Gov Relations

FY 2017 Spending Bill Signed - Highlights and Next Steps

May 10, 2017 | Last week, President Trump signed the $1.070 trillion omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2017 that will fund the federal government through September 30, 2017. After months of negotiations with Congress, the bill maintains or increases funding for most major scientific research accounts, including those at NSF, NOAA, and NASA.

Since October 2016, the federal government had been operating under a continuing resolution that funded all agencies and programs at FY 2016 rates. It is common for spending bills to be delayed until after the start of a new administration. The final FY17 spending bill was further delayed when the administration on March 16 requested that Congress provide an additional $33 billion for defense and reduce non-defense spending by $18 billion. Lawmakers largely rejected the proposed reductions, but they agreed to $15 billion of the administration’s supplemental request for the Department of Defense. Congress also did not support the administration’s request to begin construction on a wall along the Mexican border but instead provided $1.1 billion for border security technologies and infrastructure.

Highlights of funding for science agencies

National Science Foundation

NSF is provided with $7.5 billion ($8.7 million more than FY16), including $6.034 billion for Research and Related Activities. NSF will determine final funding levels for the Directorate for Geosciences, the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, and NCAR in the coming weeks.

The omnibus bill provides NSF funding for basic research across all scientific disciplines and for the development of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs to grow the next generation of scientists. In addition, the bill supports programs that foster innovation, including funding for advanced manufacturing research, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, and neuroscience. In the category of Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction, it provides $209 million, an increase of $9 million. This includes $122 million to facilitate planning and construction of three regional-class research vessels. Funding for NSF Education and Human Resources programs is primarily stable at FY16 levels.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

NOAA will receive $5.68 billion ($90.2 million less than in FY16). The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research received $477.7 million for operations, research, and facilities ($15.8 million more than FY16). NOAA climate research is kept at its FY16 level of $158 million. The agreement provides an increase of $2.6 million in NOAA’s U.S. Weather Research Program to research and develop aircraft-based hazardous weather observing systems, such as the Airborne Phased Array Radar (APAR).

National Weather Service – The bill provides $979.8 million for NWS operating expenses ($9.1 million less than FY16). It provides full funding for NOAA’s weather satellites. Funding for NWS observations remains level with FY 2016 at $216 million. Funding for NWS Science and Technology is $136.5 million(about $2 million less than FY16).

COSMIC IIb The second, polar-orbiting constellation of microsatellites remains on hold pending a request for NOAA "to evaluate competitively purchased commercial weather data as a method to acquire new radio occultation (RO) data, including an analysis of options for acquiring polar RO data that includes a cost analysis of all alternatives and demonstrates that NOAA has thoroughly reviewed potential commercial RO sources. If the plan proposes moving forward with additional COSMIC-2 satellites, the plan shall include the total cost to the U.S. government of developing, procuring, launching, and operating COSMIC-2 polar orbiting satellites, including how they would be launched and what Federal agency would incur that cost."

The second year of the Commercial Weather Data Pilot is funded at $5 million, an increase of $2 million.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The bill provides $19.65 billion for NASA ($368.3 million more than FY16). These funds are to support the human and robotic exploration of space; science missions that enhance the understanding of the Earth, solar system, and universe; and fundamental aeronautics research. Nearly all the increase in NASA science would go to planetary sciences, with funding specifically provided for a mission to Europa and a Mars 2020 mission. Earth sciences would remain level with FY 2016, avoiding a 12% reduction initially proposed by the House.

Department of Defense Science and Technology

DOD science and technology spending would see a general increase across most military branches and agencies, concentrated on applied research and advanced technology in sensors, materials, and other areas. Basic science funded via the Navy would be cut by 16.2%, which is offset by increases for basic research in the other branches.

Department of Energy Science and Technology

The bill provides $5.392 billion for the DOE Office of Science ($42 million more than FY16). The bill prioritizes materials research, high performance computing, and biology to maintain U.S. scientific leadership. It also provides $4.311 billion for applied energy programs ($123 million more than FY16). This funding supports research, development, demonstration, and deployment of an extensive range of clean energy technologies, including nuclear, fossil, and renewable energy applications. It includes $306 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) to develop next-generation, innovative energy technologies.

Next steps for lawmakers

Attention next turns to negotiations over spending for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins October 1. The administration on May 22 is expected to present its full, detailed budget request to Congress for FY 2018. Administration officials have already announced they will request a $54 billion increase in defense spending and a $54 billion reduction in non-defense programs, which are expected to include significant reductions in research at NSF and NOAA. Congress will quickly start their review of the administration’s proposals with hearings and mark ups in late May and June. Information and analysis on the FY 2018 proposals will be provided as soon as the detailed budget proposal is released.

UCAR activities

UCAR is continuing to advocate for the value to the nation of investment in the atmospheric and geosciences and to highlight our members’ innovative and collaborative research. Activities include congressional testimony and briefings, and meetings with key staff and members of Congress.

In April, UCAR President Tony Busalacchi testified about improved water forecasting before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science. UCAR also hosted a congressional briefing on better predicting and managing wildland fires.

On May 10, members of the UCAR Board of Trustees and President’s Advisory Council on University Relations met in Washington. Several members of each group, along with the winners of UCAR's student essay contest, also visited with congressional staff to convey the importance of Earth system science and federal funding for research. 

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