Science Agency Funding Levels for 2017 Coming into Focus

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Publication date: 
5 August 2016

With all 12 appropriations bills now drafted, the outcome of funding for the federal science agencies in fiscal year 2017 is coming into focus, with appropriations on track in many cases to diverge from the president’s discretionary funding requests.

With the House and Senate Appropriations Committees having completed work on all 12 of the appropriations bills that make up the discretionary part of the federal budget, a clearer picture is emerging of lawmakers’ priorities for science agency funding next year. Current congressional proposals diverge in major ways from the president’s budget request and altogether show no clear pattern of support or opposition.

Some agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, are on a path to receive priority treatment with a robust funding increase, while most science agencies and accounts are on track to receive more modest increases or cuts. Based on current proposals, the Department of Defense basic research account, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research line office, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology could face funding cuts.

These several exceptions aside, the science agencies have emerged as relative winners in the fiscal year 2017 congressional spending bills. While the proposed increases for the science agencies under consideration are mostly modest, they indicate research remains a priority in a year when the overall federal discretionary budget is being held flat.

As long as the discretionary budget remains constrained, a legacy of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and its budget caps, government-funded science will have little breathing room to grow. Over the last three decades, the federal R&D funding level has followed the trend in overall discretionary spending, rising no lower than 11 percent and no greater than 13 percent of the total.

The below table contains a summary of the funding amounts approved by the committees for selected agencies. Additional details are available in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

FY17 Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY16
House Change
Senate Change
DOE 29,717 30,240 1.8% 29,963 0.8% 30,741 3.4%
NNSA 12,527 12,876 2.8% 12,854 2.6% 12,867 2.7%
Office of Science 5,350 5,572 4.1% 5,400 0.9% 5,400 0.9%
ARPA-E 291 350 20.3% 306 5.1% 325 11.7%
NASA 19,285 18,262 -5.3% 19,508 1.2% 19,306 0.1%
Science 5,589 5,303 -5.1% 5,597 0.1% 5,395 -3.5%
NSF 7,464 7,564 1.3% 7,406 -0.8% 7,510 0.6%
Research 6,034 6,079 0.8% 6,079 0.8% 6,034 0.0%
Education 880 899 2.1% 880 0.0% 880 0.0%
Construction 200 193 -3.6% 87 -56.5% 247 23.1%
DOD S&T 12,996 12,501 -3.8% 13,030 0.3% 13,364 2.8%
Basic Research 2,309 2,102 -9.0% 2,124 -8.0% 2,265 -1.9%
Applied Research 4,996 4,815 -3.6% 4,962 -0.7% 5,115 2.4%
Advanced Tech. Dev. 5,691 5,584 -1.9% 5,943 4.4% 5,984 5.2%
NOAA 5,766 5,848 1.4% 5,581 -3.2% 5,691 -1.3%
Satellites 2,349 2,304 -1.9% 2,267 -3.5% 2,230 -5.1%
Atmospheric & Oceanic Research 482 520 7.8% 462 -4.1% 480 -0.4%
NIST 964 1,015 5.2% 865 -10.3% 974 1.0%
NIH 32,311 31,311 -3.1% 33,561 3.9% 34,311 6.2%
USGS 1,062 1,169 10.1% 1,080 1.7% 1,068 0.6%

* Excludes proposed mandatory spending.

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

Fiscal year 2017 appropriations side-by-side comparisons by agency

From May through July, FYI published a series of ten bulletins detailing the proposals that emerged from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Each bulletin includes a detailed appropriations table and expandable tabs highlighting policy guidance from the House and Senate committee reports:

President & Congress diverging on science agency priorities for next year

Where the administration proposed a 4.1 percent increase next year for the Department of Energy Office of Science - the nation’s largest sponsor of the physical sciences – House and Senate committees are converging on a more modest increase of 0.9 percent. This would follow the 5.6 percent, or nearly $300 million, spending increase that is expanding the Office of Science in the current fiscal year.

Appropriators this cycle have especially championed NASA and NIH, proposing increases where the president called for deep, billion dollar-plus cuts to discretionary spending for both agencies. The president’s proposed cuts followed a banner fiscal year 2016 for both agencies, in which NASA spending increased $1 billion and NIH’s increased $2 billion.

In contrast, the administration and Congress seem to be more aligned in keeping funding for the National Science Foundation research account mostly flat next year. The president, House, and Senate significantly diverge, however, on funding for NSF’s major research facilities construction account.

These comparisons do not include the president’s proposals for mandatory spending, which Congress quickly dismissed and never seriously revisited after the president’s budget request was released in February.

As FYI reported earlier this week, science agency funding will almost certainly not be finalized before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Either a three-month or six-month continuing resolution is likely, in which case Congress would wait to resolve spending differences until either after the November general election or in the new year under a new Congress and president.

It is also important to note there is a precedent for Congress deciding to extend a continuing resolution to fund the government for all of fiscal year 2017. In this scenario, the appropriators’ proposals would not be enacted.


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