Reading the Tea Leaves: FY 2004 S&T Funding Outlook

Share This

Publication date: 
26 March 2003

A 65-page document passed by the House last week that consists mostly of numbers and which will never be sent to President Bush provides a first glimpse of possible parameters of science funding for the next fiscal year. While devoid of much detail, and requiring some assumptions, the "Concurrent Resolution on the Budget" outlines what a majority of the House of Representatives recommends for the fiscal year starting on October 1 for NASA, NSF, and DOE. As it now stands, the Department of Energy's Office of Science would see its budget slashed.

The Concurrent Resolution establishes spending targets for twenty different categories of federal spending, and sets revenue targets. It does not have the force of law, and is not sent to the President. Rather, it provides the basis for how much money each of the thirteen appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate will have in crafting their annual spending bills. Ideally, the House and Senate agree on a final resolution so that the subcommittees on both sides begin from approximately the same spending base.

While it may be one of the least well-known documents that Congress works on, the budget resolution can be very important. Behind each of the figures in that 65-page document are the broad outlines of how much money will be spent on programs, and how much money the government will raise through taxes. Failure to adopt a final resolution can lead to a breakdown in the passage of the appropriations bills in the fall, which is what happened last year.

The title of the resolution which the House passed on March 21 reflects the times we are in: "The Fiscal Year 2004 Wartime Budget Resolution." "America's security is threatened; it must be protected. That is always the highest priority of any national government; and it is the highest priority of this budget," states the resolution's summary. The resolution seeks to end deficit spending, and provides a broad outline of how to do so. A key part of the strategy is the reduction of 1% in total discretionary spending (which includes all S&T funding) from last year's level. How this 1% reduction is to be applied is uneven, with some categories of spending seeing increases (such as that for national defense which would increase by an overall 2%) and other categories decreasing. As might be imagined, this is a very politically contentious document.

One of the twenty categories or "functions" of spending is "Function 250: General Science, Space, and Technology." One total number for FY 2004 is given for NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the DOE Office of Science. For the current year, these three agencies (with perhaps minor funding for other programs) have $23.1 billion. The resolution recommends that next year this figure decline by $300 million to $22.8 billion.

Breaking this recommendation down requires a few calculations and a few assumptions:

The resolution clearly states that $14.5 billion be provided to NASA, which when combined with another function of spending yields an increase of 3.1%.

The resolution also clearly states that NSF should receive $5.5 billion, a 3.8% increase over this year.

The total of these two budget recommendations is $20 billion.

Of the $22.8 billion, that leaves $2.8 billion for the Office of Science and any other science programs in FY 2004. The current Office of Science budget is $3.3 billion. The difference between this year's budget and the resolution's recommendation is -$500 million, or -15.2%. This calculation assumes that funding for any other science programs outside of these three agencies be ignored.

A few caveats: the Senate has not completed its budget resolution, and its numbers are likely to be different. The Senate's division of political power is very narrow, and so their resolution is likely to be more broadly-based. However, the Senate now has a cost projection for the Iraqi war before it, and so senators will be looking at the budget and their resolution from a different perspective. When the Senate completes its resolution, it will have to conference with the House to reach a final budget compromise.

It remains to be seen, as well, what effect one party control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives has on the final resolution, and much more importantly, the appropriations bills this fall. Will the leadership use this political alignment to force down spending, or will it find itself approving appropriations bills that will increase overall spending? That is a question that will not be answered for many months.

Explore FYI topics: