Funding for Science—What Is The Path Forward?

Undoubtedly, changes in congressional and executive branch leadership portend shifting legislative and federal funding priorities. While the new Administration organizes, and Congress awaits President Trump’s first budget submission, uncertainty surrounding how agencies and programs will fare hangs in the balance.

Under normal circumstances, during the first week of February, the President would be sending Congress his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. This action officially kicks off the annual appropriations process in which Congress holds hearings and drafts and passes twelve separate appropriations bills to fund the entire federal government. The first year of any new Administration, however, rarely follows suit. The new President needs time to organize his cabinet and to prepare and submit a detailed budget reflecting his priorities.

This year, the funding scenario is complicated by the fact that the FY 2017 appropriations process has not been resolved. Most of the federal government is funded through a continuing resolution (CR) that expires April 28. It is not clear when the federal agencies will receive their final Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding levels nor when the new Administration will release its proposed FY 2018 budget. Even when the Administration finally does propose its FY 2018 budget, it is not clear Congress will have sufficient time to consider the President’s request through “regular order” by drafting and passing twelve separate appropriations bills. The compressed budget process timeline and crowded legislative calendar may compel Congress to pass another CR through FY 2018.

Before any definitive action is taken to resolve FY 2017 or to jumpstart the FY 2018 appropriations process, the Trump Administration expects to send Congress a supplemental funding request on or before March 1. The supplemental measure would expedite funding for defense programs and new initiatives, especially the proposed border wall, which the Department of Homeland Security estimates could cost as much as $26 billion. In order to pay for programs in the supplemental funding request, advocates for non-defense discretionary programs (NDD), which includes funding for scientific research, education, mental health services, and statistical agencies, worry NDD funding will be used as an offset.

Against this pessimistic back drop is the larger budget picture. Federal funding is constrained by the overall FY 2017 and 2018 budget caps. Further, sequestration, requiring automatic spending reductions, returns in fiscal year (FY) 2018, when the two-year relief provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 expires. Without action to stop sequestration, in FY 2018 NDD programs are projected to decline to 3.1 percent of GDP—equal to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

In anticipation of these numerous challenges, advocates and organizations, including FABBS, are joining forces to communicate the consequences of not only funding delays, which continuing resolutions create, but also funding cuts. Until more details emerge, it is not clear how scientific research and federal research agencies will be affected. FABBS staff will be communicating with member organizations about the next complex steps in the budget process and urging action if and when it is warranted.