Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

FY 2020 Appropriations Process Takes Initial Steps Forward -- The House and Senate have essentially recessed until the end of this month.  When they return, the House is expected to start marking up a number of the FY 2020 appropriations bills – such as Defense, the Labor-HHS-Education bill, Commerce-Science-Justice which funds NSF, NASA, and NOAA; Interior-Environment which funds EPA and USGS; and Transportation which funds the FAA.

A key stumbling block facing legislators for FY 2020 is the current statutory spending limits (the “spending caps”) for defense and non-defense programs in FY 2020 within the Budget Control Act (BCA).  Under the current limits within the BCA, total discretionary spending (defense and non-defense) would decline by $125 billion or 10% below the FY 2019 level.  Defense spending would decline by 11% below the FY 2019 level.  Within the non-defense category the total reduction would be about 10% but in reviewing the President’s FY 2020 budget request, some non-defense programs would be reduced by levels in excess of 10% such as:  Department of State and Other International Programs (-23%), the Department of Transportation (-22%), the Department of Housing & Urban Development (-16%), the Department of Agriculture (-15%), the Department of Education (-12%), the Department of Health and Human Services (-12%), the Department of Energy (-11%), and the Department of the Interior (-11%).  With respect to research and development, the President’s budget proposes significant reductions including: NOAA (-8%), DOE Office of Science (-16%), DOE EERE (-83%), EPA S&T (-37%), USGS (-19%), NASA Science (-3%), NIH (-13%), and NSF (-9%).

Reductions such as these have been proposed by this Administration in the past and have largely been ignored by the Congress.  To do so for FY 2020, however, will first require the Congress and the White House to reach agreement to amend the BCA and raise the spending caps for FY 2020, and perhaps for FY 2021. 

The Congress and the White House have raised the BCA caps three times in the last six years.  Raising the caps by how much, by when, and how that relief will be allocated among the key research agencies mentioned above will likely take well into FY 2020 to be realized. 

Nevertheless, the first step towards raising the caps was taken in the House last week.  The Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth, has proposed raising the defense cap for FY 2020 by 2.6% over FY 2019 and non-defense by 5.7%.  The Yarmuth proposal would also raise the FY 2021 defense cap by 2.4% and non-defense would increase by 2.4% over the proposed levels for FY 2020.  The House has adopted a so-called deeming resolution that endorses this goal.  This paves the way for the House Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Nita Lowey, to make subcommittee allocations and begin marking up FY 2020 appropriations bills within these proposed increased limits.  These proposed new levels would help the appropriators improve on many of the Administration’s proposed reductions for FY 2020.

It appears the House will soon begin moving its FY 2020 appropriations bills.  Some observers expect the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee – the Subcommittee that funds the NIH – to mark up by the end of April.  Moreover, some press reports say that Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) wants the House to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of June.  Nevertheless, at some point the process is likely to come to a grinding halt until such time as the House, Senate, and White House agree on amending the BCA and adjust the spending caps for defense and non-defense discretionary programs.  Reaching such an agreement will not be easy and it is hard to see how it will be in place by October 1, 2019 – the start of FY 2020.  At that time, Congress will have to enact a stop gap continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running into the new fiscal year. 

Usually CRs keep programs operating and funded at current levels – in this case FY 2019 levels.  However, since FY 2019 levels are 10% higher than allowed by law for FY 2020 the CR might be subject to an across-the-board reduction or sequester to bring overall levels down to the FY 2020 level. Unless the CR includes a provision that suspends the sequester process for the time frame covered by the CR, the FY 2020 CR may be a very difficult proposition for most agencies and their stakeholders.Chairman Yarmuth has released a report outlining the consequences of the current spending cap limitations for FY 2020 and FY 2020.  A copy of that report is available here.  The Congressional Research Service recently released a report outlining the history of recent actions to raise the spending caps contained within the BCA.  A copy of the CRS report is available here.

House Science Committee’s Views and Estimates for FY 2020  — On March 8, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee issued its annual “Views and Estimates” for FY 2020.  This annual report is normally a reaction to the President’s budget request for R&D but this year, the Committee issued its Views and Estimates report ahead of the President’s budget proposal because the President’s budget was released about one month later that normal.  In the Committee’s report, written under the chairmanship of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the Committee identifies its priorities for FY 2020.  Those priorities include clean energy technologies via strong investment in the relevant activities of the Department of Energy; strengthen science and technology within the US Environmental Protection Agency; Climate Change Research - continued sustained funding for research at agencies such as NOAA and NASA that will help inform robust solutions climate change; civil space and aeronautics; robust funding for NOAA especially for environmental data collection and scientific research needs to ensure the agency can continue to meeting its critical missions; maintain funding for next generation NOAA weather satellites; maintain strong funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Standards and Technology; and reverse Administration efforts to reduce homeland security R&D funding.

NOAA Broad Agency Announcement FY 2018 – 2020 – This NOAA BAA requests proposals for special projects and programs associated with NOAA's strategic plan and mission goals. This broad agency announcement is a mechanism to encourage research, education and outreach, innovative projects, or sponsorships that are not addressed through NOAA competitive discretionary programs. Funding for potential projects in this notice is contingent upon the availability of Fiscal Year 2019 and Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations. A copy of this BAA can be found here.

Air Force Releases New Science and Technology Strategy -- Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson unveiled a new Science and Technology Strategy designed to better identify, develop and deploy breakthrough technologies. The strategy includes an array of changes allowing the Air Force to maximize – and expand – its technological advantage in the new era of peer-to-peer threats. The plan for executing this strategy is divided into three objectives to make the vision a reality:

Develop and deliver transformational capabilities -- The Air Force will focus on developing and delivering transformational, operational capabilities by restructuring its science and technology portfolio. The Air Force will prioritize five strategic capabilities including:  global persistent awareness; resilient information sharing; rapid, effective decision-making; complexity, unpredictability, and mass; and; speed and reach of disruption and lethality.

Reform the way science and technology is led and managed -- The Air Force proposes to reform the way they lead and manage through the appointment of a chief technology officer. The intention is to elevate the advocacy for science and technology within the Air Force.

Deepen and expand scientific and technical enterprise -- The Air Force will deepen and expand the enterprise by engaging the workforce and leveraging partnerships with partner organizations. Enhancing the recruitment of national and global talent, advancing workforce development, creating a stronger pipeline of technology-proficient military Airmen and implementing agile workforce practices will significantly strengthen Air Force scientific and technical expertise. Expanding the Air Force’s scientific presence in innovation hotspots, funding research in universities and with partnerships, creating a more visible Air Force science and technology front door and strengthening partnerships increases discovery, innovation and technology transition. This will strengthen the workforce and strengthen its connections to the broader scientific enterprise.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Releases National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan – On March 29, the Administration released a new National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan to better prepare the nation’s critical infrastructure and security for the next space weather event.  The plan has three main objectives: enhance the protection of national security, homeland security, and commercial assets and operations; develop and disseminate accurate and timely space weather characterization and forecasts; and establish procedures for responding to and recovering from space weather events.  A copy of the Administration’s plan can be found here.

Congressional Research Service Releases Report on History of NIH Funding – On April 4, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released its latest report tracking annual appropriations for the National Institutes of Health.  The CRS report includes data starting with FY 1994 up to the present (FY 2020 budget request).  According to the CRS report, President Trump’s FY 2020 budget request would provide NIH a total program level of $34.4 billion, a decrease of $4.9 billion (-12.6%) compared with FY2019-enacted levels. The proposed FY 2020 program level total would include: $33.4 billion provided through LHHS appropriations; $66.6 million provided through Interior/Environment appropriations for Superfund-related activities; and $150 million in proposed funding for the mandatory type 1 diabetes program.

In addition, the FY 2020 Budget Request proposes consolidating the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) into NIH, forming a 28th IC—the National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality (NIRSQ). The creation of a new NIH institute would require an amendment to the PHSA Section 401(d), which specifies that “[i]n the National Institutes of Health, the number of national research institutes and national centers may not exceed a total of 27.”

The CRS report notes the proposed FY 2020 NIH program level would be 22.4% less than the FY 2003 program level, in constant FY 2020 dollars.  A copy of the CRS report is available here.

DOE Office of Science Releases $13 Million Funding Opportunity in Artificial Intelligence (AI) -- Of the $13 million, $11 million will be devoted to the development of new A.I. algorithms and software adapted to specific scientific problems or sets of problems. Applications will be open to DOE national laboratories, with opportunities for universities, industry, and nonprofit organizations to participate as partners. An additional $2 million will support research aimed at improving the reliability of predictions from A.I. and machine learning models through the application of mathematical and statistical techniques of uncertainty quantification. Applications will be open to national laboratories, universities, industry, and nonprofit organizations. The total planned funding of $2 million in FY 2019 dollars will support two-year projects. Letters of Intent are required and are due May 8, 2019, by 5 PM Eastern. Final applications are due May 31, 2019, by 5 PM Eastern. Awards will be selected competitively by peer review. The total planned funding of $11 million in FY 2019 dollars will support three-year projects. Letters of Intent are due May 1, 2019, by 5 PM Eastern. Final applications are due May 31, 2019, by 5 PM Eastern. The full text of the FOA can be found here.

Senator Grassley Seeks Information on NSF’s Policy to Guard Against Threats from Foreign Governments -- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has asked National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova for information about polices in place at the agency to detect and prevent threats to NSF-supported research. The letter is similar to letters sent to the Department of Defense earlier this month and the National Institutes of Health last year seeking information about the vetting processes in place at these agencies regarding foreign researchers and public grants, and the steps each agency has taken to ensure the integrity of taxpayer funded research. Chairman Grassley requested a response from NSF no later than April 29.