Seventy-nine days into fiscal year (FY) 2016, lawmakers finalized a spending plan for federal agencies. The deal is a major win for science advocates, as nearly all federal science programs will receive a needed budget bump.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) will receive a 1.6 percent increase above FY 2015, providing the agency with a total budget of $7.5 billion. The Research and Related Activities budget line will receive $100 million of the $119 million in new funding directed to NSF. Importantly, the bill does not include restrictions that had previously been approved by the House of Representatives to limit how NSF can allocate funding among its research directorates. That provision would have restricted funding for geosciences and social science research. Instead, appropriators opted to limit funding for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to a maximum of the FY 2015 level. Although many considered this a win, it still breaks with past practice of allowing the NSF and National Science Board to identify research priorities.
The report language accompanying the bill directs NSF to complete an independent audit of the cost of completing the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and a plan to “ensure greater NSF oversight of costs, schedule, and performance over the lifecycle of NEON and other large facility projects.” NEON has been the subject of congressional scrutiny due to cost overruns, which resulted in a reduced scope earlier this year. A few weeks ago, NSF announced that management of the project will be transitioned away from NEON, Inc.
Funding for other agencies relative to the 2015 enacted appropriations:
- National Institutes of Health: +$2 billion
- Agricultural Research Service: +$178 million
- Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: +$25 million
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: +$325 million
- Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research: +$17 million
- U.S. Geological Survey, Ecosystems: +$1 million
Notably, the Environmental Protection Agency was once again on the chopping block. Although the agency’s total budget will decline by $27 million, funding for science will remain at the FY 2015 level.
The House and Senate easily cleared the measure with bipartisan support. The final vote tallies were 316 in favor versus 113 opposed in the House and 65-33 in the Senate.
This spending bill adheres to the budget deal reached in November 2015, which authorized an additional $25 billion to non-defense discretionary programs in FY 2016.
HR 2029 become law on December 18, 2015.