FY16 Omnibus: A mixed bag for researchers; heads towards passage

The news is pretty mixed for supporters of the Federal investment in fundamental research as Congressional leaders yesterday released the text for the FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, in advance of its consideration in the House on Friday (and the Senate shortly thereafter). The bill, which incorporates all twelve unfinished FY16 appropriations bills into one, must-pass $1.1 trillion spending bill, provides decent increases to research programs at the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, and NASA, but far more modest gains for programs at the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense.

Let’s get into the details of importance to our community:

The agency’s Research and Related Activities Account (R&RA), which includes funding for all the agency’s research directorates, would see an increase of $100 million over FY15, or 1.7 percent. This is a somewhat disappointing outcome, as the recently enacted two-year budget agreement that sets budget caps for top-line Federal spending accounts in theory provided enough room for an average increase of about 5.2 percent to Federal agencies. This is an indication that congressional priorities were elsewhere in the omnibus. The report accompanying the omnibus also includes language referencing the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate, capping funding for research in the area at the FY15 level. That’s not great but is far from the catastrophic cuts envisioned in the House Science Committee’s COMPETES Act legislation. The agency’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate would see an increase of 1.6 percent vs. FY15 levels.

NSF Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
RRA 5,933 6,033 1.69 100
EHR 866 880 1.62 14

Overall defense basic research (6.1) would see an increase of 1.4 percent to $31 million in FY16, a significant improvement on the President’s proposed 9 percent cut to the budget. Applied research (6.2), where much of CS research lives, would see a much more robust 7.7 percent increase to $356 million. Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would grow 11.5 percent, up $611 million from FY15 levels. DARPA would see its budget decline slightly to $2.9 billion in FY16, a decrease of $25 million or 0.9 percent.

DOD Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
6.1 Basic Research 2,278 2,309 1.4 32
6.2 Applied Research 4,648 5,004 7.7 356
6.3 Advanced Tech Devt 5,326 5,937 11.5 611
DARPA 2,916 2,891 -0.9 -25

Department of Energy (DOE)
The DOE Office of Science (SCI) appears to fare well in the omnibus with $5.35 billion slated for the office, an increase of $282 million, or 5.6 percent. Within SCI, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, which is where the majority of the computing research at DOE is located, appears to be funded at about requested levels, or just above. The omnibus language doesn’t provide aggregated totals, but notes specific funding levels for some programs and facilities: Exascale Initiative, $157.9 million (request was $177 million); $77 million for Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (at the request level); $104.3 million for Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (+$10 million vs. request); $86 million for National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) (+$10 million vs request); $38 million for Energy Sciences Network (ESNet) (= request level); and $10 million for the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program. We’ll keep an eye on this and will update if there is any new information.

DOE Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
SCI (Total) 5,068 5,350 5.56 282
ASCR 541 621 14.8 80

Not much to report for the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST). The Scientific and Technical Research Service (STRS) account, where NIST’s core research lives, would grow $8 million to $690 million in FY16, an increase of just 1.2 percent.

NIST Accounts FY15 ($M) FY16 Omnibus ($M) % Change $ Change ($M)
STRS 682 690 1.2 8

In the larger science research community, the big winners appear to be NIH and NASA. NIH would receive a $2 billion increase to $32 billion, or 7 percent above FY15. NASA would see a 4 percent increase, bringing its budget to $19.3 billion for FY16. On the positive side, the bill doesn’t appear to contain any of the problematic policy provisions passed by the House as part of the COMPETES Act reauthorization this summer, though the language capping spending for NSF’s SBE account at FY15 levels did find its way into the report language.

So, what’s next? The bill is under a two-day review period, where members of Congress are able to wade through the language of the bill and see what they find is good or bad. Congress has given itself a deadline of December 22nd to get the budget passed and to the President’s desk for signature. Odds are good it will pass, but likely with a Republican minority. It’s certainly an interesting way for Speaker Ryan (R-WI) to start off his tenure as Speaker of the House, but it sounds like he convinced the Republican caucus to accept it and move on to start fresh next year. We’ll continue to monitor the omnibus as it progresses, so check back to see if there are any developments.

FY16 Omnibus: A mixed bag for researchers; heads towards passage