Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

Congress Passes and President Agrees to Sign Budget Agreement to Increase Discretionary Spending for FY 2020 and FY 2021 – The House and Senate have passed HR 3877, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2019 which sets new spending limitations (caps) for non-defense and defense discretionary spending for FYs 2020 and 2021.  The bill increases total discretionary spending from $1.32 trillion in the current fiscal year to $1.37 trillion in fiscal 2020 and $1.375 trillion in FY 21.  

The BBA ends sequestration and adds $324 billion above the prior spending caps over the next two fiscal years.  Defense funding would increase from $716 billion during the current fiscal year to $738 billion during FY 2020 and $740.5 billion in FY 2021.  Non-defense discretionary spending would increase from current funding of $605 billion to $632 billion in FY 2020 and $634 billion in FY 2021.  The agreement to raise the FY 2020 spending caps will mean that non-defense agencies could see an average increase of approximately 4.5% above their FY 2019 level instead of the 9% reduction they would have been forced to take if the FY 2020 spending caps had not been amended by this agreement. Defense spending will grow by 3% above the FY 2019 level rather than decline by 11%. Actual spending levels for specific programs and agencies will be determined by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees as they work to complete the FY 2020 appropriations process. The new agreement also suspends the debt-ceiling until the end of July 2021. 

The table below compares the newly established spending levels with FY 2019 and the pre-agreement levels for FY 2020 and FY 2020 for defense and non-defense discretionary programs.  When the Congress returns in September, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to immediately start marking up their versions of the FY 2020 appropriations bills at these newly established top line spending levels.  

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Prior to the start of the August the recess the House had already passed most of its FY 2020 appropriations bills with the exception of the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill and the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. 

It is important to note that the House passed appropriations bills for FY 2020 used aggregate defense and non-defense spending levels that are higher than those levels agreed to in the BBA. Therefore, they will have to be adjusted at some point before the conclusion of the FY 2020 appropriations process.  The biggest adjustment will take place on the non-defense discretionary bills (such as the Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water, Transportation-HUD, Interior-EPA, etc.). The House bills total $631 billion in non-defense spending subject to the cap, and the agreement sets a new cap of $621.5 billion. As a result, the non-defense spending in the 12 House bills for 2020 will have to be reduced by a total of about $9.5 billion or 1.5 percent.

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier Testifies Before House Appropriations Subcommittee – On July 24, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science.  In his opening statement, Chairman Serrano referred to concerns that the Administration has been stifling federal climate scientists as well as the Administration’s attempt to scale back the use of federal advisory committees.  Rep. Aderholt expressed his strong support for investments in science and technology and in STEM education to assist the nation remain competitive with our international competitors.  Dr. Droegemeier stressed the vibrancy of the nation’s R&D enterprise including the public, private, academic, and non-profit sectors of society.  He described the Administration’s FY 2020 budget as a “robust vision for the future,” and the FY 2021 OMB/OSTP R&D priorities memorandum is scheduled to be released later this summer. In response to a question from the Chairman, Dr. Droegemeier did agree that worldwide, temperatures are rising and that it is generated in part by anthropogenic sources.  He also said that there is still much more to be understood about our complex climate system.  Dr. Droegemeier, also in response to a question from the Chairman, stated clearly there was no interagency climate committee being established by the National Security Council as had been reported in the press over the last few months. 

Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) asked Dr. Droegemeier if he is concerned about reports of political interference in science and the conclusions of a recent Government Accountability Office study documenting the uneven implementation of scientific integrity policies across agencies. Dr. Droegemeier said the new interagency Joint Committee on Research Environments is a potential mechanism for addressing the concerns after agencies have had a chance to respond to the GAO report. Asked by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) whether the Department of Agriculture’s decision to not publicize research on climate change impacts amounts to political interference, Droegemeier said he was not familiar with the case.

Other topics discussed included artificial intelligence, STEM education, partnerships, improving the research environment by reducing sexual harassment, scientific integrity, and ocean science and technology along with a possible summit later this year.  More information about this important hearing can be found here.

House Passes HR 36, the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 – On July 23, the House suspended the rules and passed by voice vote the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 (H.R. 36). This bipartisan bill would establish an interagency working group led by the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with representatives from each federal science agency with an extramural research expenditure over $1 billion and the Department of Education. During floor debate on H.R. 36, original co-sponsor Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) rose in support of the bill and stated that federal science agencies “have the responsibility to ensure that all federally-funded researchers, including students, are able to carry out their research in a safe environment” without fear of sexual harassment. Rep. Johnson added that “agencies need universities to be partners in that area and effort.” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), also an original co-sponsor, shared his support by summarizing the bill’s role in creating a uniform policy for universities and research institutions to report to federal science agencies when administrative action is taken that impacts the ability of a researcher to carry out a grant. Rep. Lucas concluded that “pervasive sexual harassment in the scientific community discourages women from critical work in good-paying jobs and hurts American competitiveness.” With House passage of the bill, the measure now goes over to the Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senate Commerce Committee Marks Up Young Fishermen’s Development Act and Regional Ocean Partnership Act – On July 24, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee marked up and reported out a number of pieces of legislation including S. 496, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act and S. 2166, the Regional Ocean Partnership Act.  The purpose of the Young Fishermen’s Development Act (YFDA) is to authorize the establishment of a national program to train young commercial fishermen in sustainable fishing and business practices.  The bill is modeled after an existing USDA program designed to assist new farmers and ranchers run successful agricultural enterprises.  YFDA would have the National Sea Grant College Office (National Office) administer a new competitive grants program, separate and apart from the National Sea Grant College Program, in which eligible entities would submit proposals to the National Office in response to a solicitation issued by NOAA.  Eligible applicants include a collaborative regionally based network or partnership which may include: Sea Grant Institutions; Federal, State, or Tribal Agencies; a community-based or nongovernmental organization; fishermen’s cooperatives or associations; and/or colleges or universities. Funding in the amount of $2 million per year to support the grants to be made would come from an existing asset forfeiture fund NOAA manages as part of its enforcement responsibilities under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisher Conservation and Management Act.

NOAA Announces Climate Research Funding Opportunity – NOAA has announced that approximately $13 million will be available in FY 2020 to support about 90 new awards within NOAA’s Climate Program Office (CPO).  Ten separate competitions are envisioned by the NOAA funding opportunity (NOAA-OAR-CPO-2020-2006076) including: urban atmosphere, changing ocean conditions, drought, climate modeling, and climate resilience.  Awards are expected to range in size between $50,000 and $300,000 per year.  More information on this funding opportunity can be found here.

Interagency Ocean Exploration Advisory Board Meets – On July 31 and August 1, the Ocean Exploration Advisory Board (OEAB) met in Washington, D.C.  The OEAB advises NOAA leadership on strategic planning as it relates to ocean exploration, exploration priorities, and competitive ocean exploration grant programs.  During this meeting, RDML Tim Gallaudet from NOAA and Mr. Deerin Babb-Brott representing OSTP gave a briefing on the Administration’s priorities for ocean exploration.  This included a discussion of a ocean science and technology summit the White House is planning for November that will bring together the research community, the private/commercial sector, the philanthropic community, the NGO community, and the Federal Government to discuss how to work together and create enduring partnerships that will ensure a vibrant ocean enterprise going forward.

NOAA Announces Funding Opportunity for Marine Debris Removal -- The NOAA Marine Debris Program, authorized in the Marine Debris Act, supports the development and implementation of locally-driven, marine debris prevention, assessment, and removal projects that benefit coastal habitat, waterways, and NOAA trust resources. Projects awarded through this grant competition will create long-term, quantifiable ecological benefits and habitat improvements for NOAA trust resources through on-the-ground marine debris removal activities, with highest priority for those targeting derelict fishing gear and other medium- and large-scale debris. Projects should also foster awareness of the effects of marine debris to further the conservation of living marine resource habitats, and contribute to the understanding of marine debris composition, distribution and impacts. Successful proposals through this solicitation will be funded through cooperative agreements. Funding of up to $2.5 million is expected to be available for Marine Debris Removal grants in Fiscal Year 2020. The typical funding level for the federal share of project awards ranges from $50,000 to $150,000. Funding for this grant competition comes through the NOAA Marine Debris Program as appropriations to the Office of Response and Restoration, National Ocean Service.  For more information download a copy of the solicitation here.

AAAS Names Alan Leshner Acting CEO as Rush Holt Retires -- Earlier this year, Rush Holt announced plans to retire this fall from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where he has served as chief executive officer for four years. Holt has decided to retire by September 1 and will be taking accrued vacation leave until that time. The search process for the next CEO is underway but not yet complete.  Therefore, in order to ensure a smooth transition, the AAAS Board has named Alan Leshner as Acting CEO of AAAS. Leshner previously served 13 years as AAAS CEO prior to Holt’s tenure in the leadership role. He has also served as director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, deputy director and acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and in a variety of senior roles at the National Science Foundation.