Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Released; Not Great, but also not Terrible, for Science

Late last night, the House Rules Committee released the agreed upon omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17), which Congress has been negotiating for the past few months. As a quick recap, the Federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution, or CR, since the present fiscal year began on October 1st. The bill released last night, which incorporates all twelve unfinished FY17 appropriations bills into one, must-pass $1.1 trillion spending bill, doesn’t provide for increases to most science research agencies. However, it also doesn’t have cuts to those agencies or proscriptive policy provisions. The negotiators also have mostly ignored President Trump’s proposed cuts to science programs in this final version. So it’s pretty much even for our community; not great but also not a catastrophe either. Let’s get into the details.

National Science Foundation
NSF would see funding of $7.46 billion in FY17, an increase of just $9 million over FY16. Research & Related Activities (R&RA) funding, where the majority of the research funding resides, and Education and Human Resources (EHR) funding would be flat. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) is the source of the $9 million increase. This flat budget approach essentially aligns with President Obama’s FY17 request for discretionary funds for the agency. You’ll recall he submitted a budget that was relatively flat in terms of discretionary spending, but also submitted a request for a new non-discretionary funding stream to bolster some science budgets, a funding stream that had no chance of passage in Congress.

As well, there’s no directorate-by-directorate funding guidance for NSF, which means Social, Behavior, and Economic (SBE) and GEO directorates avoided specific targeting in the bill. This has been a recurring concern given House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) repeated efforts to get directorate-by-directorate funding included in authorization bills (meaning policy bills) for the agency.

Department of Energy Office of Science
DOE would see slight growth in the Office of Science — up $45 million over FY16 to $5.39 billion in FY17. Over half of that increase would go to the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR); this is where most of the computing research at the agency is located. ASCR’s budget would go from $621 million in FY16 enacted to $647 million (an increase of 4.2% or $26 million) for FY17. An increase of $10 million would go to the Exascale Computing Project line item. While this is relatively good, it is not as much as the Obama Administration had requested last year (which was a 6.8% increase or $42 million).

Somewhat surprisingly, given how Trump proposed to nearly wipe it out, the Advanced Research Project Agency, Energy, or ARPA-E, would grow $15 million under this bill to $306 million in FY17.

National Institute of Standards and Technology
NIST overall would see a $12 million cut from FY16. Drilling down into the details, the Scientific and Technical Research Services (STRS), where the majority of the research that NIST funds is located, would be flat funded at $690 million. The rest of the cuts to NIST come from a $2 million cut to the Industrial Technology Services account and a $10 million cut to the Construction of Research Facilities account. This is much less than what President Obama had requested last year.

NASA came out quite well in the omnibus, increasing its budget to $19.6 billion, an increase of $368 million over FY16. The majority of that increase went into the Science and Exploration accounts (+$175 million and +$294 million, respectively). The Science account in particular would fair better under the omnibus than last year’s Presidential request; the Obama Administration had recommended a $287 million cut to the account. Within the omnibus, there were cuts to Space Operations (-$78.5 million), Education (-$15 million), and Construction (-$28 million), so some of the increases to Science and Exploration are due to money being moved around in the agency’s budget. Generally speaking, NASA would benefit under the omnibus.

National Institutes of Health
If there’s a “big winner” among the research agencies, NIH is it. The agency would see an increase of $2 billion in FY17, to $34.1 billion. That’s a 6.2 percent increase, though it includes $352 million already approved as part of the 21st Century Cures Act that was part of the last CR in December. The omnibus also increases funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative by $120 million, and the BRAIN Initiative by $110 million.

Environmental Protection Agency
EPA, despite being targeted for major cuts in Trump’s FY18 “skinny” budget, would see only a 1 percent reduction in FY17 under the omnibus and no staff reductions.


Generally speaking, this is not a great budget for science, but it could have been far worse. Had Congress gone along with the Trump Administration proposals for FY17, we’d see cuts across many of the agencies we care about. NSF, for example, was slated for a $350 million cut under the Administration’s proposal. But while we’ve avoided that for FY17, we’ve already seen in the President’s “skinny” budget proposal for FY18 that many of these same agencies are slated for big cuts in his full request. We should have that document sometime in May or early June. Be sure to check back.

Update: 5/5/17 President Trump has signed the FY 2017 Omnibus bill, H.R. 244, into law this afternoon.

Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Released; Not Great, but also not Terrible, for Science