Recess in Washington; Science Appropriations Update

August is normally a time when all Congressional members return to their home districts. In DC, their staff members continue to work – meeting constituents, drafting legislation – and they have the opportunity to take more reflective time to consider their boss’s larger legislative agenda. This year, House members are taking this customary “August recess,” but the Senate has shortened theirs and will remain working in DC except for the week August 6-10 when they, too, will return home.

One of the items on the Senators to do list is to work on appropriations. Congress has until October 1 to pass all 12 appropriations bills (see below for explanation) and get them to the president’s desk for signature into law. There are only 11 legislative days on the calendar in which both chambers of Congress are in session before September 30. While Congressional leaders seem optimistic that appropriations process will wrap up during these 11 days (and – just saying – for the first time since 1996), there are significant potential roadblocks. President Trump may veto the final bill, as he is threatening to do if there is inadequate funding for a border wall. And, the November election and Supreme Court confirmation hearings could slowdown appropriations work. Even if the entire 11 days are devoted to appropriations, there is much work to be done before a bill is given to the President to consider signing into law establishing spending amounts for the fiscal year 2019 (FY19).

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. The President recommends overall fiscal policy, with two main components: (1) how much the federal government should spend on public purposes, and (2) how much it should take in as tax revenues. The difference between (1) and (2) is the proposed deficit (or surplus). The President’s budget is very detailed, and lays out his or her relative priorities for federal programs — how much he or she believes should be spent on defense, agriculture, education, health, and so on.

The budget then works its way through each of the House and Senate. 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 subcommittee — one 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.

Figure 1

The budget process just described addresses the piece of the pie in Figure 1, labelled “discretionary” (30% in 2017). 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 63% wedge). Interest has been creeping up in recent years and we expect that trend to continue, thereby taking away funds in the other categories.

Discretionary funds are categorized as “defense” or “non-defense” (see Figure 2). In 2017, non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending accounted for 15% (\$610 billion) of federal spending (the other 15% of discretionary is defense related).

Figure 2

Science, environment, and energy programs constituted 12% (\$71 billion) of NDD spending in 2017. Just under 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.

For FY19, the President has proposed a 4% decrease (to \$7.47 billion) from FY18 for the NSF overall (see Figure 3). However, the House proposes a 5% increase, and the Senate proposed a 4% increase. The AMS is advocating for \$8.45 billion for the NSF; we have submitted written testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee giving this number, and our rationale for it.

Figure 3

Congress does not determine how the NSF divvies up its funds between research directorates with one exception – the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate gets its own budget line and the President, House, and Senate proposed changes to the EHR budget are -3%, 0% and 1% respectively. The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that funds NSF on May 17, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version on June 14. Next step is for each full chamber to vote on their respective bills. After that, the two are reconciled to produce the final bill presented to the President.

While Congress does not fund by directorate, the President’s budget proposal is very detailed. The largest proposed cut by the President is a decrease of 18% to the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction budget line. Among the directorates, there are significant variations, ranging from a 3.3 percent increase proposed for the Geosciences Directorate (GEO) to a 9.1 percent cut proposed for the Social, Behavioral, and Economics Sciences Directorate. The Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS) is slated for a cut of \$17 million or 1.3 percent. Inside MPS, sits the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) for which the President proposes a 6.3% cut. Most individual investigator awards for research in mathematics come from DMS.

For the first time the President is requesting dedicated funding for each of the NSF’s 10 Big Ideas: a total of \$343 million to be split among the directorates and the foundation’s other offices. While Congress does not specify how the NSF is to spend its appropriations, their bill language gives indications of what they want out of the NSF. Both House and Senate voice qualitative support for the Big Ideas. And both chambers highlight the need for significant investments in computing. The Senate also supports “core research” while the House expresses support for research centers and facilities. No mention is made specifically of mathematics research in the House Committee’s proposal. The Senate Committee does make one specific reference: it “recognizes the importance of the NSF Mathematical Sciences Institutes across the country, which provide important basic research in multiple fields.” Both versions refer to mathematics in the context of education and training the next generation of scientists.

While Congress finishes up its work on FY19 appropriations, the White House is moving on and issued the outline of its science priorities for 2020 on July 31. The FY20 Administration R&D Budget Priorities Memo identifies eight R&D topics for the federal government to prioritize:

  1. Security of the American People
  2. American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Sciences, and Strategic Computing
  3. American Connectivity and Autonomy
  4. American Manufacturing
  5. American Space Exploration & Commercialization
  6. American Energy Dominance
  7. American Medical Innovation
  8. American Agriculture

I will write more in this blogspot about this memo over the next weeks.

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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