House Appropriations Committee Proposes Lackluster Research Spending at NSF, NIST, NASA, NOAA

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Publication date: 
26 May 2016

About one month after the Senate Appropriations Committee reported legislation with middling spending for four of the main science agencies in fiscal year 2017, the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week cleared its bill and committee report. Like in the Senate, the House committee includes no significant spending increases for the four agencies’ research accounts.

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.

On Tuesday, May 24, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously cleared a $56.0 billion fiscal year 2017 spending bill that funds the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NASA, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The committee also adopted an accompanying report which provides detailed spending proposals for the four science agencies for the upcoming year, although the proposals are not yet final.

The House’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) spending bill - which also funds the Justice Department and the rest of the Commerce Department - would see a $279 million or 0.5 percent increase in funding above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. During a May 18 subcommittee meeting, ranking member Mike Honda (D-CA) called that amount “inadequate to fund the many vitally important public investments covered by this subcommittee.

In a press release, subcommittee chairman John Culberson (R-TX) indicated that his subcommittee did its best to prioritize science in a year of austere fiscal constraint:

It is a tough budget year, but this bill…makes scientific research and space exploration a top priority. Breakthroughs in these areas are vital to America’s future economic growth.

During his opening statement at the May 18 subcommittee meeting, Culberson offered glowing remarks about NASA and the space agency’s forthcoming search for extraterrestrial life on Jupiter’s moon Europa. He emphasized the bill would provide a “record level” for NASA “to ensure America’s leadership in space exploration is unchallenged now and into the future.” Within NOAA, Culberson explained, the subcommittee prioritized weather forecasting and fisheries but said that in tough fiscal times some programs needed to be cut or eliminated, which may have been a veiled reference to the deep cuts the House proposes in climate research.

Despite differences in option, Honda struck a collegial note, acknowledging that he and Culberson shared a common passion for science. He noted he was particularly pleased the subcommittee’s proposal would keep “politics and micromanagement, mostly, out of the National Science Foundation and enable the independent grant process.” Honda expressed frustration, however, that the House would decrease rather than increase the nation’s investment in fundamental research, calling such research “the foundation for supporting an innovative and globally competitive economy.

Below is a summary of current spending proposals, including the president’s budget request and figures from the House and Senate committee reports. FYI will also publish detailed side-by-side comparisons of the House and Senate proposals for each of the four science agencies funded by the CJS bill.


FY17 CJS Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY15
House Change
Senate Change
NASA 18,010 19,285 18,262 -5.3% 19,508 1.2% 19,306 0.1%
Science 5,243 5,589 5,303 -5.1% 5,597 0.1% 5,395 -3.5%
NSF 7,398 7,464 7,564 1.3% 7,406 -0.8% 7,510 0.6%
NIST 864 964 1,015 5.2% 865 -10.3% 974 1.0%
NOAA 5,449 5,766 5,848 1.4% 5,581 -3.2% 5,691 -1.3%
Research 446 482 520 7.8% 462 -4.1% 480 -0.4%

* All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and all figures above $10 million are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.

NSF & NASA face small spending increases, while NIST & NOAA face deep cuts

Within the House committee’s proposal:

  • NSF research would receive a 0.8 percent increase;
  • NIST would receive a 10.3 percent decrease;
  • NASA would receive a 1.2 percent increase, while the Science Mission Directorate would receive a 0.1 percent increase; and
  • NOAA would receive a 3.2 percent decrease, while NOAA’s Office of Atmospheric and Oceanic Research would receive a 4.1 percent decrease.

These lackluster spending levels for four of the major science agencies are a far cry from fiscal year 2016, when relief from federal budget sequestration made room for major spending increases for federally funded science.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, which advanced its version of the CJS spending legislation on April 17, is working this year within a more generous but still constrained total allocation: $56.3 billion or 1.1 percent above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. The Senate has also made different choices about what to prioritize within the bill, proposing much more favorable budgets for NIST and NOAA in particular. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their differences, including the approximately $300 million difference between total allocations before finalizing spending for the agencies.

Highlights from the committee report

In its committee report, the House Appropriations Committee proposes to:

  • Continue the longstanding prohibition on NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy engaging in bilateral activities with China, unless authorized by Congress;


  • Leave decisions on directorate-level allocation of a proposed $6.079 billion for Research and Related Activities to the foundation;
  • Cut the Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction account by over 50 percent, by eliminating funding for the Regional Class Research Vessels;


  • Within the Science Mission Directorate, cut Earth Science by 12.0 percent while boosting Planetary Science by 13.2 percent;
  • Revisit the proposal for a return manned mission to the Moon, using the Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle currently in development, before launching a manned mission to Mars;
  • Fund a planetary science mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life within the solar system;


  • Fully fund the two flagship operational weather satellite systems under development: the Joint Polar Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series; and
  • Within the Office of Atmospheric and Oceanic Research, cut Climate Research by 19.0 percent while increasing Weather & Air Chemistry Research by 14.5 percent.

FYI will report in further detail on each of the four agencies in forthcoming bulletins.


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