OMB Director on FY 2016 DOE Funding Bill and Republican Spending Plan

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Publication date: 
24 April 2015

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of the Executive Office of the President has issued two statements this week expressing concern about FY 2016 House Republican spending plans.  Among his concerns are funding reductions that could result in “thousands fewer scientific and medical research awards and grants” when compared to President Obama’s budget request.

OMB Director Shaun Donovan commented on these funding plans before and after House Appropriators met Wednesday to approve the FY 2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  The bill would increase funding for the DOE Office of Science by 0.6 percent, with a recommended 8.2 percent increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration.  During this markup session House appropriators also divided up the FY 2016 budget among the twelve subcommittees.  These subcommittee allocations are critically important in shaping individual program budget levels.

In advance of Wednesday’s session, Donovan wrote to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) about the proposed Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.  In his April 21 letter, Donovan expressed concern about the overall House Republican spending plan “which would lock in sequestration funding levels for FY 2016.”  He continued, “The Republicans’ 2016 budget framework would bring base discretionary funding for both defense and non-defense to the lowest levels in a decade.”  Donovan stated that Obama was “not willing to lock in sequestration going forward.”

Commenting specifically on the proposed bill, Donovan wrote:

“Overall, according to the Subcommittee, this bill reduces funding by about $600 million, or about two percent, below the President's Budget. The bill slashes support for U.S. innovators -- scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs pioneering new clean energy technologies that will spur America's long-term economic competitiveness and strengthen America's leadership on energy innovation. In addition, developing these cost-effective technologies will help us tackle the threat of climate change, which is not just a moral but also a fiscal and economic imperative. Any strategy that dials down investment in climate solutions and climate preparedness simply dials up the likely future toll on our budget and economy from the impacts of climate change.”

Donovan cites the bill’s 40 percent reduction to the budget for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and 14 percent funding reduction for the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy as compared to the Administration’s request. 

Donovan’s second statement, posted on April 22 on the OMB website, comments on the subcommittee funding allocations that were approved that day. Donovan explains that the allocation for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee is 8.7 percent less than the Administration’s FY 2016 request.  This subcommittee provides funding for the National Institutes of Health.  Funding for the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation, NASA, and National Institute of Standards and Technology is 1.3 percent less than the Administration’s request. 

Donovan writes:

 “Assuming that the cuts are distributed equally within bills, below are some examples of how programs would fare compared to the President’s Budget. Actual cuts relative to the President’s Budget could be larger or smaller depending on how the appropriations subcommittees distribute their funding allocations, but smaller cuts to some programs would require larger cuts to others.” 

He cites three examples under the heading “Research and Development”:

“National Institutes of Health (NIH) (Labor-Health and Human Services-Education).  The House Republican budget would lead to more than $1.7 billion less in funding for NIH, translating into 1,400 fewer new grants and adversely impacting research across all disease areas. The House Republican budget also risks squeezing out new initiatives proposed in the President’s Budget, such as a major investment in Precision Medicine, an innovative approach to disease prevention which takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles to give clinicians the tools to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying a patient’s condition and the ability to better predict which treatments will be effective.

“National Science Foundation (NSF) (Commerce-Justice-Science). The House Republican budget would lead to about 350 fewer research grants at the National Science Foundation (NSF), affecting about 4,900 researchers, technicians, and students. This reduction would slow the pace of discovery across fields of science and engineering – including areas like advanced manufacturing, clean energy, cybersecurity, and neuroscience – inhibiting research essential to U.S. innovation and economic competitiveness.

“Clean energy investments (Energy and Water Development). Most clean energy research and development (R&D) is funded in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, one of the two bills House Republicans have already marked up in committee. As described above, the bill cuts key R&D and other clean energy investments by 40 percent or more relative to the President’s budget, including reductions of 55 percent to solar energy investments and 49 percent to manufacturing, sharply reducing the number of innovative projects the Federal government will support.”

Donovan proposes to replace the funding levels required by the Budget Control Act with “commonsense spending and tax reforms.”  While sequestration has few friends on Capitol Hill, a common theme in the opening statements of committee and subcommittee chairman at hearings reviewing the Administration’s budget request is criticism that the Administration’s proposed tax changes are unrealistic.  How, and if, the leadership on Capitol Hill and in the White House will temper the FY 2016 mandated spending limit is an open question that likely will not be settled until late this fall.