Spending Plan Complete: Mixed News for Science

January 21, 2014

by Paula Skedsvold  

The December budget deal (otherwise known as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 or the “Ryan-Murray Agreement”) set overall spending caps for FY 2014 and 2015. Once set, appropriators worked feverishly over the holidays to put the finishing touches on twelve spending bills, rolling them into an omnibus package that was passed by both houses and signed by the President last week. In the course of their work, the House and Senate also passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open for three days while they finished their work on the omnibus.

What does the omnibus offer for science? Perhaps the best characterization is that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there was a bipartisan budget agreement (which is always good news these days) that allowed appropriators to partially roll back sequestration for the next two years. However, overall science funding has not recovered from budget caps, flat to modest appropriations, and the first year of sequestration cuts. The new omnibus package provides relief from sequestration cuts in FY 2014 and FY 2015, but sequestration looms again in FY 2016, and you can bet that science advocates will be working hard for more relief.

The massive bill is also noteworthy for what is not there. The omnibus included new spending bills, including the Commerce-Justice-Science bill which funds NSF, and the restrictions on funding political science research at NSF that were attached to the last spending bill were not included in the new package. This is excellent news for basic science at NSF and any scientist concerned about Congressional micro-management of the research process.

As readers may recall, FABBS issued an Action Alert opposing restrictions on fundamental science at NSF immediately upon passage of the bill last year. Late last week, the American Political Science Association thanked science advocates: “On behalf of APSA, I want to thank you for your time, energy, and commitment to overturning the restrictions. This is a tremendous achievement for political science and the whole of the SBS and scientific community.”

Following are a few highlights coming out of the omnibus which will provide funding through Sept. 30, 2014:

  • NIH: The agency will receive $29.93 billion, an increase of 3.5% over FY 2013 funding after sequestration and transfers, but $714 million below FY 2013 pre-sequestration numbers. According to an AAAS analysis, NIH will recover just over half what it lost under sequestration. Since FY 2004, the agency has seen a 15% reduction in funding (in constant dollars). Individuals Centers and Institutes at NIH are slated to get an increase of around 3% with a few exceptions. NIA is a big winner and will receive a 12.6% increase to support Alzheimer's research. The bill also includes support for the BRAIN initiative and the National Children's Study.
  • NSF: $7.17 billion, an increase of 4.2% above the FY 2013 post-sequester levels. Still, the funding is $82 million below the FY 2013 enacted level, according to figures released by the House Appropriations Chairman. NSF's research account is slated to grow by $266 million to $5.8 billion, while EHR funding will increase by $13 million to $846 million. SBE funding is part of the overall research account, so precise figures are not available at this time.
  • IES: $576.94 million, $94 million below the President's request. According to a table accompanying the bill, all IES accounts except Assessment would see a drop in funding relative to the President’s request. 
  • DoD: Although overall R&D funding will be below FY 2012 levels, basic and applied research and early-stage technology development will do well, according to an AAAS analysis. The bill provides targeted support for cancer research, traumatic brain injury and psychological health, and suicide prevention through DoD’s medical research program.

Now that the FY 2014 appropriations process is complete, attention shifts to FY 2015 appropriations. The President is expected to release his FY 2015 budget request in late February or early March, and appropriators will once again begin to hold hearings to consider agency budgets. Prior to launching FY 2015 negotiations, however, discussions on the debt ceiling will take center-stage again, and there will be debates about offsets for any increases. 

Let’s hope the bipartisan spirit holds. Meanwhile, join us in advocating for science! FABBS will join other scientific societies and tweet about science during the President’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28th, 9pm ET. #sotuscience