on April 21, the committee’s 30 senators voted unanimously to adopt a manager’s amendment and then advance the fiscal year 2017 CJS bill out of committee.

The bill would provide incremental year-over-year funding increases for three science agencies - 0.1 percent for NASA, 0.6 percent for NSF, and 1.0 percent for NIST - while it would impose a 1.3 percent cut below fiscal year 2016 to NOAA. Some of the major offices within these agencies face more substantial funding cuts in the accompanying committee report – such as a 3.5 percent reduction to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The Senate’s spending proposal is detailed in the tables below – one each for NASA, NSF, NIST, and NOAA. Further details are available on AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

The House has not yet released its fiscal year 2017 CJS spending bill, but the Senate bill and its accompanying committee report will eventually have to be reconciled with the forthcoming House proposal.

 

FY17 NASA Senate Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY15
Actual
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request*
Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
NASA 18,010 19,285 18,262 -5.3% 19,306 0.1%
Science 5,243 5,589 5,303 -5.1% 5,395 -3.5%
Earth Science 1,784 1,921 1,972 2.7% 1,984 3.3%
Planetary Science 1,447 1,631 1,391 -14.7% 1,356 -16.9%
Astrophysics 731 731 697 -4.7% 807 10.5%
James Webb Space Telescope 645 620 569 -8.2% 569 -8.2%
Heliophysics 636 650 674 3.7% 679 4.4%
Aeronautics 642 640 635 -0.9% 601 -6.1%
Space Technology 600 687 691 0.6% 687 0.0%
Exploration 3,543 4,030 3,164 -21.5% 4,330 7.4%
Space Operations 4,626 5,029 5,076 0.9% 4,951 -1.6%
Education 119 115 100 -13.0% 108 -6.1%

* Excludes $763 million in proposed mandatory spending, of which $298 million is for Science, $173 million is for Exploration, $160 million is for Aeronautics, and $136 million is for Space Technology.

 

FY17 NSF Senate Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY15
Actual
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request*
Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
NSF 7,398 7,464 7,564 1.3% 7,510 0.6%
Research & Related Activities 6,042 6,034 6,079 0.8% 6,034 0.0%
Education & Human Resources 886 880 899 2.1% 880 0.0%
Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction 145 200 193 -3.6% 247 23.1%

* Excludes $400 million in proposed mandatory spending, of which $346 million is for Research & Related Activities and $54 million is for Education & Human Resources.

 

FY17 NOAA Senate Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY15
Actual
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
NOAA 5,449 5,766 5,848 1.4% 5,691 -1.3%
Office of Atmospheric & Oceanic Research 446 482 520 7.8% 480 -0.4%
National Weather Service 1,087 1,124 1,119 -0.4% 1,135 1.0%
National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Service 2,223 2,349 2,304 -1.9% 2,230 -5.1%

 

FY17 NIST Senate Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY15
Actual
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request*
Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
NIST 864 964 1,015 5.2% 974 1.0%
Scientific & Technical Research & Services 676 690 731 5.9% 700 1.4%
Industrial Technology Services 138 155 189 21.9% 155 0.0%
Construction of Research Facilities 50 119 95 -20.2% 119 0.0%

* Excludes $1.89 billion in proposed mandatory spending for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation and $100 million in proposed mandatory spending for the Construction of Research Facilities account.

In weighing spending allocation, appropriations leaders prioritize science and innovation

At the April 19 subcommittee markup, outgoing vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) extolled science as key to American leadership and economic competitiveness, reminding her colleagues, “America leads the way through science, technology, and innovation.” Speaking in support of a NSF program called I-Corps to promote innovation and technology transfer, she added, “I love when we win the Nobel prizes, but I want to win the markets.

In his opening statement, Shelby spoke of the difficult tradeoffs he and Mikulski faced in order to adhere to austere caps set in last fall’s budget agreement, assuring “this committee remains supportive of science and innovation.” Mikulski called the spending allocation “snug” but offered her support, specifically calling out the importance of weather services and her beloved NASA.

Two days later, in voting to advance the CJS measure, the full appropriations committee paved the way for its consideration on the Senate floor in upcoming weeks. Mikulski credited the unanimity in committee to the lack of controversial policy riders and to what senators on both sides of the aisle observed is a respectful and “consultative” relationship between Shelby and herself. This bipartisan alignment at the committee level bodes well for swift and decisive floor action.

Fellow senators praise Mikulski for her effective service

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)Mikulski is set to retire at the end of the year, after what will be 40 years in Congress and 30 years of service to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Colleagues on both sides of the aisle marked the occasion of her last committee meetings by heaping glowing praise on the vice chairwoman, who is the longest serving woman senator and who has made an indelible impact on American science and space exploration.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) spoke of the vice chairwoman’s grit:

When God made Barbara, she broke the mold, and today is the markup of her last CJS bill. … Barbara Mikulski is an incredible, determined representative for the people of Maryland and a real inspiration and role model for the women of the Senate. She has brought…the women of the Senate on both sides closer together. … No one has been more effective than Barbara Mikulski. She is tenacious, she keeps us all in line, and she gets things done.

Chairman Shelby also had superlatives to bestow on Mikulski:

I’ll tell you I had never seen someone with that much energy, that much fight in them, and I’d long ago joined in rather than oppose. ... I’ve enjoyed working with Barbara, because if you don’t work with her, you’re going to pay a price.

Basking in the glow, Mikulski shared the story of how she came to the Senate with little knowledge of the space program but learned quickly about its importance from former appropriations subcommittee chairman and astronaut Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT). Mikulski emphasized how important to the nation it has been that her relationships with her colleagues across the political aisle have been civil:

The way [Garn] welcomed me and the tutorial he gave me in the space program…set the mark of perhaps the greatest ship, which is friendship, in this institution. And friendship leads to bipartisanship, and that became the hallmark of the way I was taught and the way I was welcomed and the way we were able to get things done. … I look back with such fondness and gratitude … because what we did was try to find common goals and then that led to common ground and then we concentrated on success being defined by how many amendments we could get through rather than how many cable appearances we could get out of it.

Highlights from the Senate committee report

NASA

  • Cuts science: Cuts the Science Mission Directorate by 3.5 percent, including a 16.9 percent spending reduction for Planetary Science. The president’s request would reduce discretionary funding for NASA Science by an even greater 5.3 percent.
  • Fully funds James Webb Space Telescope: Funds the space telescope, which is expected to launch in October 2018, at the requested level and underscores the overall lifecycle cost cap of $8 billion.
  • Boosts human exploration: Restores all of the president’s proposed 21.5 percent cut to human space exploration and increases the account by 7.4 percent, in order to provide robust support for the continued development of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and the Orion manned space vehicle.

NSF

  • Flat funds research: Funds NSF research at $6.03 billion, equal to the level appropriated in fiscal year 2016. Unlike House proposals in recent years, the Senate does not specify how that $6.03 billion must be allocated among NSF’s six research directorates.
  • Invests heavily in astronomy facilities: Fully funds the president’s request for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

NIST

  • Funds renovation of radiation physics buildings: Includes $60 million to continue renovation of NIST’s radiation physics laboratories.

NOAA

  • Cuts satellite account and flat funds research account: While the president called for a 1.4 percent spending increase for NOAA, the Senate proposes a 1.3 percent cut. The bill report provides for the cuts to fall primarily on the agency’s satellite account, spread across various subaccounts. While the research account is essentially flat funded, it receives much less than the request of a 7.8 percent increase.
  • Fully funds polar and geostationary weather satellites: Fully funds the president’s request for continued development of NOAA’s flagship weather forecasting satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operating Environmental Satellites–R Series, as well as a follow on polar satellite mission. The bill report also provides the full request plus another $5 million for NOAA to begin work on a follow on space weather mission.
  • Funds a new Commercial Weather Data Pilot: Provides $3 million to support NOAA’s potential use of commercial data in weather modeling and forecasting through pilot purchases of commercial data.

 

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