Computing Research Policy Blog

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has been involved in shaping public policy of relevance to computing research for more than two decades. More recently the CRA Government Affairs program has enhanced its efforts to help the members of the computing research community contribute to the public debate knowledgeably and effectively.

Department of Energy FY 2020 Request: It’s Pretty Bad; You Might Want to Look Away…

Continuing our series following the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget request, we now go to the Department of Energy (DOE). As bad as the NSF budget request is, DOE’s is much worse.

The two key parts of DOE for the computing community are the Office of Science (SC), home of most of the agency’s basic research support, and ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

For SC, the President’s FY20 request of $5.55 billion is a cut of 15.8 percent compared to the FY19 enacted level of $6.59 billion. While that is pretty horrible, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is within the Office of Science, and where most of the computing research at the agency is located, would receive a significantly lower cut; the program would be funded at $921 million, a decrease of $14 million or 1.6 percent. This is primarily because many of the priorities of the Administration, such as exascale computing, artificial intelligence, and quantum information science, sit within ASCR. For comparison, the Bio and Fusion programs would receive cuts of 29.9 and 28.6 percent, respectively (page 42 in the linked pdf).

As for ARPA-E, it would once again be zeroed out, as it was in the President’s budget request last year. Despite last year’s request, Congress maintained ARPA-E funding, actually providing an increase of 4 percent in FY19.

FY18 FY19 FY20 PBR $ Change % Change
DOE SC Total $6.26B $6.59B $5.50B -$1.09B -16.4%
ASCR $810M $936M $921M -$15M -1.7%
ARPA-E $335M $366M $0 -$366M -100%

As with NSF’s request, it is unlikely that Congress will take this proposal seriously. Also, like with NSF’s request, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know how and when DOE’s budget will be finalized. Expectations are that a continuing resolution is likely, as is a budget impasse (ie: a shut down). Please keep checking back for new information.

NSF FY2020 Request: It is Not Good

As we discussed last week, the Trump Administration is slowly rolling out their Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget request. What they released last week was only a high-level summary, which didn’t appear to be good for the federal research agencies, NSF in particular. However it lacked details, which are beginning to be revealed this week.

Unfortunately, those details for the National Science Foundation’s budget request don’t make the picture look better. The agency is slated to get a twelve percent cut overall, with that percentage fairly evenly split between Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for the research grants, and Education and Human Resources (EHR), which contains the agency’s education programs. R&RA would receive a 13.2 percent cut compared to FY19 final, while EHR would receive a 9.5 percent cut.

Going into the details of the request for R&RA, the cut is uneven among the assorted research directorates, but everyone gets hit hard. CISE, home to the computing and computer science research portfolio, would receive an 8.1 percent reduction compared to FY18 (a final number for CISE’s FY19 budget is not available). Such a large cut to CISE is unfortunate, especially when you consider that NSF funds 85 percent of all federally supported academic basic research in the computer science and related fields. But that’s on the relatively low side, with the Geo and MPS directorates getting larger cuts of 13.3 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively.

FY18 FY19 FY20 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.77B $8.08B $7.10B -$980M 12.1%
R&RA $6.30B $6.52B $6.55B -$860M -13.2%
EHR $902M $910M $824 -$86M -9.5%
CISE $961M $833M

What’s next? The good news is this request now heads to Congress, where it will likely be ignored (especially by the Democratic controlled House of Representatives), as previous requests from this Administration have been. However, that’s where the good news ends. Many of the budget impasses that caused the government shut down in December and January have not gone away. The expectation among the science policy community in Washington is that a continuing resolution is likely, if not another government shut down (which is still unlikely but not beyond the realm of possibilities). Please keep checking back for more details.

President’s Budget Request for Science in FY2020 – First Look (Ugh)

Cover of President Trump's Budget Request for FY 2020President Trump released an overview of his FY 2020 Budget Request and it contains deep requested cuts to some key Federal science agencies. The budget overall calls for a nearly 5 percent reduction in non-defense discretionary spending in FY 2020 compared to FY 2019, but that includes additional funding for disaster relief. Without the disaster relief funding, Federal agencies would absorb a 9 percent cut on average.

While we don’t yet have full details of the President’s request — agency-specific requests are due on March 18th — the overview document does provide some information. The National Science Foundation would see a decrease in funding of nearly a billion dollars in the President’s plan, to $7.1 billion overall in FY 2020. That’s a 12 percent decrease from the FY 2019 enacted level of $8.08 billion.

The request is even worse for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The request provides $5.5 billion for the office in FY 2020, a decrease of nearly $1.1 billion compared to the FY 2019 enacted number, or a 16.4 percent reduction. Within that budget, the request does provide $500 million for Exascale computing, $169 million for Quantum Information Science, and $71 million for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

The request also calls for cuts of $500 million at NASA and provides $668 million to NIST — though it’s not clear if that’s for total NIST funding ($998 million in FY 2019) or just for research at NIST Labs ($725 million in FY 2019). Either would represent a cut.

Fortunately, President Trump’s budget requests haven’t been great barometers for how funding for the agencies will ultimately end up. Congress has mostly ignored the President’s requested funding levels and has generally rejected his proposed reorganizations of programs or agencies in the Federal science budget. Maybe what’s more useful to note are the priorities called out in the budget, which include a number relevant to the computing research community: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Quantum Science, Exascale, Advanced Manufacturing and 5G. While Congress may not share the President’s vision for agency funding levels, there’s general agreement about those areas of focus.

As noted, the agencies will release their detailed budget requests next Monday, so we should get a much better sense of how they’re prioritizing these funding levels. When we get them, we’ll share them here!

Final FY2019 Appropriations Wrap-up – Science does OK.

There were unfinished funding bills, there was an impasse over a wall, there was a 35-day government shutdown, there was a 3 week interregnum when government reopened and leaders sought to find a way ahead, and then there was final passage and resolution of the FY 2019 appropriations process — one that ended on a reasonably positive note for Federal science agencies.

We received that resolution back on February 15th with the passage of an omnibus appropriations bills that wrapped up all the unfinished business of the appropriations process and provided us with a look at the final numbers for Federal investments in fundamental research. So how did agencies of particular importance to the computing research community do? In a couple words: pretty ok. Most saw modest increases over FY 2018 funding levels, and those that didn’t still saw funding levels well in excess of the levels requested by President Trump.

Select S&T Agencies and Programs in the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request: Estimated percentage change from FY 2018 enacted omnibus, nominal dollars. (Source: AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program)

Before diving into the details, it’s worth remembering where the President hoped this process would end up. This chart, stolen from the excellent resources available at the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy program, provides an overall view of the first draft of the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request compared with FY 2018 enacted levels for science agencies and programs. Though there are some caveats to the numbers shown, and they were amended in an addendum, but in general I think it’s fair to say there’s not a lot of growth pictured.

The big takeaway from the final FY 2019 appropriations is Congress’ rejection of the President’s de-prioritization of overall Federal science budgets. Where the President sought to cut science funding almost across the board and reorganize some science agencies and programs, Congress instead funded increases almost across the board and largely rejected the reorganizations.

Here are details for some key agencies and programs:

National Science Foundation

Appropriators provided an increase of 4.0 percent to NSF compared to FY18, taking NSF’s budget above $8 billion for the first time. This funding level represents an increase of 8.1 percent over the President’s requested level for FY19. Included in that figure is an increase of 2.9 percent, or $186 million, for the Research and Related Activities account, the home for NSF’s research directorates, including the Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate. That’s also 6.0 percent more than the President had requested. Some key language from the reports accompanying the House and Senate versions of the final bill include specific reference to the importance of “[preserving] U.S. leadership in quantum computing”, urging NSF to “make significant investments in this area,” along with a requirement that future budget requests would include a “well-funded budget line” that supports “world-class leadership computing for the national open science community.”

NSF’s Education and Human Resources account receives $910 million in the omnibus, an increase of 0.9 percent compared to FY18 and 4.2 percent more than the FY19 request. And the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would grow 61.7 percent vs. FY18 to $296 million, as appropriators included funded for 3 regional class research vessels, 2 telescopes (LSST, DKIST) and moved funding for Antarctic Modernization into the account from its previous home in R&RA.

Department of Energy Office of Science

DOE’s Office of Science will see an additional $390 million in FY19 compared to FY18, growing to $6.6 billion — a 5 percent increase. Included in that increase is a $126 million increase (15 percent) to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, primarily to support the continuing effort to deploy two new exascale-class computing systems in FY 21 and FY 22. The increase also includes a new $13 million for the SciDAC partnerships to allow ASCR and the other science programs within Office of Science to focus on progress in Artificial Intelligence and big data. ARPA-E, targeted for elimination in the President’s budget request, will actually see a 4 percent increase to $366 million.

Department of Defense Science and Technology

Basic research (“6.1” in DOD parlance) increases by nearly 12 percent across the Department of Defense, up $280 million to $2.62 billion. That’s a considerable improvement over the increase of 2.9 percent in FY 2018. Applied research (6.2) will grow $390 million, 7.7 percent, to $6 billion, and Advanced Technology Development (6.3) grows 8 percent to $7.4 billion. DARPA, the only “winner” on the President’s Request chart above, will receive about what the President requested — $3.4 billion, up $360 million, or 11.7 percent (the President requested 12 percent), compared to FY18.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The NASA budget grows 3.5 percent to $21.5 billion in FY 2019. Included in that is a big increase for NASA’s Science programs, which would grow 11 percent to $6.9 billion. The increase primarily boosts NASA’s planetary science efforts, but it also rejects cuts the President proposed to earth science research at the agency (holding them mostly at FY18 levels).

National Institutes of Health

NIH will grow by $2.7 billion, or 5 percent, to $39.8 billion. Of particular interest to the computing research community is the rejection of the President’s plan to consolidate 3 agencies (the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)) into NIH. NIDILRR in particular supports some efforts in computing research and engineering aimed at developing solutions for the disabled that researchers were concerned might not be well-suited within a more science-oriented NIH. CRA helped put together a coalition of universities and programs that might be affected by the change and sent letters to the appropriators urging against it. The appropriators agreed and rejected the reorganization.


The home to most of NIST’s research efforts will receive the same funding amount they received in FY 2018, $725 million. The President proposed cutting the lab budget by 20.9 percent in his FY 19 request.

Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology

DHS S&T is one of the only negative outcomes in the FY 19 appropriations omnibus, receiving a $21 million or -2.5 percent cut vs. FY 18. Yet that level is still $237 million above the President’s request for the directorate. Of note to the computing research community, a proposal in the President’s budget to move the Cyber Security R&D program from the S&T Directorate to a more operationally-focused National Protection and Programs Directorate was also rejected, keeping the research program within the research-oriented directorate.

So, in sum, a pretty ok year for Federal science funding and computing research.

The Road Ahead

In addition to giving agencies certainty about how much they can spend this fiscal year, having completed appropriations bills means we ought to be free of most of our worries about further government shutdowns, at least through the end of the FY 2019 fiscal year on September 30th. However, the Federal debt limit — suspended back in 2018 as part of a bipartisan budget agreement — was reinstated on March 2nd, which means the U.S. Treasury has to use “extraordinary measures” to manage Federal expenditures until a new debt limit can be passed. The current estimate is that an increase to the debt limit will need to be enacted by mid August or so, or the U.S. will risk defaulting on some of its debt. This is a long way of saying that we risk yet another budget crisis in August if congressional leaders and the President can’t agree on a new limit. While neither party in particular has an appetite for yet another disruption, debt limit extensions are often occasions to use as leverage for policy concessions on other issues. The Democratic House or Republican Senate may use the crisis to advance progress on their particular priorities.

We’re also keeping watch for the President’s FY 2020 Budget Request, which was due the first Monday in February, but has been delayed due to the government shutdown. We expect that March 18th is the likely release date. We’ll have full details on the President’s request when it appears. It’s unlikely to be markedly different than Trump’s previous budgets overall. We’re hearing that the agencies were asked to plan for a scenario that necessitated 5 percent cuts to agency budgets across the board. But we also expect to hear more priority placed on Quantum Science, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Manufacturing, and 5G.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the favorable budget increases science agencies received in FY 18 and FY 19 were made possible by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2018. That agreement relieved the budget caps that had been put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which infamously prescribed double-digit cuts to Federal discretionary spending in the form of automatic sequestrations through FY 2021. The BBA only covered FY18 and FY19, meaning for FY20, we’re back under the restricted budget caps imposed by the BCA…unless Congress again agrees to relieve the budget caps with another bipartisan budget agreement. They are hard at work on that now, and there’s some reason to believe they’ll succeed. Neither the Democrats or Republicans are huge fans of sequestration — the Republicans think the cuts fall too heavily on defense discretionary spending and the Democrats argue the same for non-defense discretionary spending. So it’s likely they’ll be able to cut a deal. However, this will be the first bipartisan agreement since the BCA between a Democratic House and Republican Senate, so the calculus is a little different.

But we’ll keep you informed!

White House Announces New Five-Year STEM Education Plan; Computing Featured Prominently

The Trump Administration announced today a new five-year plan for STEM Education. The strategic plan, named “Charting A Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education,” calls for building a strong foundation in STEM literacy in American students; increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM for historically underserved and underrepresented groups; and preparing students for the STEM workforce of the future. Strategic partnerships with industry and nongovernmental groups are planned to be a part of the initiative’s funding.

This plan is a government-wide strategy, which is built on four “pathways representing a cross-cutting set of approaches.” Those pathways are:

  • Develop and enrich strategic partnerships,” to focus on, “strengthening existing relationships and developing new connections between educational institutions, employers, and their communities.”
  • Engage Students where Disciplines Converge,” to make STEM education more meaningful for students by exposing them to real-world problems and figuring out solutions.
  • Build Computational Literacy,” to, “advance computational thinking as a critical skill for today’s world.”
  • And, “Operate with Transparency and Accountability,” which, “commits the Federal Government to open, evidence-based practices and decision-making in STEM programs, investments, and activities.”

As shown above, computational thinking and computer science are featured prominently in the report. The main aim for both is to build digital literacy, and by extension computational literacy, in students so that they can better bring these skills into their careers and lives for the benefit of the nation. As stated in the report, “this pathway includes strategies for connecting people, accessing knowledge, and building high demand job skills.”

The report calls on Federal agencies engaged in STEM education, such as NSF, to collaborate to, “develop a consolidated implementation plan,” and to track the progress of STEM programs that are underway. It calls for deliver of this implementation plan with 120 days. No new federal funding is proposed in the strategy, though one could assume that will be a subject for the implementation report. This is a good first step to implementing a Federal STEM education plan and it’s another good example of the increased visibility of the computer science education community.

What’s up with the budget? Well, it’s complicated.

When we last provided an update on the Fiscal Year 2019 Federal Budget, some sections had been passed into law, a large chunk of it was expected to move in a few days, and some key bills were anticipated to be left for after the mid-term elections. As it turns out, not all of that happened as expected.

The bills that were passed in September are still law. But the “large chunk,” which was an expected “minibus” of the Financial Services, Interior, Agriculture, and Transportation appropriations bills, didn’t move at the end of September as planned. There were an assortment of reasons why they stagnated but it sounds like most of those issues have been cleared up. But these bills are still waiting for Congress to send them to the President for his signature.

What is important are the bills that were anticipated to be taken up after the election. These are Homeland Security, Foreign Services, and, of most significance, Commerce, Justice, Science (or CJS). The CJS bill contains the research funding for NSF, NIST, and NASA. CJS is still being held up over concerns about the Mueller investigation, as well as disagreement about the enforcement of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies; so, nothing to do with research. Still, we’re caught up in larger political currents.

So, what happens now? This is where things get complicated. The current continuing resolution (CR) expires this Friday, December 7th; something has to be signed into law, either these bills or another CR, by then or the government will shut down. President Trump has sent mixed signals about his intentions. He has publicly said he wants $5 billion for border wall funding, and will not sign the outstanding funding bills if he doesn’t get it. Except, he has also repeatedly told Congressional Republicans, who don’t want a shut down, he will NOT shut the government down. To use a science metaphor: it’s Schrödinger’s budget right now, in that the government is both funded and not funded until reality collapses into whatever it’s going to be.

What’s our best guess? Given the disruption of President Bush’s funeral on Wednesday, a new CR is likely. The question is will it be for a week or two weeks. After that, it’s a good question about what happens. We have to wait and see; because, it’s complicated.

UPDATE: The House Majority Leader announced that votes for the week are cancelled and a two week continuing resolution will be passed by unanimous consent. That means the government will be funded through December 21st; that’s the new deadline.

Midterm Election Impact: Mixed Results for Science and Research

The long, long awaited 2018 Midterm elections have come and (mostly) gone. As you’ve probably heard, the Democrats have gained control of the House of Representatives, while the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate. But what does this mean for science here in Washington?

Details don’t look great, as a fairly large number of experienced, science champions were ousted from their seats by voters. A few examples:

  • Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) has been a key member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee since she entered Congress in 2014, holding the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology. She had also taken up the issue of sexual harassment in the scientific research fields as a key issue.
  • Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) has been advocating for science since he entered the legislature in 2010; longtime readers of the blog will recall that he co-sponsored the first “Deconstructing the iPad” event in 2011.
  • Perhaps the biggest loss is Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). He is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, and Science, and has been a consistent champion of NASA and NSF (two agencies his subcommittee oversees). He has provided both with consistent funding levels through some very difficult budget seasons; his leadership will be difficult to replace.

There are other incumbents who we are waiting to hear final results. The biggest are probably Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a 30 year member of Congress and who was potentially slated to be the highest ranking Republican on the House Science Committee; and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee and has been a strong advocate for NASA. These races haven’t been called, as of the time of publication, but both are currently trailing their challengers.

On the plus side, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is expected to assume the chairmanship of the House Science Committee. A long serving member of Congress, and on the Science Committee specifically, Rep. Johnson is a big advocate for scientific research and STEM education. She released a statement outlining her agenda for the Committee in the next Congress and research is a big component.

Additionally, it looks like a relatively large number of people with science or engineering backgrounds have been elected to Congress. For example, Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who is a registered nurse and health policy expert, defeated Rep. Hultgren; in VA-02, the voters put into office Elaine Luria (D), who is a nuclear engineer; and in IL-06, voters elected Sean Casten (D), a biochemist. These are just a few examples; 314 Action is a good place to see who else with a science background was elected. The hope is these members-elect will be able to bring their science and engineering expertise to the policy table.

In the more immediate term, how does the election impact funding levels for science research? Regular readers will recall that the funding bill for NSF, NIST, and NASA has not been finished, and these agencies are on a continuing resolution until December 7th. It’s unclear what impact the election will have. President Trump is declaring the election a victory and will probably use this as a pretext to push for more border wall funding, which Democrats will oppose. On the other hand, Democrats, who can claim their own victory by seizing the House, may want to punt these budgets to next year when they are in a partial majority and have a stronger negotiating position. We’ll have to wait for things to play out more before we have a clearer idea of the outcome. Expect this uncertainty to last into December, possibly right up to the New Year.

And looking forward to next year, the outcome is even more unclear. Ultimately it will depend on how the President and the Republican Senate want to work with (or not work with) the Democratic House. If there is a sense that cooperation will serve everyone’s purposes, things could be good; if there’s a sense that conflict will serve best, things could get ugly quick. Keep in mind that the 2020 Presidential election is expected to begin today. Ultimately, science won’t be a defining issue, but it will be impacted by how the conflict between the House and President/Senate plays out.

Fiscal Year 2019 Update: Most of the Budget is Done…Except for what’s Most Important for Researchers

It’s been a busy September from a Congressional appropriations perspective. As of this writing, nine of the twelve appropriations bills have passed, including the Defense, Energy and Water, and Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bills – a productive pace not seen from Congress in many years. While it’s good these were passed into law, and they do cover some important research agencies, left unfinished is one key bill of concern to the computing research community — the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes funding for NSF, NIST, NOAA and NASA; more on that in a moment. Until then, here are the details of the pieces of legislative that have passed.

The Defense Appropriations bill includes all the funding for the Defense Department (DOD). It’s worth taking a look back and seeing the Administration’s budget request for DOD Science & Technology. To recap: it was a mixed bag of increases for 6.1 Basic Research and DARPA, with reductions for 6.2 Applied Research and 6.3 Advanced Technology Development. Congressional appropriators decided to go in a different direction and provided large increases across the board.

FY18 Final FY19 PBR* FY19 House FY19 Senate FY19 Final $ Change** % Change**
DOD 6.1 $2.34B $2.27B $2.30B $2.80B $2.62B $280M 11.8%
DOD 6.2 $5.68B $5.10B $5.57B $5.58B $6.07B $390M 7.7%
DOD 6.3 $6.84B $6.33B $6.56B $7.05B $7.36B $520M 8.0%
DARPA $3.07B $3.44B $3.39B $3.45B $3.43B $360M 11.7%

* – PBR is “President’s Budget Request”
** – All changes are against FY18 Final

The Energy and Water Appropriations bill covers the Department of Energy (DOE), with the Office of Science (DOE SC) and the Advanced Research Project Agency, Energy (ARPA-E) being the pieces of most concern. Regular readers will remember that the President suggested a large cut (34%) to the Office of Science and wanted to eliminate ARPA-E. Once again, Congressional leaders ignored the Administration’s request and provided increases to the agencies.

FY18 Final FY19 PBR* FY19 House FY19 Senate FY19 Final $ Change % Change
DOE SC $6.26B $5.39B $6.60B $6.65B $6.59B $390M 5%
ASCR $810M $899M $915M $980M $936M $126M 15%
ARPA-E $353M $0 $325M $375 $366M $13M 4%

Within the Labor-HHS bill, the agency of most importance is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Following the pattern from above, the President proposed a significant cut, which Congress rejected.

FY18 Final FY19 PBR* FY19 House FY19 Senate FY19 Final $ Change % Change
NIH $37.08B $34.1B $38.33B $39.08B $39.80B $2.72B 5%

So why hasn’t the CJS bill passed yet? Not because of concerns about science, but because of issues surrounding the Mueller Investigation at the Department of Justice, as well as enforcement of the Administration’s immigration policies. It’s expected to move only after the Congressional mid-term elections in November; and even after that, its path forward could change depending on the election results. The agencies under the three remaining appropriation bills (CJS, State and Foreign Operations, & Department of Homeland Security), including NSF, will operate under a Continuing Resolution (CR) until December 7, at which point Congress and the President will either have to agree to pass the bills, pass another CR, or let the agencies covered by those bills shut down until an agreement is reached. The President seems to be itching for an opportunity to shut down government if his requested funding for a border wall isn’t included in any agreement, and Congress seems reluctant to do that, so we will have to wait to see how that plays out in December. Until then, CRA will continue to monitor the situation and will report back when there are new developments; please check back.

Fiscal Year 2019 Update: What to Expect the Rest of the Year

Our regular readers will have noticed that Congress was busy over the summer with the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Appropriations. With funding levels agreed to last year, both the House and Senate were able to plow ahead and get much of their work done for the next fiscal year (which is set to start on October 1st). However, our regular readers will also recognize that that’s when Congress tends to hit a roadblock; this year is no different. The twist for this year is that a good amount of research funding is being held up in the process.

With the approaching mid-term elections, and Democrats sensing that they have a chance to recapture both chambers of Congress, Congressional Republicans have had to be very careful with how they move legislation; trying to bolster, or at least not harm, their own election chances, while denying Democrats any legislative wins. To that end, the Senate has used a minibus approach to move the appropriations bills — combining multiple bills into packages to ease passage.

The first minibus combined the Energy and Water, Military Construction-and-Veteran Affairs, and Legislative Branch approps bills; it passed both chambers at the end of June and has been in conference since. The bill in that package of most interest to the researcher community is Energy and Water, which contains the funding for the Department of Energy; see our write-ups for the numbers in both House and Senate bills. Once that comes out of conference, we will have an update.

The second minibus contained the Financial Services and Interior bills; it passed the House in the middle of July and the Senate at the beginning of August, and is now in conference.

The third minibus is where things start to get politically interesting. This package combines the popular Defense approps bill with the contentious Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) bill. Senator Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) took this approach because Senate Democrats told him that the Defense bill would not move without Labor-HHS attached; this was to protect Healthcare Reform from potential cuts. Because the Senate Republican majority is so narrow, Democrats have the power to make such demands. The problem is that the House refuses to move Labor-HHS in this fashion, mainly because House Republicans want to make significant cuts to Healthcare Reform. This has created a legislative problem, as the House and Senate have now both passed the Defense bill but the House has not passed Labor-HHS. How this gets resolved is an open question, as both McConnell and House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) want the Defense bill passed before the start of the new fiscal year, if that’s possible. We will have a detailed write-up of the defense research funding levels soon.

The Agriculture and Transportation approps bills are being held up for various political reasons and their movement is not being pursued in this minibus approach.

Which leads us to the contentious appropriations bills: State and Foreign Operations (State), Homeland Security (DHS), and Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS). Regular readers will recognize that the CJS bill (House and Senate) is very important to our community, as it contains the funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and NASA. Fortunately, these bills are not stalled because of concerns about science; CJS and DHS are being held up because of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and State is being held up because of various foreign affairs matters. None of these bills are expected to pass until after the election in November, as members of Congress don’t like taking difficult votes just before being in front of the voters at the polls. A continuing resolution (CR) is likely but how long it will run is an open question; should Democrats retake either chamber, they may want to punt the bills to the next calendar year when they are in a stronger position. And Republicans would most likely want to pass all three as soon as possible, regardless of how the election turns out.

Bottom line: FY19 appropriations are complicated right now and they are expected to stay that way until at least the middle of November. We’re going to have to let things play out, and see what happens in the mid-term elections, before the situation becomes clearer. Please check back for continuing updates.

Appropriations Update: NSF, NIST, and NASA do well in FY19 Senate Bill

[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s new Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2018, Amita Shukla.]

Continuing CRA’s tracking of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriations process, we turn to the Senate’s Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up their version of the CJS bill on June 14th (by June 28th, the Committee finished marking up all 12 subcommittees’ bills, a 30-year record for timeliness). The CJS bill includes funding for NSF, NIST, and NASA, which are of the most concern to the computing community, along with funding for the Department of Justice. While the attention surrounding this bill has been dominated by immigration issues concerning the Department of Justice, science and computing research have fared relatively well.

The bill includes a healthy increase of 3.9 percent for the National Science Foundation, an increase from $7.77 billion in FY18 to $8.18 billion for FY19. While in the context of the recent run of relatively flat budgets for the agency this is a good development, the funding is not quite as generous as the 5 percent increase provided by the House Appropriations Committee’s in their version of the FY19 CJS appropriations. Drilling into the details, the Research and Related Activities account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive a 3.6 percent increase, increasing from $6.33 billion in FY18 to $8.07 billion for FY19. The bill also includes a special set-aside of funds for quantum science, echoing what was done in the Energy and Water appropriations. In report language accompanying the bill, the Senate states that establishing “world-class leadership computing” in quantum science is of critical strategic importance in maintaining US dominance, “particularly given computational investments and technical achievements in high-performance computing by other nations, notably China and Japan.”

FY17 FY18 FY19 PBR Senate $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.50B $7.77B $7.47B $8.07B $301M 3.9%
RRA $6.01B $6.33B $6.15B $6.56B $410M 3.6%
EHR $873M $902M $873 $915M $13M 1.4%

Funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does not fare quite as well in the bill as NSF, though perhaps not as bad as it initially appears for research. While it appears that NIST would see a steep cut of 13 percent in the bill, the cut falls predominantly on the agency’s Construction of Research Facilities account (which would see a cut in half from FY18 levels). The facilities cuts, however, do not indicate diminished support but merely a readjustment from a FY18 one-time increase to complete the Radiation Physics building in Maryland. Even with the cut, NIST would still see funding overall above FY17 levels. The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would see funding of $725 million in FY19; the same as FY18. While flat funding is not ideal, it is much better than the President’s requested 48 percent cut. Additionally, the committee proposes $5 million for a quantum science and engineering public-private partnership fund, reaffirming that quantum science is to be an inter-organizational, cross-cutting initiative.

FY17 FY18 FY19 PBR Senate $ Change % Change
NIST Total $954M $1.2B $629M $1.04B -$161M -13%
STRS $690M $725M $573M $725M 0 0%

NASA funding included in the bill would exceed that for FY18 by 3%, increasing from $20.7 billion in FY18 to $21.3 billion. The NASA Science account would also see a 3% increase, from $5.9 billion up to $6.4 billion.

FY17 FY18 FY19 PBR Senate $ Change % Change
NASA Total $19.6B $20.7B $19.9B $21.3B $587M 3.0%
Science $5.76B $6.22B $5.90B $6.40B $500M 3.0%

In comparison to the House Appropriations Committee’s action, the Senate was not as generous to most of the science research agencies that the computing research communities are concerned with. However, both are well above what the Administration requested, and there are few actual cuts of note.

So, what are next steps in the appropriations process? The House will most likely finish their work, passing all of their bills through the full chamber by the end of July. While the Senate Appropriations Committee is done with their work, the expectation is that the process in the full chamber will come to a halt, especially with a Supreme Court nomination expected to take up all the Senate’s time for the foreseeable future. With the fast approaching mid-term elections in November, and the expectation that Congress will take October off to campaign, the likely outcome is another continuing resolution, at the end of September, to keep the government running until after the election. Expect final passage of FY19 appropriations some time after that, dependent in part on the outcome of the election. So stay tuned for continuing coverage of the appropriations process.

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