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Each year, the federal budget process kicks off with the introduction of the President's Budget Request (PBR). Or rather, that's where it seems to begin for those of us looking from the outside in. In fact, internal delibrations at federal agencies, and a back and forth with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), have been ongoing for over a year before any of us on the outside ever see the PBR, when it's released in the spring prior to the start of the fiscal year (in October). In this post, we'll go through a basic outline of what's going on during the long lead-up and look at the roles the agencies and White House each play in the process.
This year, the process is running about a month behind schedule, with the request having dropped over the last two weeks beginning 4 March 2014 (actually some details are still yet to come out as of this posting on the morning 17 March).
At any given time, the various parts of the federal government are working on three budgets, the one being spent, the one about to start, and the one following that (illustrated schematically in the figure below).
The fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget, which proposes spending that will not begin for (at least) another 7-8 months, has been in the works since around October 2012. While it has been occupying minds in various parts of the federal government, at any given time it has been sharing that head space with the FY 2013, FY 2014, and/or (currently) FY 2016 budgets.1
The current budgeting process, outlined above, was put in place by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which followed on legislation going back to the 1920s that established rules for authorizing programs vs. appropriating funds, defined a role for the Executive branch, and created OMB (previously, the Bureau of the Budget). Few of the rules governing the process are hard and fast; case in point, this year's PBR is arriving spread out and in March, not all at once in February.
To frame our discussion a little better, let's pick an agency; choosing completely at random... the National Science Foundation (NSF). Starting about a year and a half ago (so, October 2012), Division managers at the NSF were already getting started on internal planning. Within NSF's Astronomy (AST) Division, managers would begin by assessing their projects', facilities' and grants programs' needs, taking into account budgets for the current and upcoming fiscal years (which should have some budget clarity). They would also look at what new projects, facilities, and grant programs are on the horizon. For astronomy, these determinations depend heavily on the science goals and prioritizations outlined in the three decadal surveys for the astronomical sciences.
The figure above shows how NSF research units are organized. The AST division is just one division within its larger directorate, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS; second green box from the right); MPS is just one of the seven research directorates that draw funding from the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, the NSF's largest budget line. So the AST budget filters up through these levels, where its whole portfolio comes up against competing priorities for the MPS directorate and then the Foundation as a whole. We can think of this as the bottom-up portion of the process, with division managers working with their resepective scientific communities to make the strongest case to their directorate managers for robust funding. These directorate managers then take their full portfolio up to the NSF Director's office to make their case on the Foundation-level.
In the spring about one year before the PBR release, OMB, in concert with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), gets involved in the process, exerting a top-down pressure on all agencies. OMB is ultimately responsible for formulating the PBR, while OSTP is the office tasked with coordinating science and technology policy across the federal government. Unlike many other countries, the US does not have a "Ministry of Science" or similarly centralized science agency; instead we have many agencies—NSF, NASA, DOE, NIH, etc.—which each pursue science objectives in support of their own specific mission. OSTP serves as a driver and coordinator for broad science and technology initiatives that require multiple agencies to coordinate.
In order to make room for new inititatives and for bolstering Administration priorities, OMB's strategic guidance to NSF during the spring was probably something like: "take about... 5% off the top, and here are some suggestions about how to do that." This is where the process can begin to get adversarial. The Foundation might respond to this direction, as a beneficiary of NSF grants might hope, with a "Yea... We don't want to do that. How about a 5% increase?" Discussions percolate throughout the Foundation and within the relevant parts of OMB, but the OMB budget examiner(s) and the budget officers at the Foundation are on the front line. Each are getting direction from their bosses, bosses' bosses, and so on and some discussions will ultimately go over their heads, but their personal relationships can be instrumental in fostering a collaborative atmosphere for negotiations.
In September (a little more than one year from the start of the fiscal year), the NSF submits its proposal to OMB for consideration. At this point, OMB staff pour over the proposals looking for strategic savings to make room for Presidential priorities, which may come in the form of dramatic increases or decreases for certain accounts or whole new initiatives. Around Thanksgiving, OMB then passes back the budget proposal with its direction for the NSF; this is known colloquially as "passback." This passed back proposal may or may not contain dramatic changes, depending on the process of negotiations thus far and whether the NSF is a particular focus that year for Administration priorities among other things. The Foundation then has a limited opportunity to appeal this passback before the budget request is finalized. The appeals process varies by agency, largely based on the political position of the agency head—i.e., those who sit in the President's Cabinet have greater influence and access in the White House.
Throughout most of the negotiation, in the leadup to the budget release in February (or this year, March), OMB and OSTP are basically in lock-down mode. This is both because OMB staff are diving deep into agency program budgets and performance data as they evaluate budget requests, but also to prevent leaks as best they can—Presidential initiatives can't make as big a splash if the waters have been stirred up in advance. Once the Administration releases the PBR in the spring prior to the start of the fiscal year, the Foundation and OMB have reached some sort of compromise that ideally preserves important programs for the NSF and its stakeholders and contains the Administration's vision for a better tomorrow, or rather, a better seven months from then.
I find it's important to keep in mind that few, if any, of the budgetary decisions during this process are made solely on scientific grounds, though science plays a large part in many cases. Our federal government is, in an idealistic sense, responsible for furthering the national interest. This means many things, fostering a strong economy, improving the health of its residents, providing high quality education, and so on. The way these interests are bolstered is a political question, which is reflected in the types of new initiatives, budget cuts and increases that get proposed. As I've started to learn my way around here, I've found that being congnizant of this helps me understand not just how decisions get made but also how we, as a scientific community, might approach steering them in a more scientifically favorable direction.
With almost all the details of the FY 2015 PBR now released, we are working on more in-depth analyses of the request. In the coming weeks, look for a rundown of the details for NSF and DOE-Office of Science as well as a more in-depth look at the NASA Science Divisions below the top-line. The appropriators in Congress have set an aggressive schedule for the rest of the budgeting process this year, though political realities related to the mid-term elections may gum up those works. I'll try to keep you up to date as the machine lurches forward!
1Much of what is described here is drawn from presentations and blog posts by Matt Hourihan, Director of the AAAS Research and Development (R&D) Budget and Policy Program. Matt excellently covers the federal R&D budget across all federal agencies and program.
Other relevant reading:
- The Executive Budget Process: An Overview (2012 CRS Report)
- The Executive Budget Process Timetable (2008 CRS Report)
- Policy Basics: Introduction to the Federal Budget Process (Center on Budget & Policy Priorities)
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has issued a statement expressing concerns over President Obama’s “lackluster” support of science research and education as reflected in his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2015. While recognizing the limitations imposed by statutory caps on discretionary spending, the statement argues that science research and education — both crucial drivers of economic progress in the 21st century — warrant a higher priority within these spending caps. The AAS is particularly worried that flat or declining budgets at the National Science Foundation and NASA will continue to erode our international leadership position and threaten to upset the balance of small, medium, and large research programs. Maintaining this balance was cited as a top priority in several recent decadal surveys carried out by the National Academies.
“We’re grateful that the President has expressed renewed support for some of our highest-priority flagship projects under tight budget caps,” says Jack O. Burns (University of Colorado, Boulder), chair of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP). “But by lowering overall spending on the astronomical sciences, the Administration threatens the health of our technical workforce and the education and training of the next generation of space scientists. This is hard to swallow at a time when other countries are increasing their investments in science and technology.”
AAS President David Helfand (Quest University) adds, “Astronomy grabs headlines every week, making fascinating discoveries from planets around nearby stars to gravitational waves from the Big Bang. It doesn’t make sense to curtail an enterprise that is advancing our scientific understanding of the universe and attracting widespread support from the public. We look forward to working with the President and Congress to develop a budget plan that will enable this golden age of discovery to continue.”
The full text of the AAS statement, approved by the CAPP and the AAS Executive Committee on 24 March 2014, follows:
AAS Statement on the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request
As the nation works toward a hard-fought economic recovery, it is crucial that we strengthen investments in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research that will help drive our long-term prosperity in the global knowledge economy. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is troubled by the reduction in basic science research funding proposed in the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request. We are particularly concerned by the budget allocations for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. While we appreciate the limitations imposed by the statutory caps on discretionary spending, these vital basic science research programs warrant a higher priority within these spending caps.
The astronomical sciences play an important role in our nation’s science and technology enterprise as a discovery-focused field that captures the public’s imagination, drives technology development, contributes to our national security, and serves as a gateway science introducing students to the scientific method and other STEM fields. Our community has a long history of producing exciting and prioritized visions for the field via “decadal surveys” from the National Research Council. These broad community-based reports serve to maximize the scientific return on the public’s investment by guiding federal budget priorities in the astronomical sciences.
As with many other areas of basic science research, the astronomical sciences have never been more ripe for discovery. In just the past few weeks NASA’s Kepler mission has nearly doubled the number of confirmed planets outside our solar system (many of them in multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system). Shortly thereafter, a US-led team of researchers using an NSF-funded telescope at the South Pole announced compelling evidence of primordial gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time itself. These waves originate in the explosive inflationary period just after the Big Bang and open a whole new window on our universe’s first moments.
Dramatic research results such as these are now juxtaposed with a lackluster budget that cuts funding outright for NASA and provides only small, sub-inflationary increases for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Within these top-line funding levels, our primary concern — an overarching priority of the decadal surveys — is achieving a balanced research program. Steadily declining proposal funding rates across competitively selected grant programs at NASA and NSF are a bellwether of imbalance.
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD)
At a time when space science is one of nation’s brightest lights, delivering outstanding scientific discoveries and substantial public support, the President’s proposed 3.5-percent cut for NASA’s SMD is extremely worrying. We are particularly concerned by the 9 percent cut to the Astrophysics Division and the unanticipated decision to mothball a major mission outside the well-established senior review process. The AAS is also concerned about the imbalance within SMD given the inadequate funding for ongoing mission operations (including damaging cuts to major missions), flat or declining research and analysis grant funding, and the outlook for the Planetary New Frontiers and Heliophysics Explorer competed mission lines. Within this overall troubling budget outlook for SMD, there are positive elements of the request that deserve praise: support for high-priority flagship missions (James Webb Space Telescope, Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, Mars 2020 rover, Solar Probe Plus, and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope) and the improved cadence of cost-capped, competed missions in the Astrophysics Explorer and Planetary Discovery lines.
The new proposal for mission-focused STEM education and public outreach (EPO) activities to be consolidated within SMD is also noteworthy since it is an improvement over the drastic and damaging restructuring proposed in the 2014 Budget. We are pleased the Administration has recognized that successful EPO programs need to deeply embed mission scientists and engineers in the program. However, we are concerned that the Budget reduces funding for these EPO activities by two-thirds. This drastically reduced funding level is inadequate for continuing the current high-quality EPO activities within SMD. The AAS shares the Administration’s goal of a more effective STEM education portfolio, and we welcome the opportunity for improved stakeholder input as the Administration pursues the strategic goals outlined in its recent interagency STEM education plan.
National Science Foundation
Given the importance of NSF’s core research programs to the nation, the AAS is concerned by the flat funding for NSF’s research account — including a one-percent cut for the Division on Astronomical Sciences — in the President’s Budget. The loss of buying power and outright reductions in funding for the astronomical sciences and other core research programs at NSF will continue to erode our nation’s leadership in many fields. There are, nevertheless, two relative bright spots in the NSF budget for which the AAS is appreciative. We welcome the significant increase for the second year of construction funding for the groundbreaking Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the number one priority for ground-based astronomy in the most recent astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey. The Division for Astronomical Sciences and its parent Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate are to be commended for identifying more resources for a mid-scale instrumentation and facility program, also a top decadal survey priority. The AAS stands ready to work with the NSF as it tries to rebalance its astronomical sciences and space physics portfolios in the face of increasing facility operations costs and declining proposal success rates.
Department of Energy’s Office of Science
While the AAS laments the proposed cut to the High Energy Physics program at the Office of Science, we are pleased by the increase in the Cosmic Frontiers area. We enthusiastically welcome the planned increase in funding for the LSST camera fabrication, which would keep this NSF-DOE project on track to provide our first deep look at the violent, ever-changing universe at the beginning of the coming decade
As the budget process moves forward over the coming months, the AAS looks forward to working with the Congress and the Administration to strengthen the country’s investment in basic science research. Together we can forge a brighter future for the scientific research enterprise and our country as a whole.
AAS Press Officer
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AAS Director of Public Policy
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The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,000 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal.
The following is adapted from a press release (PDF) issued by the Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group (SETWG), to which the AAS belongs:
US Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) has received the 2014 George E. Brown Award for her vision and leadership in promoting public policies benefitting science and engineering. Representative Johnson was honored at a Capitol Hill ceremony and public reception on Tuesday, 25 March, in the Rayburn Foyer at the Rayburn House Office Building.
In December 2010 Congresswoman Johnson was elected as the first African-American female Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. From 2000 to 2002 she was the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, where she emphasized education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. Throughout the 113th Congress, Representative Johnson has led the way in sponsoring and supporting legislation to promote federal investments in research, innovation, and STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
SETWG organizes the annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) — an event that brings hundreds of scientists (typically including about a dozen AAS members), engineers, educators, and technology executives to Washington, DC, to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. Uniquely multi-sector and multi-disciplinary, CVD is coordinated by a coalition of professional societies, associations, educational institutions, and private companies and is open to all who support science and technology as a cornerstone of our nation's future.
The current and former AAS John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellows gathered for lunch with Neta Bahcall, supporter of the fellowship program, in late March. Shown standing (left to right) are Bethany Johns, Anita Krishnamurthi, Neta Bahcall, Josh Shiode, Marcos Huerta, and Jeremy Richardson. The fellowship program provides a postdoc-level position at the AAS Executive Office working in the public policy arena. The Fellows are responsible for a wide range of activities, including organization and execution of our annual Congressional Visits Day, representing the AAS at key coalition meetings, keeping up to date on current policy issues, and informing the AAS membership and the broader astronomical community about current policy matters.
Each of the past four fellows have found work in the public policy arena: Jeremy Richardson works with the Union of Concerned Scientists; Marcos Huerta serves as Special Assistant to the Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science; Anita Krishnamurthi is Vice-President for STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance and just completed the Noyce Foundation Leadership Institute; and Bethany Johns is Science Policy Manager for the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America. All have found their positions engaging and mentally stimulating and agreed that the Bahcall Fellowship allowed them to bridge from science to policy as a career direction.
Discussion over lunch ranged from the importance of STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and math) in early education, through the impact of the Cosmos television series, to stories Neta shared of John Bahcall’s tireless advocacy along with Lyman Spitzer for the Hubble Space Telescope and for the priorities of the Bahcall survey, the decadal survey for the 1990s.
The AAS thanks Neta Bahcall for her continued support of the fellowship program and for developing the concept originally. The Society, the astronomical sciences, and the Bahcall Fellows themselves have all benefited from her generosity and foresight. Thanks, Neta!
To foster and recognize excellence in astronomy, the AAS awards prizes for outstanding contributions to research, instrumentation, education, and service. The achievements of AAS prizewinners are celebrated throughout the world. They make lasting impressions on everyone who follows advances in our field, and they inspire the next generation to ensure future impacts.
We invite you to contribute to our Spring 2014 campaign, “Lasting Impressions & Future Impacts,” to support our mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. While donations are welcome to any and all our funds, we especially encourage contributions to sustain these AAS prizes and programs:
- The Annie Jump Cannon Award, for distinguished contributions to astronomy by a woman.
- The George Van Biesbroeck Prize, for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy.
- The Joseph Weber Award, for the design, invention, or significant improvement of instrumentation leading to advances in astronomy.
- Childcare Grants, to aid members who need to bring children to a meeting of the AAS.
- The Laboratory Astrophysics Division, our newest division, whose mission is to advance our understanding of the universe through the promotion of fundamental theoretical and experimental research into the underlying processes that drive the cosmos.
We also welcome contributions to the AAS General Fund, our unrestricted account, which we use to support areas of greatest need.
The AAS publishes the leading research journals in our field, organizes the largest astronomy conferences in the world, and represents the interests of the astronomical community to policy makers in Washington, DC. The Society also offers professional development, education resources, and a variety of other services to students and professionals working in the astronomical sciences. Your support, through your membership and your voluntary contributions, makes it all possible.
The AAS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and all donations by U.S. taxpayers are deductible under section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code. Please contribute online (you'll need to log in with your AAS username and password; if you don't remember either or both, email our Membership Dept. for help). Thank you!
The AAS has joined AmazonSmile, giving members and friends a new way to support the Society. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as on Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to the AAS! It’s simple and automatic, and it doesn’t cost you anything!
The following information and instructions are adapted from the AmazonSmile FAQ.
How do I shop at AmazonSmile?
To shop at AmazonSmile simply go to smile.amazon.com from the Web browser on your computer or mobile device.
How do I select a charitable organization to support when shopping on AmazonSmile?
On your first visit to AmazonSmile, you need to select the charitable organization to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Search for and select “American Astronomical Society.” AmazonSmile will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make on AmazonSmile will result in a donation to the AAS.
Which products on AmazonSmile are eligible for charitable donations?
Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations. You will see eligible products marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on their product detail pages. Recurring Subscribe-and-Save purchases and subscription renewals are not currently eligible.
Can I use my existing Amazon.com account on AmazonSmile?
Yes, you use the same account on Amazon.com and AmazonSmile. Your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registry, and other account settings are also the same.
How much of my purchase does Amazon donate?
The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases. The purchase price is the amount paid for the item minus any rebates and excluding shipping & handling, gift-wrapping fees, taxes, or service charges. From time to time, we may offer special, limited time promotions that increase the donation amount on one or more products or services or provide for additional donations to charitable organizations. Special terms and restrictions may apply. Please see the relevant promotion for complete details.
Can I receive a tax deduction for amounts donated from my purchases on AmazonSmile?
Donations are made by the AmazonSmile Foundation and are not tax deductible by you.
How can I learn more about AmazonSmile?
Please see the complete AmazonSmile program details.
The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) and the AAS Committee on Employment have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers both inside and outside of academia. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those various paths.
Six new career profiles have been posted in recent weeks:
- Anonymous − Large Research 1 University, Lecturer (non-tenure track)
- Eileen Chollet − Center for Naval Analyses, Research Analyst
- Bryan Gaensler − University of Sydney, Professor of Physics; Australian Laureate Fellow; Director for the Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Physics
- Christine Jones − Smithsonian Institution, Senior Astrophysicist; Director of Smithsonian Consortium on Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe
- Melissa Nysewander − Fidelity Investments, Principal Data Scientist
- Andre Wong − Teledyne Imaging Sensors, ASIC Design Engineer
As new profiles are published, we’ll add links from the Career Profiles page and let AAS members know about them via this website and our e-newsletter.
The AAS seeks a knowledgeable, talented, and experienced science writer to help the Society deliver high-impact scientific results to the astronomical research community and to journalists who cover the astronomical sciences.
The Science Highlights Editor’s principal role is to identify and maximize the exposure of the most intellectually engaging and potentially newsworthy science published in the Astronomical Journal and the Astrophysical Journal, Letters, and Supplement.
The Science Highlights Editor will also work on the improvement/enhancement of AAS-relevant research communications and will provide occasional assistance, support, and backup to the AAS Press Officer.
For more information and instructions on how to apply for this position, see our ad in the AAS Job Register.
The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a low-frequency radio telescope operating between 80 and 300 MHz. It consists of 128 phased-array dipole antenna tiles providing 31 MHz of instantaneous bandwidth, a 30° field of view, and up to arcminute angular resolution. The MWA is operated by an international collaboration, including partners from Australia, India, New Zealand, and the United States.
We expect to schedule approximately 1,600 hours of observing during the 2014B semester, 1 July through 31 December 2014. We are pleased to invite proposals from all communities.
The deadline for proposals for the 2014B semester is 18 April 2014. The announcement of opportunity and full call for proposals can be found on theMWA page, along with additional information about the telescope. Questions regarding this call for proposals can be directed to the MWA Project Scientist, Judd Bowman.
We invite applications for observing time with the first station of the Long Wavelength Array (LWA1) Radio Observatory and invite interested people to attend the LWA Users Meeting 10-11 July 2014 in Albuquerque, NM.
At this call the LWA1 offers up to four independently steerable wide-band beams and two all-dipole modes (denoted transient buffer wide, TBW, and transient buffer narrow, TBN). Each beam supports two independent tunings over the LWA1 frequency range from 10 to 88 MHz with a FWHM ranging from 15° to 2°. We expect to schedule approximately 1,500 beam-hours and 200 TB-hours between 15 December 2014 and 15 September 2015.
The deadline for application is midnight MDT on 15 August 2014. The complete call for proposals, including a cover page, can be found on the LWA website, along with more information about the capabilities of the LWA1. An introduction to using the LWA1 is also available. We invite proposals from all communities wishing to use this instrument.
The LWA Users Meeting will be held 10-11 July 2014 on the University of New Mexico campus. No registration fee is required, but please send an email to Greg Taylor to hold a space. Attendance is limited to 65 people. All LWA users and potential users are encouraged to attend. There will be a conference dinner on the evening of Thursday, 10 July. There will also be a data-reduction workshop on the afternoon of Friday, 11 July, where users can learn about the LWA Software Library (LSL), setting up observations, and reducing their data. Video conferencing will be available to those who cannot attend in person.
Support for operations and continuing development of the LWA1 is provided by the National Science Foundation under grants AST-1139974 and AST-1139963 of the University Radio Observatory program.