Appropriations Update: House FY20 Energy & Water Bill is out and there are Reasons for Optimism

[Editor’s Note: This post was written by CRA’s Tisdale Policy Fellow for Summer 2019, Jesse Anderson.]

In June, the House of Representatives passed their version of the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Energy and Water appropriations bill, including increases for some key computing programs at Department of Energy. This bill contains the budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE SC) and ARPA-E, as well as funding for the Exascale Computing R&D program, for which DOE is the lead federal agency. While the increases are probably positive news for the computing research community, uncertainty about overall Federal spending levels likely puts these specific appropriations levels in doubt. Nevertheless, the bills at least send a signal about the areas House Democrats see as priorities for the Federal government in FY20.

The bill proposes a healthy increase for the Office of Science of $270 million (a 4 percent increase from FY19 levels), bringing the agency’s budget to $6.8 billion for FY20. Within the Office of Science, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which houses the majority of the computing research at DOE, would see an increase of 2.2 percent – going from $936 million in FY19 to $957 million in FY20. Additionally, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility would receive increases of 7 percent and 21 percent, respectively; while the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s funding level is flat. The committee also included language in its report that expressed its commitment to advancing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning research with increases in funding for infrastructure to augment STEM programs. The committee also recommended $15 million for AI research programs, and provided an increase of nearly 19 percent to the Math and Computer Science program within ASCR. It’s not clear how much of that increase will go towards research efforts and how much will be targeted towards enabling deployment of the Department’s two exascale computing systems in FY21-FY23. But overall, these increases appear to reflect the committee’s dedication to advancing scientific research.

The Exascale Computing program, which has received significant increases over the last three fiscal years, would see a cut of $36 million under the House’s plan. While this represents a 16 percent decrease from FY19 (to $225 million), it falls in line with what the agency requested as DOE moves the program further from R&D and towards deployment.

Also of note is the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. It would receive $425 million for FY20, a 16 percent increase from $366 million in FY19. The committee dismissed the President’s request to zero the agency’s budget as “short-sighted” and instead chose to increase funding for the agency. Interestingly, in testimony before the House Science, Space, and Technology committee in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry — who, as a cabinet secretary, is expected to defend the President’s budget request — instead agreed with the House’s thinking about ARPA-E, telling the committee “I respect [the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s] work and what they do, but I’ll be honest. I respect this Congress more.”

The failure so far of Congress to reach a budget resolution setting spending caps for Congressional appropriators will make reconciling spending bills between the House and Senate — who potentially will be using different spending caps — very difficult. It will likely also set up a confrontation with the President, who has already vowed to veto the House spending levels. It may be some time before we see any progress on the Senate side. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) recently announced that he won’t be doing any markups on the Senate spending bills until a budget caps deal is agreed upon by both chambers of Congress and the President. The likely outcome is an impasse on the entire federal budget until at least the end of the fiscal year (end of September), and perhaps well after that. Only time will tell how this plays out; CRA will continue to follow the budget and will provide updates on future developments.

Appropriations Update: House FY20 Energy & Water Bill is out and there are Reasons for Optimism