Appropriations Update: Senate NSF Numbers are Out but the Endgame for FY20 is very, very complicated…

In our continuing series looking at Congressional actions on the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, we finally have a look at where the Senate Appropriations Committee stands on funding for some key sciences agencies, with the National Science Foundation being the most important. The basic synopsis is the Senate supplies positive numbers in their blueprint but they are not as generous as what the House of Representatives provided in May. Let’s get into the details.

On September 24th, the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee released the text of their bill. The CJS bill is the appropriations legislation that covers NSF, NIST, and NASA. In that bill, the subcommittee provides NSF with $8.32 billion for FY20, which is an increase of $240 million over FY19 ($8.08 billion) or an increase of 3 percent. Within that number, Research and Related Activities (RRA), the sub-account that contains the majority of the research funding at the agency, would receive a plus up of 3.8 percent, or $250 million over FY19, and would be at $6.77 billion for FY20. Additionally, Education and Human Resources (EHR), would receive $937 million, an increase of $27 million over FY19 ($910 million) or a 3 percent increase. While all good numbers, they are all below what the House of Representatives provided for the agency in their bill.

FY18 FY19 FY20 Senate $ Change % Change
NSF Total $7.77B $8.08B $8.32B +$240M +3.0%
R&RA $6.30B $6.52B $6.77B +$250M +3.8%
EHR $902M $910M $937M +$27M +3.0%

The other science agencies in the Senate CJS bill are NASA and NIST. While the top line number for NASA would see a very healthy increase of 5.8 percent, going from $21.50 billion in FY19 to $22.75 billion for FY20, NASA Science would see none of it; the science account would be funded at the same level as FY19 ($6.91 billion). NIST would fair a bit better, with the top line number being $1.04 billion for FY20, which is an increase of 5.5 percent over FY19 ($986 million). Within the NIST account, the Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, where the majority of the research funding at the agency resides, would see an increase of $29 million, or a 4 percent bump up, going from $725 million in FY19 to $754 million in FY20.

FY18 FY19 FY20 Senate $ Change % Change
NIST Total $1.20B $986M $1.04B +$54M +5.5%
STRS $725M $725M $754M +$29M +4.0%
NASA Total $20.74B $21.50B $22.75B +$1.30B +5.8%
Science $6.22B $6.91B $6.91B 0 0

So, what happens now? The full Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the majority of their individual bills, moving the process on to the full chamber for consideration. Unfortunately, that’s where the process has stopped; none of the appropriation bills, including CJS, have received consideration by the full Senate. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has publicly said he wants to move on these bills soon, possibly as early as next week, but nothing is certain. The only item that has moved is a continuing resolution that was passed to move the deadline for completing work on the FY20 budget to the week before Thanksgiving. Since that was passed, the political focus in Washington has been dominated by the impeachment investigation of the President, and it’s unlikely that there will be any movement on appropriations until at least the beginning of November. And even then, it’s likely that the deadline for finishing the budget will be pushed back further. It’s wait and see territory for the foreseeable future; please check back for more updates.