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The Season Ahead for Science Policy

Friday, February 21, 2014 - 16:45

We are looking at a potentially busy spring and summer for federal policies related to the astronomical sciences. In lieu of a deep dive into any one of the interesting policy issues on the horizon, I thought I would just lay out what we're likely to see and approximately when.

All three agencies that provide most of the federal funding for the astronomical sciences—NASA, NSF, and DOE Office of Science—are due for re-authorization this year. Well, that's not exactly right; they're more overdue (though a lapse in authorization does not necessarily imply anything about whether funds can be appropriated). In any case, authorizing legislation all these agencies will likely see some action in both the House and Senate in the coming months. These authorizing bills will define what each of the agencies is authorized to do (or forbidden from doing) and set what are effectively funding ceilings for various aspects of agency operations. The bills will not allocate (a.k.a. appropriate) any actual funds, but rather provide direction to appropriating committees and the agencies themselves.

Around this same time, we are expecting the release of the President's Budget Request (PBR) for FY 2015. This document, formulated over many months by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in consultation with federal agencies, sets forth the Administration's vision for the coming fiscal year's federal budget. The top-level information is scheduled for release on March 4th, with detailed information for the various agencies set for about a week later. The PBR will provide a reference point for the appropriations committees as they work to formulate the eventual spending plan for FY 2015, as they exercise Congress' "power of the purse." Nearly all signs point toward a return to the normal budget process for FY 2015, with appropriations committees working to proactively set discretionary spending levels across all agencies after receiving the PBR, instead of setting much of the government on effective autopilot with Continuing Resolutions (CRs).

Looking at the week ahead, there will be hearings in both authorizing and appropriating committees, and a National Science Board meeting that includes consideration of plans for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). I will work to provide updates on any developments stemming from these events on the blog and Twitter as these unfold. However, looking further out at the coming month and our participation in Congressional Visits Day, I'm hoping to work through a series of posts on the budget process as it unfolds. With the PBR on its way in early March, we'll begin with a few posts on how that document is formulated and the role it plays in the larger process.

Joshua H. Shiode
John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society
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