The new fiscal year begins in less than one month. While the outlook on wrapping up the FY 2004 funding bills is vastly better than it was last year at this time, there will be many hours of negotiations before the thirteen appropriations bills are complete. Although science and technology funding is fairly noncontroversial, it faces stiff competition from domestic and defense programs, at a time when the projected federal budget deficit continues to rise.
With Republicans in control of the House, Senate, and White House, there is a determined effort to avoid the conflicts marring last year's budget negotiations that resulted in the delay in the passage of most appropriations bills until early this year. Fiscal conservatives are also pressing for constraint in funding levels. Toward both ends, House and Senate appropriators took a somewhat unprecedented step of passing their own versions of one of the most contentious and expensive of the appropriations bills - that for the Departments of Labor, and Health and Human Services - in late June. This bill is usually one of the last in line, and has resulted in an inevitable push for higher spending. Although there were plenty of complaints about funding levels in the two versions of this bill, their passage in committee attracted considerable attention and indicated a determination to keeping overall spending within the $785 billion discretionary budget cap. The full House passed this bill in July; the Senate is considering their bill this week on the floor. Both chambers have also passed versions of the Defense appropriations bill, another very expensive measure.
The House and Senate are now back in Washington, and have a full plate of activities ranging from the situations in Iraq, North Korea, and other hot spots around the world, the recent Northeast-Midwest blackout, the economy, and final passage of all thirteen appropriations bills. While it is hoped that many of these bills will make it to President Bush's desk before October 1, plans are now being made to utilize one or more continuing resolutions to assure funding into the new year. The following is a brief review of the status of the appropriations bills tracked by FYI:
COMMERCE, JUSTICE, STATE: Policy disputes over the ownership of television stations is making this one of the most troublesome bills this year. The House passed its version in mid-July, which would eliminate the Advanced Technology Program. The House maintained NIST laboratory funding at approximately the same level as this year, and made a substantial cut in the budget for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (see FYI #98.) Senate appropriators are due to complete work on their version of this bill before the end of the week; expect strong support for the ATP program by Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC).
DEFENSE: Both the House and Senate have passed versions of this bill. Both bills came in at about the same overall level, and despite controversies over Iraq and other items, House Defense Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) predicts that the upcoming conference should be relatively smooth. The House bill would increase overall defense science and technology program spending by 10.4%, although the increases are quite uneven among the 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 programs (see FYI #82.) The Senate numbers are less favorable, reducing proposed funding for the 6.1 and 6.2 programs (see FYI #89.)
ENERGY AND WATER: Both versions of this bill containing funding for DOE's Office of Science have been drafted by the appropriations committees. The House-passed bill provides more funding for the physics-related programs than the Senate bill (see FYI #95.) The House bill made significant reductions in the Bush Administration's request for several nuclear weapons initiatives (see FYI #99 and FYI #100) that Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is very displeased about.
HOMELAND SECURITY: Funding bills for the new Department of Homeland Security have been approved on both floors. Both bills provide more funding for the "Science and Technology - Research, Development, Acquisition and Operations" account than the Administration requested, providing increases over the current year's budget between 56.9% and 63.1% (see FYI #81 and FYI #90.)
INTERIOR: Both appropriations committees have passed this bill contained funding for the U.S. Geological Survey. The House-passed bill provides an overall USGS increase of 1.8%, while the Senate bill recommends a 1.1% increase (FYI #91.)
LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, EDUCATION: As previously noted, appropriators have drafted a version of this bill in each chamber; the full House has approved its version. For the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the House bill contains an increase of 1.4%, while the Senate bill provides an increase of 4.0% (see FYI #83.) Also in this bill is funding for Math and Science Partnerships. The House version provides substantially greater funding for this teacher education program than does the Senate bill (see FYI #84.)
VA, HUD, AND INDEPENDENT AGENCIES: The House has voted on its version of this bill containing funding for the National Science Foundation and NASA. Senate appropriators are scheduled to finish work on their bill tomorrow. For NSF, the House bill recommends an overall increase of 6.2% (see FYI #93.) This bill would increase overall NASA funding by 1.3% (see FYI #104.)