Computing Research Policy Blog
Late last week, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the current chair of the House Science, Space, & Technology Committee, announced that she would not seek reelection and would retire after nearly thirty years in Congress.
Chairwoman Johnson is a long-time champion of scientific research, STEM education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the scientific fields. Her time as the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee, which began in 2011, has been marked by efforts to bolster the nation’s research enterprise; Rep. Johnson’s sponsorship of the NSF for the Future Act and the DOE Science for the Future Act are just two recent examples of a long career supporting the nation’s scientists and researchers.
Of equal importance to her championing research, Chairwoman Johnson’s efforts to work in a bipartisan manner with her Republican colleagues on the Science Committee have helped to keep the committee focused on the science. In a statement on her retirement, Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) said, “there is no one I would rather have as my counterpart across the aisle. EBJ, as I affectionately call her, is a true public servant and she cares deeply about supporting American science. While we don’t always agree on the best way to do that, we are usually able to find common ground and work together to pass strong, bipartisan policies.”
The Computing Research Association has been honored to work with Chairwoman Johnson and her staff over the past several years; we thank her whole-heartedly for her leadership and efforts to make the United States scientific enterprise the best in the world. We wish her well in all her future endeavors.
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, also known as the budget reconciliation bill. Regular readers will recall that in September the House Science Committee advanced its $45 billion section of the then $3.5 trillion overall legislation; the committee’s bill featured investments in research and scientific infrastructure at NSF, DOE Office of Science, NASA, and NIST. Unfortunately, that was the high-water mark in terms of funding; the legislative package ran into heavy resistance in the Senate and was revised downward multiple times over the past several months.
The version that was passed by the House last week totaled roughly $2 trillion overall. NSF was a big winner among the research accounts, receiving almost $3.5 billion dollars. Other research agencies of note received varying amounts; here are some highlights:
NSF – $3.5 billion total; to be spent by 2028, unless otherwise noted.
– $668 million till 2026 for research and other activities;
– $1.52 billion till 2026 to establish the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, & Partnerships (TIP);
– $25 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts;
– $500 million for climate research;
– $25 million for research security activities;
– $200 million for research capacity building at HBCUs, HSIs, Tribal colleges & universities, and other MSIs;
– $55 million for cyber security research;
– $200 million till 2026 for research facilities;
– $200 million till 2026 for mid-scale and major research facilities;
– $100 million for academic research facilities moderation at HBCUs, Tribal colleges and universities, HSIs, and other MSIs.
DOE – there is no general research or infrastructure money available for the Office of Science; all money for DOE SC is allocated to demonstration programs focused exclusively on low dose radiation and fusion research.
NASA – to be spent by 2028
– $748 million for infrastructure;
– $85 million for climate R&D;
– $30 million for investments in data management and processing to support climate research;
– $225 million for sustainable aviation.
NIST – $650 million to spent by 2028 for upgrade, replacement, maintenance, or renovation of facilities and equipment.
Depending on how one looks at this legislation, it’s either disappointing or good. It is disappointing that the research community didn’t receive what was proposed in the Science Committee’s original September bill. However, this legislation is good in that these research agencies did get something, as there was real worry among the community that the research accounts would be left out of the process entirely. Also, looking at NSF, providing money to TIP is good, as that could take pressure off the other directorates to fund the new one.
This is, unfortunately, far from the end of the process. The reconciliation bill will now head to the Senate for consideration and likely more changes. In fact, the likelihood of passage in the Senate is slim; the only difference in the political calculus from September to now is that there is no longer the carrot of the infrastructure bill to pull in skeptical Senators. We’ll have to see how things play out before we have any definitive answers; the Senate has until the end of the calendar year to act on this legislation. Please check back for more updates.
Dueling updates this week about legislation reorganizing and reauthorizing the National Science Foundation provided only contradictory views of the bills’ future.
Regular readers will recall that the Senate-passed United States Innovation & Competitiveness Act (USICA) contains the Endless Frontier Act (EFA), a major reorganization of the National Science Foundation. It includes large funding authorizations for NSF, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), among other provisions. The legislation passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis back in June.
On Monday, Senator Schumer (D-NY), Majority Leader of the Senate and one of the original sponsors of USICA and EFA, announced that he secured an agreement that would add USICA to the yearly, must-pass defense policy bill in a package of bipartisan amendments. This would have assured that USICA would move when the defense bill progressed in the Senate. But that’s not how it played out.
Wednesday evening, after opposition to including USICA in the defense bill arose from Senate Republicans, Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) released a statement saying they had agreed to conference the competing Senate and House NSF legislation directly, without using the defense policy bill as a legislative vehicle. No timeline or plan for accomplishing this was included in their statement.
If you, dear reader, feel like you experienced whiplash reading these paragraphs, that is to be expected.
The progression of the NSF legislation this calendar year is now in doubt. The appeal of attaching USICA to the defense policy bill is that it is must-pass legislation; without that vehicle, it’s not a given USICA will move by itself. It’s also easier for Senate Republicans to filibuster final passage of a standalone bill, in order to deny a legislative victory to Congressional Democrats and the Biden Administration.
But this also creates a conferencing problem in that the House’s legislation, the NSF for the Future Act and the DOE Science for the Future Act, only cover reauthorizing NSF and the DOE research programs; USICA covers many more topics that the House has not considered. Democratic House leaders have repeatedly said they would prefer to pass a China competitiveness bill/NSF reauthorization separate from the defense policy bill; they now have their wish, though it’s unclear if that’s good.
Ultimately, progression of USICA and the two House bills are now in doubt. Given how many major legislative matters Congress has to deal with in the month and a half remaining in the year, will drawn-out negotiations on a non-urgent policy matter be high on Congressional leaders’ to-do list? Likely this will be pushed into 2022; the deadline for passing anything, using the present legislation, would be the end of 2022 (ie: the end of the 117th Congress). Otherwise, the legislative process for both bills would need to be restarted. The one saving grace of this is that both Senate and House bills are bipartisan; there is a real view among Congressional leaders that the nation’s research enterprise needs attention. It’s just a question about when it will be addressed. This situation is still fluid, with new updates possible, please check back for more information.
Over the weekend, the House of Representatives broke the legislative logjam over the long-delayed Infrastructure package, passing it on a bipartisan basis. This allowed the bill to be sent to the President’s desk for signing into law. While having only a few pieces for researchers, the infrastructure bill does contain some notable parts for the computing community.
Regular readers will recall that the Senate passed the infrastructure package, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, back in August. That was a bipartisan, Senate negotiated bill carefully agreed so that it would pass Congress and become law. However, the House delayed taking up the bill because House leaders were hoping to use it as leverage to get the Senate to pass the Reconciliation spending package. Due to delays in the House crafting that legislation, and the opposition of key Senators to the size and scope of the reconciliation bill, the Senate has yet to take it up. This all created an over two-month delay in Congress passing the infrastructure bill and came close to derailing President Biden’s entire legislative agenda. Faced with likely more delays, Congressional leaders decided to pass the infrastructure bill and consider the reconciliation bill down the road.
As we discussed when it passed the Senate in August, there are a few pieces to the infrastructure bill for the research community, some of particular note to the computing community:
– A five-year, $100 million a year SMART grant program at the Department of Transportation (DOT);
– several intelligent transportation and smart communities pilot programs are established at DOT;
– a new ARPA program (ARPA-Infrastructure) established at DOT;
– an entire title of the bill is dedicated to expanding broadband access; and
– several provisions with regard to cybersecurity, particularly with regard to protecting infrastructure and local governments.
However, this is a traditional infrastructure bill (ie: roads, bridge, etc) and not a vehicle for general research dollars or for scientific infrastructure. The expectations were that a reconciliation spending package would cover that type of funding. The passage of the infrastructure bill, without a corresponding vote on the reconciliation spending, means more money for research is unlikely at the moment. This has little to do with support for research, which is generally quite popular in Congress, and more to with there being great hesitancy among legislators to move another large spending bill.
In terms of good news, Congress closing out the infrastructure package makes it more likely that they will have the bandwidth to consider regular appropriations this calendar year, i.e. Fiscal Year 2022. If so, the National Science Foundation, among other research funding agencies, should do quite well. Movement on these bills is not a given however, as there have been increasing objections voiced by Congressional Republicans on both Appropriations Committees to movement of FY22 legislation and calling for a year-long Continuing Resolution. If Congressional Republicans withhold their support for moving the appropriations bills, the process could be pushed into 2022 or beyond. It’s hard to tell at this point what will happen but the next month will be critical. The current CR expires on December 3rd.
Finally, Congress still has a number of major pieces of legislation on its to-do list. It still has to handle the nation’s debt limit and several pieces of “must pass” legislation, like the yearly defense policy bill. These are not likely to be easy jobs to complete and will be far from bipartisan. While the logjam was cleared with the passage of the infrastructure bill, it could return quickly. We’ll keep track of the situation and report back when new developments happen.
Senate appropriators have bucked the trend of proposed low defense research budgets, put forward by both the President and their House counterparts, for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22); instead they approved legislation that would significantly increase funding for Defense Basic Research (6.1). DOD 6.1 would grow by 12.5 percent vs. FY21 to $3.0 billion under the Senate plan, and DARPA funding would grow 12.1 percent to $4.25 billion.
This is in sharp contrast to the other budget plans that have been proposed. The President’s budget request included cuts to all three S&T accounts. Both 6.1 and 6.2 would see cuts by 14.5 percent, and 6.3 would be cut by 11.1 percent. While DARPA would escape cuts under the President’s plan, it would do so barely with an increase of 0.8 percent. The details of the House plan were not much better: cuts all-around of 8.7 percent for 6.1; 8.3 percent for 6.2; 1.5 percent for 6.3; and 0.6 percent for DARPA.
As a refresher, DOD’s Science and Technology program is made up of three accounts: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), and 6.3 (advanced technology development). These accounts are themselves made up of individual accounts for each of the three services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), as well as a Defense Wide account. DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a section under the Defense Wide account.
But the Senate’s plan is objectively better, and in most respects outright good. Basic Research (6.1), which is the main Defense Department supporter of fundamental research at US universities, would receive a large increase of 12.5 percent compared to its FY21 levels. The account goes from $2.67 billion in FY21 to $3.00 billion for FY22, an increase of $333 million. For the university basic research community, there is great news: the services’ “University Research Initiative” subaccounts get exceptionally large increases, with the Army’s subaccount increasing by 71.9 percent, the Navy’s increasing by 62.6 percent, and Air Force’s increasing by 33.3 percent. Since the President’s disappointing request, the Defense research community has been pushing for healthy numbers for all of the defense research accounts and it’s good to see the Senate respond favorably.
The Applied Research (6.2) account is in a different spot; flat-to-slight increase under the Senate’s plan. The full account would see just a 1.3 percent increase compared to last year’s budget, going from $6.45 billion in FY21 to $6.53 billion under the Senate’s plan (a plus up of $86 million). But when compared against the requested budget from May, the account would receive a bump up of 18.6 percent.
The Advanced Technology Development (6.3) account would receive a healthy increase. It would go from $7.76 billion in FY21 to $8.13 billion in FY22, an increase of $379million (or +4.9 percent). Significantly better than the 1.5 percent cut under the House’s plan, or the 11.1 percent cut in the President’s request.
Finally, DARPA would see an increase almost as good as 6.1. The agency would go from $3.50 billion in FY21 to $3.93 billion in FY22, an increase of 12.1 percent or $425 million.
|FY20||FY21||FY22 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
What happens next? We are still waiting for Congress to close out the reconciliation and infrastructure bills; it sounds like there is potential movement on both any day now. Once those are cleared then Congress can get into endgame planning for FY22. They have until December 3rd, the expiration date of the current Continuing Resolution; but that can be pushed back, especially if the reconciliation and infrastructure talks drag on. Unfortunately, we have to wait for the legislative logjam to clear before we have a better idea of how the Fiscal Year 2022 budget ends; please keep checking back for more updates.
On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee released their final nine appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22). Continuing our regular coverage of the federal budget process, we’ll start by looking at the Senate’s Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, which contains the budgets for NSF, NIST, and NASA. This bill provides a good look at the Senate’s approach to the FY22 budget. Namely that the chamber provides generous increases for many of the research agencies, but they are generally not as generous as either the Biden Administration’s request or the House Appropriations Committee’s plan. Let’s get into the details.
Under the Senate’s plan, NSF would receive $9.49 billion, which is a $1.0 billion increase (+11.8 percent) over the FY21 number ($8.49 billion). While objectively good, keep in mind the Biden Administration’s budget plan provided $10.2 billion for NSF and the House appropriators provided $9.63 billion for the agency.
Drilling down more, the Research & Related Activities account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio, would receive $7.67 billion in the Senate’s plan. Again, a significant increase (+$757 million or a 11 percent increase) but below the President’s ($8.14 billion) and the House’s ($7.70 billion) marks. The Education & Human Resources account is similar: the Senate’s number of $1.10 billion (+$132 million or 13.6 percent) is below both the President ($1.29 billion) and the House ($1.27 billion).
|FY20||FY21||FY22 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
In an interesting development, Senate appropriators provided a specific number for the new Technology, Innovations, & Partnerships (TIP) directorate within RRA. TIP is the Biden Administration’s plan for a new technology development directorate at NSF. Regular readers will recall that there are competing ideas for such a directorate between the authorizing committees in each chamber; the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee version is called the Directorate of Technology and Innovation and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee version is called the Directorate for Science & Engineering Solutions. While the House appropriators expressed support for the Administration’s plan, they did not call out a specific funding level for the new directorate; Senate appropriators, however, provided $865 million, which is what the Administration requested, and voiced their support for the agency’s efforts in setting up TIP. It’s unusual for Congress to drill down to the directorate level and it’s not clear at the moment if this is a good thing.
In terms of policy items in the committee’s report, there are a few highlights. The committee is supportive of NSF’s efforts in QIS and AI and fully funds the requests for these efforts. There is also a section on High Performance Computing, where the committee both compliments NSF for its efforts and investments, but then says the committee is concerned these efforts fall short of scientific and engineering needs. To that end, the committee directs NSF to provide, “a timely, well-funded budget line in future budget submissions…to support world-class leadership in computing for the national open science community.” Finally, there is a section encouraging NSF to enter into an agreement with the National Academies to conduct a study on disinformation and misinformation.
As for the other research agencies in the CJS bill, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) budget is quite good. The top line for the agency would see a healthy increase, going from $1.03 billion in FY21 to $1.39 billion in FY22 (+$360 million or +35 percent); that is better than the House mark ($1.37 billion) but below the Administration’s ($1.50 billion). The institutes’ Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the agency’s research is housed, would likewise see a good increase for FY22; $913 million for this year, which is $125 million more (+16 percent) than it received for FY21. But STRS’ numbers are below both President Biden’s and the House’s recommended numbers for FY22.
|FY20||FY21||FY22 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
Finally, NASA’s budget: the top line for the space agency would receive an increase of 6.6 percent, going from $23.27 billion in FY21 to $24.80 billion in FY22 (+$1.53 billion). And NASA’s Science account would likewise receive a boost up of $600 million (or +8.2 percent); the account would go from $7.30 billion in FY21 to $7.90 billion in FY22. But again, these numbers are below what the President and the House suggested in in their respective budget plans.
|FY20||FY21||FY22 Senate||$ Change||% Change|
What happens next? The Senate Appropriations Committee released these bills to forego the normal subcommittee markup process; but it’s unclear if the full committee will still consider these bills, or if they are to used in negotiations with the House on a possible year-end omnibus funding bill. There is likely not enough time between now and the expiration of the current Continuing Resolution (December 3rd) for the full committee to consider all nine bills. Complicating matters, the Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member, Richard Shelby (R-AL), has voiced displeasure that the committee’s chairman released these bills without the consent of the minority. As well, Shelby is already saying another CR beyond Dec 3rd will be needed. We’ll have to let things play out more before we know what will happen, so please keep checking back for more updates.
While Congress is still deciding how to finish the next fiscal year (FY2022 which starts on Oct 1st), the calendar keeps moving. With that in mind, the Biden Administration is already planning ahead for Fiscal Year 2023, which begins on Oct 1st, 2022, and released their first R&D priorities memo late last month. The memo provides guidance to federal research agencies on how to prepare their budget request submissions for the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), who is the lead office in the White House tasked with assembling the yearly Presidential Budget Request (PBR).
Regular readers will recall, the first step in the federal budget process is the PBR, which is legally required to be submitted to Congress in early February (though it isn’t always submitted on time, as this past year demonstrated). Once the PBR is transmitted to Congress, the legislature then decides how money is legally allocated to the federal agencies through the appropriations process.
The memo identifies five broad categories for the Administration’s R&D priorities:
- Pandemic readiness and prevention
- Tackling climate change
- Catalyze research and innovation in critical and emerging technologies
- Innovation for equity
- National security and economic resilience
All of these are in line with their FY22 budget requests and the President’s initial infrastructure plan. As an example, it is noted in the memo that the “Innovation for equity” topic is part of President Biden’s, “whole-of-Government equity agenda,” and is to specifically, “prioritize R&D investments in programs with strong potential to advance equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically disadvantaged, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
As another example, CS/IT topics are well covered in the “Catalyze research and innovation in critical and emerging technologies” topic. The memo advises the agencies to, “collaborate to promote world-leading research and innovation boosting American industries and quality American jobs in critical and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), quantum information science (QIS), advanced communications technologies, microelectronics, high-performance computing, biotechnology, robotics, and space technologies.”
These topics are likely to continue to influence the Biden Administration, and by extension the federal research agencies, for the remaining years of the President’s term.
[This post was originally published on the CCC Blog.]
Yesterday, President Biden announced 30 of America’s most distinguished leaders in science and technology as members of his President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). PCAST is the premier science advisory committee within the Executive Office of the President and is the sole body of advisors charged with making science, technology, and innovation policy recommendations to the President and the White House. Established by Executive Order, it is an independent Federal Advisory Committee composed of distinguished individuals from industry, academia, and non-profit organizations with a range of perspectives and scientific expertises.
The announcement builds on President Biden’s commitment to, “refresh and reinvigorate our national science and technology strategy.” In January, when the President announced his nomination of Dr. Eric Lander as the President’s Science Advisor and a member of his Cabinet, he tasked Dr. Lander and the PCAST co-chairs with five questions to lead to recommendations to the Administration, “on the general strategies, specific actions, and new structures that the federal government should adopt to ensure that our nation can continue to harness the full power of science and technology on behalf of the American people.” Reforming the general membership of PCAST is another step in following through with that strategy. CRA applauded that announcement earlier this year and we continue to applaud the effort to keep “science…always…at the forefront” of the country’s endeavors.
The new membership includes a number of computer science researchers:
- Eric Horvitz is a leading researcher in artificial intelligence (AI) and issues at the intersection of technology, people, and society – including the technical and societal challenges and opportunities presented by AI’s uses. He is Chief Scientific Officer at Microsoft and former Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Council member who was the keynote speaker at CCC’s Artificial Intelligence For Social Good workshop in June 2016. Dr. Horvitz is the third CCC alumni to serve as a member of PCAST; Susan Graham and Daniela Rus served on past versions of the council.
- William Dally invented hardware architectures that power parallel computing, modern supercomputers, and artificial intelligence as we know it today. He is the Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President for Research at NVIDIA, a leading computer chip and technology company.
- William Press is a computer scientist, computational biologist, and astrophysicist who co-discovered the mathematical model for predicting the distribution of masses of galaxies throughout the universe. He is the Leslie Surginer Professor of Computer Science and Integrative Biology at The University of Texas at Austin.
- Phil Venables is a computer scientist, software engineer, and expert in technology, security, and enterprise risk who has co-founded and led multiple corporate and industry-wide cybersecurity initiatives focused on safeguarding critical infrastructure in the financial sector. He is Chief Information Security Officer at Google Cloud.
- Andrea Goldsmith is a pioneer in the field of wireless communications whose discoveries have influenced cellular and WiFi networks all over the world. She is the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Princeton University, and was the first woman to win the Marconi Prize.
The House of Representatives is making quick work of their Budget Reconciliation bills and for good reason. Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has set September 15th as the deadline for all the House committees to complete work on their assorted draft legislation. With a very short window open to handle such a complex package of bills, the committees are moving at a breakneck pace.
To that end, we are getting our first insights into how research agencies will fare during this process. Last week the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a markup of their $45 billion portion of the overall bill. Highlights of the legislation for the agencies of most importance to the research community:
– $11 billion for NSF, of which $7.5 billion is for research and education programs and $3.4 billion is for infrastructure projects, including $1 billion for projects based at academic institutions with a $300 million carveout for HBCUs and MSIs.
– $12.8 billion for DOE Office of Science, for projects, programs, and facilities. There are several projects and programs specific for computing that are called out, with exascale and QIS getting noticeable attention.
– $1.2 billion is for NIST research and $1B for NIST infrastructure.
– $4.4 billion for NASA, of which $4 billion is for facilities repair and modernization with most of the remainder for projects related to climate change research, sustainable aviation, and wildfire preparedness.
While this wasn’t bipartisan, with the committee’s Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) mentioning multiple times that the budget reconciliation process is rushed and irresponsible, there also were no attempts by the minority party to cut down funding amounts during the amendment process. In fact, there were several bipartisan amendments accepted on voice votes (though there were many more Republican amendments voted down). This is likely to be as bipartisan as it will get though; the bill was passed on a party-line vote of 21 yeas to 17 nays.
To make clear, this is money being appropriated for Fiscal Year 2022 (ie: the next fiscal year, which starts on Oct 1st). While this is new money, in addition to the regular FY22 process, that may create some problems down the line. The concern within the policy community is that these outlays are so large that there is a likelihood that money could be withheld during regular appropriations in later years. But that is speculative right now, with specific impacts TBD.
In terms of procedure, once the committees have completed their work, they send their bills to the House Budget Committee, who will then package all the bills together for the full House of Representatives to vote on. Once the package passes the House, the Senate would take it up. The rules for a reconciliation bill mean that the time for debate is limited, and the filibuster cannot be used (ie: it’s subject to only a majority vote), so it will be voted on.
But keep in mind, this is still a very fluid and contentious process. For example, Senator Manchin (D-WV), one of the swing votes in the Senate, has called for a “strategic pause” to the whole process. Senator Manchin is concerned with passing such a large increase in spending, citing its impact on the national debt and inflation. If he follows through with his opposition, this could easily sink the entire endeavor and have a spillover effect that could scuttle the infrastructure deal. Keep in mind, Congressional Republicans are united in opposition to this and, with a Senate that is evenly divided, one switched vote can doom the entire process. This is far from a done deal.
We will be keeping track of developments and will report back when there is news, so please keep checking back.
After a particularly eventful August, with the chaotic end of the Afghanistan War, a particularly destructive hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast, and, of course, the ongoing COVID pandemic, it’s understandable if our readers are saying to themselves “What’s happening in Washington?” With both the House and the Senate back in session this week, we thought a refresher was in order.
To summarize, there are four major items before Congress this month. Perhaps the most serious is the item the research community will have the least impact on: increasing or suspending the federal debt limit. It’s safe to say it will be taken care of but if it’s punted for several months, or just a few weeks, is anyone’s guess. Also, whether it’s done in a bipartisan fashion, or in a contentious political fight, will likely influence the other three topics that will compete for headlines.
Those other items on Congress’ September radar are ones we’ve discussed before: the Infrastructure Deal, Budget Reconciliation, and, of course, the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget. All three are at different stages but their fates are interconnected.
A bipartisan group of Senators agreed to a $1+ trillion infrastructure deal in early August. While it quickly passed the Senate, it has slowed down in the House. Why? Any movement with regard to infrastructure is directly tied to the budget reconciliation process (more on that next). Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) promised a group of moderate House Democrats, who were potential holdouts with budget reconciliation, that they would get a vote on the infrastructure deal by the end of September; that’s supposed to be after the House handles any reconciliation bills. From a political perspective, it seems Democratic House leadership is not convinced that they will get what they want with the reconciliation process if they act on the infrastructure deal immediately. In short, it’s being used both as a carrot and a stick.
Earlier this year, there had been hope that any infrastructure deal passed by Congress would be expansive in what it covered and would include science issues. However, once negotiations broke down with the White House, a smaller deal became the way to go. That smaller deal is what passed in the Senate and is on hold in the House. But that deal also opened up a “second-track” for Democratic leadership to get their agenda passed: budget reconciliation.
Put simply, the budget reconciliation process is a means for Congress to adjust an already approved budget, by either adding or subtracting. This has many advantages, including only requiring a simple majority for approval (ie: no Senate filibuster). However, it has complications, too. Not all proposals are eligible for reconciliation, so the Senate and House parliamentarians will have to make determinations about the germaneness of any particular proposal. Also, the Democratic majority is slim enough that moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) could object to spending levels and wield considerable leverage in determining what makes the final package (this is also why the infrastructure deal is on the backburner, as an incentive for moderates to play with reconciliation).
The first step of this process is for both the House and Senate to approve budget resolutions; that happened in mid-August when they approved a $3.5 trillion blue print. Both chambers are now drafting legislation in their committees, following funding levels approved in the budget resolution and along the lines of instructions from Congressional leadership. Those activities should take at least most of September, maybe even longer.
We don’t have specifics yet for the research agencies’ budgets but a memo from Democratic Senate Leadership was released at the beginning of August and it gives us an idea of what leadership is thinking to accomplish. For example, the memo instructs the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Science Committees, which has oversight of NSF, NASA, and NIST, that any increases for the committee’s budgets should be for investments in technology, transportation, research, manufacturing, economic development, and a new research and technology directorate for NSF. The House committees have received similar instructions; in fact, the House Science Committee is marking up their bill today and NSF, NIST, and DOE Office of Science are all featured prominently in their draft bill.
What’s the catch? The catch is that budget reconciliation is controversial. For example, there are already accusations of “double dipping,” ie: spending that is covered in the infrastructure deal that is also being included in the reconciliation bills. And, as mentioned before, there are procedural questions about what is germane for this process. And let’s not forget simple politics: if just one Democratic Senator doesn’t agree with this process, say Senator Manchin from West Virginia, it’s not likely to pass, given that Congressional Republicans are united against giving a win to the Democrats. Nothing has passed yet, but we can expect at least a month of political wrangling.
Fiscal Year 2022 Budget
Finally, the yearly budget process comes up; FY22 will start on October 1st, no matter what. While it’s unlikely there will be a government shutdown, it’s equally likely that the budget won’t be finalized on time. That means a Continuing Resolution. Given that Congress’ attention in September will be taken up by budget reconciliation and the infrastructure deal, and the debit limit issue in the background, the budget is likely to be kicked further into the calendar year.
The good news is once the budget gets some attention and is finalized, FY22 is looking very good for most of the research agencies. The House has moved on all of their bills and generally approved healthy increases; the defense research accounts are a notable exception. With the Senate, their Appropriations Committee acted on the first slate of bills at the end of July and beginning of August. They may do more with their remaining approps bills while the reconciliation process unfolds, but don’t expect any real movement until middle of October at the earliest, with November being more likely. All in all, don’t expect FY22 to be wrapped up until some time in December. That means a continuing resolution before the October 1st start of the fiscal year will be in order.
All things considered, Congress is handling a lot of topics in September. Whether they will be able to get through everything in a month is anyone’s guess. The fact is all these items are interrelated; what happens with one will determine what happens to the others. We will be keeping our ears to the ground and reporting on any developments, so please keep checking back.
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