The priorities of the committee majority in 2016 include continued focus on transparency and accountability of federal research, directorate-level funding for the National Science Foundation, and sustained funding for NASA space missions. Alternatively, the committee’s minority members are prioritizing an overall increase in and stability for federal research and development funding.
The recently released “Views and Estimates of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology” is a good indication of the committee’s priorities and likely foci for 2016. The annually released document, which the majority submits to the House Budget Committee, is not binding and represents only the positions and agenda of the Republicans on the committee. The committee’s Democrats have developed their own views and estimates document that offers a divergent perspective.
The majority document asserts that in 2016 the committee:
…will continue to oversee, legislate, and implement a Constitutionally-based Federal focus on open and transparent taxpayer-supported science, basic research in the national interest, and mission-supporting technology development.
Among the majority’s other top priorities for the year:
- Designation of specific funding levels for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) research directorates, including cuts to NSF Geosciences and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences;
- Increased support for basic research, including in advanced supercomputing and the physical sciences, across the science agencies;
- Decreased funding for Biological and Environmental Research and a partial restoration of recent cuts in Fusion Energy Sciences at the Department of Energy Office of Science; and
- Maintenance of recent funding increases for NASA Exploration, Planetary Science, and Heliophysics, with a reduction in funding for Earth Science.
The committee highlights its work last year on H.R. 1806, the “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act”; H.R. 1561, the “Weather Forecasting and Innovation Act”; and H.R. 2039 the “NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017”. (Although not mentioned, the committee’s 2015 work on H.R. 3293, the “Scientific Research in the National Interest Act”, culminated in House passage of that legislation earlier this month as well.)
The committee majority asserts it will pursue additional legislation in the current Congressional session. First on the agenda are an authorization of Federal Aviation Administration research and development, the Environmental Protection Agency “Secret Science Reform Act”, and a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate reorganization.
In its separate views and estimates document not yet posted online, the committee minority points out:
Only three of the many legislative proposals cited by the Majority as a basis for their policy and budget recommendations have been enacted, and several passed the Committee or the House along partisan lines. Our opposition to these proposals is well documented.
The minority also expresses concerns about the Republican budget resolution from last year, which would cut non-defense discretionary funding from 2017 through 2025 to levels below the budget caps that were imposed by federal budget sequestration. The minority worries that this would further starve investments in the science agencies, which have already seen funding cuts since 2011 under sequestration.
Selected highlights from the majority’s views and estimates
The below highlights are quoted directly from the majority’s views and estimates document:
National Science Foundation
- Increase NSF Research and Related Activities account funding to the level authorized for Fiscal Year 2017 in House-passed H.R. 1806. This $6.186 billion, a 2.5% increase of $153 million, should be allocated as specified in H.R. 1806’s legislative language which prioritizes basic research in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, the Engineering Directorate, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, and the Biological Sciences Directorate. This Budget Function 250 increase can be offset by cuts provided below to DOE in Function 270.
- In addition to requiring NSF Research funding be appropriated at the Directorate level, each and every NSF grant should be required to meet National Interest criteria as prescribed in section 106 of House-passed H.R. 1806.
National Institute of Standards and Technology
- Increase Function 370 NIST Scientific and Technical Research and Services account generic innovation funding to the level authorized for Fiscal Year 2017 in House-passed H.R. 1806. This $745 million, a 7.9% increase of $55 million, can be offset by reducing the NIST Industrial Technology Services account and the NIST Construction of Facilities account to the levels authorized in H.R. 1806, saving $90 million.
Department of Energy
- Sustain DOE’s Fiscal Year 2016 Office of Science account funding level of $5.35 billion in Function 250, consistent with the Fiscal Year 2017 authorization in House-passed H.R. 1806. As with NSF Directorate-level funding, allocate DOE Science National Laboratories funding by basic research Program as specified in H.R. 1806’s legislative language which prioritizes Basic Energy Sciences and Advanced Scientific Computing Research. Increase Fusion Energy Sciences by $50 million to the $488 million authorized in H.R. 1806 by reducing Biological and Environmental Research to the authorized level of $550 million.
- Nuclear Energy R&D funding should reflect the research infrastructure priorities and private-sector innovation program blueprint of Committee-reported H.R. 4084, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. Analytical examination of issues associated with nuclear safety and development of advanced reactor technologies in collaboration with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the goal.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Increase priority public safety NOAA Weather Research in the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to the House-passed Fiscal Year 2017 authorized level in H.R. 1561 of $120 million, an increase of $17 million in Function 300. Saving lives and protecting property must be NOAA’s primary mission.
- Provide the remaining $6 million authorized in House-passed H.R. 1561 for the NOAA Commercial Weather Data Pilot project out of existing funding in the NOAA Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction account.
- Make NOAA’s Polar Follow-On satellite funding contingent on certification of no feasibility of commercial data or satellite alternatives.
- Maintain the overall level of investment for NASA in the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus funding bill of $19.3 billion.
- Reduce Fiscal Year 2017 NASA Earth Science funding to $1.45 billion, the level authorized in Committee-approved H.R. 2039, and reallocate the resulting $471 million to Planetary Science, Heliophysics, the Orion Space Exploration Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, and Exploration R&D, and Exploration Ground Systems.
- Reject any proposed cut to the Space Launch System funding that would delay a launch of Exploration Mission 1 (first non-crewed launch to lunar orbit) beyond calendar year 2018 or Exploration Mission 2 (first crewed launch to lunar orbit) beyond calendar year 2021.
- No NASA resources should be provided or permitted for planning and development of technologies unique to an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Instead, pre-formulation studies should be conducted for a Mars flyby mission. Near Earth Object (NEO) survey, detection, and characterization are not unique to ARM, and additional NASA resources could be used to help NASA meet the long-standing goals of the Congressionally-mandated George E. Brown, Jr. NEO Survey Program.
U.S. Global Change Research Program
- The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is an interagency accounting of over $2 billion of spending on climate change research. Involving NASA, NSF, NOAA, NIST, DOE, EPA, and even the Department of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey, much is duplicative and poorly defined based on the Science Committee’s oversight of these agencies under its jurisdiction. Given this fiscal irresponsibility, any funding that is part of the USGCRP should only be available contingent on a finding by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that it is not duplicative or wasteful based on a government- wide GAO review of climate change research.