The Ups and Downs of Science Funding

October 18, 2011

by Paula Skedsvold

Both the U.S. House and Senate are identifying ways to move FY 2012 appropriations bills through their respective chambers. This year, the strategy may be to package small groups of spending bills or “minibuses” for votes, rather than bringing all remaining spending bills (an omnibus bill) to the floor as a whole. Funding for the National Science Foundation is likely to be considered early, as the Senate is expected to vote its first minibus, which contains funding for NSF, this week.  On the other hand, the funding bill that includes NIH is expected to be one of the last spending bills considered by either the Senate or House.  Meanwhile, the federal government continues to operate under a Continuing Resolution (CR) through November 18. The CR cut most discretionary spending by 1.5% from FY 2011. 

The House and Senate remain far apart on funding for NSF and NIH in FY 2012. For NSF, the House bill provides level funding, with the research account growing by about $43 million and the Education and Human Resources (HER) Directorate losing $26 million, both in comparison to FY 2011 funding levels. In the Senate bill, NSF would be cut by almost $162 million, with the research account losing $120 million and EHR dropping by $32 million from FY 2011. 

Likewise, the House and Senate bills for NIH funding vary widely. The House Appropriations Committee released a draft bill for Labor-Health and Human Services-Education that is, as a whole, $4 billion below FY 2011, but which provides $1 billion more to NIH than in FY 2011. Neither the House appropriations subcommittee or full committee have considered the bill, but it may be wrapped into a larger minibus bill. Senate appropriators, on the other hand, have moved the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill through both subcommittee and full committee, providing $190 million less for NIH than in FY 2011. 

There are other differences in the Labor-HHS-Education bills. The House bill reduces the cap on salaries for extramural grants, while the Senate bill retains the current cap. The House draft requires the NIH Director to support at least 9,150 new and competing research project grants, and the Senate bill provides funding for the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). The House bill also contains a number of legislative provisions, including a prohibition on funding to implement the health care reform law.

While the FY 2012 spending details are worked out, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction continues its work. Congressional committees had until Oct. 14 to submit their ideas for reducing the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. The “supercommittee” has until Nov. 23 to vote on any legislative proposals and Dec. 2 to formally report the proposals to the House and Senate. The House and Senate, in turn, have until Dec. 23 to vote on any proposals, but they must do so without amendment.  Without passage of $1.2 trillion in cuts by Jan. 15, across-the-board spending cuts will be triggered, but will not take effect for a year, until Jan. 2, 2013. 

More details on the impact of the supercommitee’s work »