Issue Date: October 12, 2009
Federal R&D Funding
Congress passed just one of 12 appropriations bills on time this year, and it did so only to ensure that the federal government remained funded for at least another month. The bill, which provides funds for fiscal 2010 for Congress itself, was passed just before the books closed on fiscal 2009 and served as a vehicle to carry a stopgap spending bill for the rest of the government, including research agencies. The President signed the measure on Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2010.
By passing the omnibus spending bill, called a continuing resolution, Congress allowed federal agencies and departments to continue operations until Oct. 31 at the same level of spending they had for fiscal 2009, which ended on Sept. 30. Congress is now working on clearing the remaining 11 appropriations bills, including those funding the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and other science agencies, before the continuing resolution expires.
Although a continuing resolution usually means that agencies will have to operate with a flat budget until the new budget is passed, this year finds research agencies with a financial cushion. Science and technology funds at several agencies received a boost earlier this year under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Those extra funds will help carry agencies until the anticipated increases from the fiscal 2010 budget arrive.
Despite the failure to pass almost all of the required appropriations bills, Congress is actually in better shape with respect to passing the budget than in years past. Most notable, for fiscal 2009, Congress did not pass the final appropriations measure until March of this year, almost six months into the new fiscal year (C&EN, March 9, page 19).
The House of Representatives has passed all 12 of its appropriations bills and the Senate has passed six. Negotiations between representatives and senators to settle differences between their respective bills has been slow, but several spending measures, such as the bill that funds the DOE Office of Science, may be passed soon.
That bill, the energy and water development appropriations bill (H.R. 3183), totals $33.5 billion. Of that money, $4.9 billion would go to the Office of Science, a $142 million, or 3.0%, increase over 2009 funding. DOE’s fossil energy research would receive $672 million, a 23.3% decrease from $876 million approved for 2009.
The bill also follows the Obama Administration’s plan to phase out funding for the controversial nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Congress agreed to provide just $197 million in funds for the project in 2010 and to create an expert commission to recommend alternatives to the essentially canceled project.
Another bill expected to be passed very soon is the commerce, justice, and science appropriations bill (H.R. 2847). Although approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee at the end of June (C&EN, July 13, page 23), this bill languished in the joint House-Senate conference committee until last week. NSF, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, and the science agencies in the Department of Commerce—the National Institute of Standards & Technology and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration—are funded in this bill.
Both houses have voted to give science funding at NSF and NIST significant increases in fiscal 2010, so that will probably happen. NASA, on the other hand, is looking at a decrease in its space exploration budget for 2010 from the House, pending the content of a blue-ribbon commission report on the feasibility of increasing human space exploration. A preview of that report was somewhat negative about NASA’s plans (C&EN, Sept. 14, page 8).
The biggest R&D bill yet to be finalized is for the Department of Defense. With a 2009 fiscal research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) budget of $81.7 billion, DOD consumes more than half of all the U.S. R&D funds. The House-passed bill (H.R. 3326) would lower that funding to about $80.2 billion, which is slightly more than the President requested in May (C&EN, May 25, page 26). Late last month, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a smaller amount for this year, $78.5 billion, by trimming a number of programs.
The basic research portion of DOD R&D, designated as 6.1 funding, is up in the House but down in the Senate. At a bit over $1.9 billion, the House’s figure would increase basic research by 4.8%, or $89 million, above the 2009 level. This would be the second straight year of more money for this category after several years of declines. The Senate, however, seems prepared to cut basic research by $57 million, or 3.1%, to just under $1.8 billion. In the conference committee, resolution of these differences is often done by splitting the difference, which would leave DOD funding for basic research about where it was last fiscal year.
The Senate’s defense appropriations bill is also controversial because of numerous earmarks added. Watchdog organizations calculate that at least 778 congressionally added projects worth $2.7 billion are in the bill.
The largest nondefense research measure is the labor, health and human services, and education appropriations bill (H.R. 3293), which has not been approved yet by the Senate. This bill funds NIH. The House voted to give the agency $31.4 billion, a $942 million, or 3.1%, increase over fiscal 2009 funding. The Senate committee would provide a smaller increase to $30.8 billion. The additional funds from Congress in the normal appropriations process are a welcome sign because NIH received a whopping $10.4 billion in extra research funds from ARRA that is still being distributed. The steady increase will help alleviate the drop-off of funds when the recovery act money is gone.
The appropriations bill that funds the Department of Agriculture and the Food & Drug Administration (H.R. 2997) has completed its conference committee work. USDA funds a lot of research, both in-house under the Agricultural Research Service and at universities, with the National Institute of Food & Agriculture (which used to be the Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension Service). For fiscal 2010, the conference bill provides for ARS to get $1.3 billion, an increase of $63 million, or 5.3%, above the 2009 total. NIFA is also to receive $1.3 billion, an increase of $176 million above the President’s request and $121 million above the 2009 appropriation. Congress has specifically included an increase of $61 million in these funds for competitive agricultural research grants. NIFA is used by members of Congress for specific earmarks, and the House committee reports nearly $70 million worth of earmarks in its bill.
Other research agencies are also nearing the end of the process. The Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate would get $968 million for fiscal 2010, a 3.8% increase, from the House-passed bill, and the Senate appropriations committee has approved a slightly larger amount at $995 million, a 6.6% increase over 2009 funds. At the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Research & Development would get $850 million in the House-passed bill, a $60 million, or 7.6%, raise above fiscal 2009. The Senate committee, however, voted for a smaller increase of $53 million, or 6.7%, to $843 million.
The status of these bills is changing rapidly as Congress pushes to complete the budget before the continuing resolution expires. If Congress cannot clear all of the appropriation bills before then, another resolution will be needed to keep the government operating.
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