The Congressional Budget Process Drama Continues — Countdown to April 28

As promised in my previous post, we now delve in to see what is going on right now with the federal budget process and in particular with funding for research in basic science. That previous post gives a broader view of how this annual process usually unfolds, or is supposed to unfold each year.

During inauguration years, we expect the budget process to be slower than during non-inauguration years, and this year is no exception. The federal government is currently running on a Continuing Budget Resolution (CR) (H.R. 2028). This bill provides continuing appropriations for most federal agencies through April 28, 2017; it prevents a partial government shutdown that would otherwise occur, because eleven of the twelve FY2017 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government have not yet been enacted. This CR provides for the continuation of appropriations at the levels of, and under the terms and conditions of, the FY 2016 appropriations Acts.

Of the twelve annual regular appropriations bills, Congress has passed only one – the defense spending bill. Congress is currently working on the remaining eleven bills, but if these are not passed by April 28, another CR must be passed to avoid government shutdown. The Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriations is the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS, House and Senate). Both of these subcommittees passed their respective bills last year, but the two are at odds and will have to be reconciled.

The top line funding levels from the President’s Budget for FY 2018 were released on March 16 in the so-called “skinny budget” titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” [When you read “skinny”, think “skeletal” not “lean”.] While this document represents the administration’s priorities and serves as a starting point for the appropriations process, it is Congress that passes the budget. Indeed, Congress fiercely defends its prerogative to make appropriations.

The President’s full budget is expected in early May. It is not clear what will happen, but the image that emerges is that this blueprint seeks to substantially scale back federal investments in science and technology research and development. The figure below (shown by permission from the AAAS) shows these cuts. And, yes, there is proposed a total elimination of the ARPA-E program; ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies.

The President’s blueprint does not include funding information for NSF. The AMS – together with 285 other organizations – sent a letter to House and Senate leadership and Appropriation Chairs and Subcommittee chairs in both chambers requesting NSF be funded at $8 billion for FY 2018. This amount represents a 4% increase, adjusted for inflation, over FY 2016 enacted levels. Some senators have picked up this request, and are urging their colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to support this substantial increase in funding for the NSF.

As one might expect, most Democrats are criticizing the President’s budget request. And, some Republicans are praising it, while others are criticizing it. As we make the case for increased and sustained investment in research and development (R&D), we often argue that this is necessary for the United States to stay competitive in some sense. In this context, you might note that the U.S. has been slipping in rank when our R&D investment is considered as a percentage of our GDP. The most recent data analyzed shows that over the past 5-10 years, our investment has been between 2.7 and 2.8%. Israel and South Korea are making the largest investments, with over 4% of their GDP going to R&D.

Investments in basic research improve our quality of life, strengthen our national security, and create jobs. It is easy to find (and I venture a guess that many of you are well-versed with) media arguing that cuts to science funding would put at risk our nation’s economic growth and position as a global scientific leader. The importance of such investment has been recognized as long as our country has existed. George Washington, in his First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union (January 8, 1790), proclaimed that

“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”

Congress returns from its current two-week recess next week and then has four days (until April 28) to settle the FY 2017 budget. It will be a tall order to pass the remaining appropriations bills in such a short window. Anything is possible. All remaining appropriations bills could pass separately (very unlikely), or an omnibus funding bill – one that puts funding for the entire government in one bill rather than twelve – could pass (less unlikely but major obstacles exist). It seems quite likely that we will see another CR making it possible for the federal government to stay open until the fiscal year ends on September 30.

If the government does shut down, April 29 will be Day 1 of the shutdown and President Trump’s 100th day in office.

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The Congressional Budget Process: A Quick Introduction

In my last post, I asked you to reach out to your congressional delegation and request they support an $8 billion National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriation for fiscal year 2018 funding. In this post, I am going to tell you a bit about how the annual budget process unfolds, or is supposed to unfold each year. In a post coming soon, I will tell you more about how this year’s process is unfolding.

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 guides the process by which Congress decides how much money to spend each year, what to spend it on, and how to raise money to pay for that spending.

The President is to release his or her budget proposal on the first Monday in February although in inauguration years, a delay is expected. After this introduction, the budget works its way through each of the House and Senate, and the President’s budget is only a request to Congress; Congress is not required to adopt his or her recommendations. Congress passes twelve appropriations bills annually. The House and Senate Budget Committees, working separately, establish top-line numbers for spending, with input from other legislators, committee chairs, and party leadership. Once these top-line numbers are established, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees begin their work. They take the spending target determined by the Budget Committees and divide it between the twelve appropriations subcommittees (one for each of the twelve bills that are to be passed each year).

The one subcommittee — of the twelve — that funds the NSF is Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (take a look at the House and Senate members, see if a member of your congressional delegation is one). This subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes other agencies such as NASA, NIST, NOAA, and OSTP, and also the Federal Prison Industries Incorporated and the Commission on Civil Rights, among other programs.

Finally, to give you an idea of what sort of investment the nation makes in science, let’s take a look at the FY2015 budget. The budget process just described addresses the piece of the pie on the left below, labelled “discretionary” (the 32% wedge). These programs are called “discretionary” because Congress must set funding levels for them each year through the appropriations process. In contrast, we have the “entitlement” or “mandatory” programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the 62% wedge).

Discretionary funds are categorized as “defense” or “non-defense.” In 2015, non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending totaled $585 billion, or 16% of federal spending (the other 16% of discretionary is defense related). Science, environment, and energy programs constituted 12% ($70 billion) of NDD spending in 2015. Roughly half of the spending in this category supports conservation and the management of natural resources, such as national parks, and other environmental programs, including those in the Environmental Protection Agency. One-quarter of the spending covers NASA’s space exploration and related scientific research. The remaining spending supports the NSF and the Department of Energy, and water resources infrastructure.

I am sure you have been reading about President Trump’s proposed cuts to many NDD programs; I look forward to grappling with this year’s process in a soon-to-come post!

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Time to contact your representatives in congress about NSF Funding!

Many of you who have your research supported by the federal government receive funding from the National Science Foundation. You might receive funds from another agency, like the National Security Agency (the NSA Mathematical Sciences Program entertained a total of 340 research proposals in 2015), but the NSF is the only federal agency with the primary goal of supporting research across the full spectrum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, we’ve just learned that the NSA cannot give any awards this year to individual researchers, so even more demand for funding mathematics research might come to the NSF.

Ever wonder how the NSF gets money to fund our mathematical research and efforts in education in the mathematical sciences? The amount that the NSF has at its disposal to fund research is determined every year, and is done so through the “appropriations” process. While not all members of Congress sit on the committees that draft the bills to provide annual funding (appropriations) for federal government programs, every member of Congress has the opportunity to submit their opinion through “member appropriations requests.” As your members of Congress begin submitting their requests for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), you can encourage them to assign a high priority to the NSF.

I work in Washington with the Coalition for National Science Funding, and we have decided to request $8 billion for the NSF for fiscal year 2018. In an effort to keep this post somewhat readable and not terribly long, I will not explain the reasoning here but am always happy to answer questions.

This is the right time to ask the members of your congressional delegation to include funding for the NSF in their FY18 appropriations requests.

There are many federal budget pressures, such as the President’s $54 billion increase for defense funding, and we are concerned that the budget for basic science research (including NSF) will get cut exactly at the time when other countries are increasing investment.

Don’t know who your representative and/or senators are? The government has user-friendly websites for finding your Representative in the House and your two Senators. You can then write your own, individualized letter (see editable text below) and send a hard copy to their Washington DC office, or you can check out their websites for email submission instructions. By the way, if you live and work in different districts, feel free to send your letter to the two different representatives.

A few facts. Appropriations for the NSF are the jurisdiction of the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, one of the twelve subcommittees of the House Committee on Appropriations. Although this post is about actions you can take with your representative in the House; Senate-side action can be taken in a similar way.

I repeat, this is the right time to ask the members of your congressional delegation to include funding for the NSF in their FY18 appropriations requests!

The deadline for your representative to submit her/his appropriations requests is April 4. Your letter will help inform the request your representative submits so I would encourage you to get your letter in by March 25. The sooner the better.

The New Yorker’s very recent article “Call and Response” by Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz gives a fascinating and detailed account of how Congressional offices interact with people who contact them (March 6, 2017, p 26-32). One point it makes — personalized emails, personalized letters and editorials in local newspapers are effective ways to influence lawmaker’s opinions.

Use the editable text below to personalize a letter to your Congressional representatives urging them to request robust funding for the NSF. Tell a story! If you have an NSF grant, or know of one at your home institution that benefits faculty and students, I encourage you to add text to tell a little bit about what the grant is for, and how it benefits their home district or state. If you can, tell how the NSF award benefits the students, either explicitly or in some subtler way.

Another idea: a powerful letter could come from a mathematics department (especially one at a public institution) and you could change all the words like “I” and “my” to “we” and “our” in the below and send this letter on behalf of the department. Imagine your representative receiving a letter from one of her/his district’s most important departments in higher education telling a story about training the workforce for the area.

Thank you, in advance, for doing your part to protect NSF funding.

Dear [Recipient],

As your constituent, I appreciate the challenge Congress faces as it allocates scarce discretionary dollars across numerous federal agencies and programs. As you determine your appropriations priorities for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), I hope you will consider including my request to ensure maximized funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). I ask that you ensure our nation continues to reap the benefits of a strong National Science Foundation (NSF) by providing $8 billion in your Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) appropriations requests.

The NSF supports America’s basic research in science and engineering, and helps ensure young people have access to education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.  Both of these functions are strategic imperatives if our nation is to maintain its global economic leadership. Please request robust funding for NSF in FY18.

Optional: add a story

Thank you for your leadership and for stewarding our nation’s unrivaled research capacity.

[Your closing]

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The Washington Office – A Primer

Welcome! This is the first post for this new blog. I look forward to writing to you about what we are doing in Washington for the AMS, and about ways in which you can be involved in this.

I began as Director of the AMS’s Washington Office in January, succeeding Sam Rankin who had been in the position for over two decades. The Washington Office is at the center of the AMS’s science policy and advocacy efforts.

According to a McKinley survey done as part of recent AMS strategic planning efforts, only 58% of AMS members even know this office exists. I am looking forward to capitalizing on the fact that this same survey shows that 95% of respondents, when asked about future priorities of the AMS, list increased advocacy as a most important priority (62%) or as a somewhat important priority (33%).

The first thing to know is that we are located at Dupont Circle, a vibrant area in DC that is exactly one mile north of the White House, and about another mile down Pennsylvania Avenue to the US Capitol building. All AMS members are warmly invited to drop by and visit. If you are planning a visit, and I have fair warning, I can arrange visits for you with your representatives in Congress, help you figure out what to talk about with them, and likely accompany you on these visits. More about how to make effective Hill visits in further posts!

Many congressional members and staff understand that mathematics is the foundational discipline upon which technological innovation and global competitiveness depends. A central goal is to expand their understanding of scientific and mathematical issues and concerns in order to have them push for increasing the federal investment in research and education that will fuel future economic growth.

How do we do this work?

It is not quite “location, location, location” but more “relationships, relationships, relationships.” Key to my work is establishing trusting relations with folks from congressional offices, government agencies, other professional organizations in the sciences, university umbrella groups (such as the APLU), and business and industry so that the AMS (and indeed the mathematical community more broadly) is viewed as a partner and resource. I am following the annual federal budget process to educate myself as I advocate for maximized funding for scientific research and education, and establishing relations with congressional offices. I want mathematicians “at the table,” and I want congressional offices – from both parties – to look to us as a resource.

It is part of the privilege of my position that I can attend Congressional hearings. I attended the first in a series of hearings on cybersecurity, a hot topic in DC. One of the witnesses at this hearing – Dr. Charles Romine (National Institute of Standards and Technology) – is a mathematician. And, I attended parts of the confirmation hearings of our new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Since January, I’ve made visits to several members of Congress. We talk about maximizing funding for basic research and the current congressional priorities as laid out, for example, by House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chair Lamar Smith (TX-21-R). In hindsight, it is often easier to appreciate how basic research in mathematics benefits our society and economy. However, congressional members (most) often would not know, for example, that advances in theoretical mathematics were employed to develop the PageRank algorithm, now famously used by Google. We know these stories, and congressional members can use them to push for more funding for science in their annual budget-setting process. It is our job to make sure they know these stories too. My experience is that congressional staff members like to talk about math, and I leave them not only with information about NSF investments in their home districts and states, but also with a beautiful AMS calendar and, lately, because it is timely, point out that April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month.

These examples are just to give you an idea of what the AMS’s advocacy efforts in DC look like.

Tune in here to this new blog for regular news, background information about our work, and opportunities for how you can engage in the discussion in DC.

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