The Astronomical Sciences Policy Ecosystem
There is a long list of funders, advisors, and policy makers involved in setting policy for and about the astronomical sciences. This page is meant to serve as a portal for learning about the astronomical sciences policy ecosystem in the US.
- Appropriation: In the policy sphere, an appropriation is a spending bill. In both the House and Senate, the Appropriations committees lead the writing process for spending bills and responsibilities for different sectors of the government are delegated to subcommittees.
- Authorization: An authorization is a type of legislation that creates agencies, specifies the functions and limitations of agencies, and sometimes sets appropriations boundary conditions.
- Budget: The budget, more accurately the budget resolution, is legislation that sets the structure of the budget. This includes how much money the federal government can spend and collect (taxes) in a given fiscal year. Because a budget resolution is a concurrent resolution, it does not have the force of law and the President doesn't sign it.
- Oversight: Congressional oversight is the process by which Congress can evaluate the performance of agencies and programs and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these agencies and programs. This often includes gathering information and informing the public, with the larger goals of preventing poor administration, waste, or abuse, protecting civil liberties, and ensuring compliance with legislative intent. Oversight is an integral part of the system of checks and balances.
An appropriation bill is the only way to disperse funds to an agency or program. An authorization can set limits on this funding level. A common analogy is that an authorization sets the nominal size of the money bucket, and appropriation fills that bucket. It can happen that an authorized program may not be funded by an appropriation. It can also happen that an appropriation can redirect an existing program, especially if the authorization for that program has expired.
Under regular order, the budget resolution would be passed before the appropriations process begins. There are legislative loopholes that can allow appropriations to proceed even if a budget resolution hasn't passed. The budget resolution sets the overall structure of the budget. Perhaps most importantly, it sets the caps on the discretionary parts of the budget. An appropriation determines the funding for the agencies and programs within the discretionary parts of the budget. For more information on the appropriations process, including information about how the president's budget request fits into this picture, refer to "The President's Budget Request Just Dropped. How Did It Get Here?"