10 December 2014

The CROmnibus Is Here with Strong Funding for NASA & NSF

Josh Shiode

UPDATE: The Senate passed the CRomnibus without changes from the House-passed version described below during a rare Saturday session on 13 December 2014. The government remains funded on a Continuing Resolution (CR) through Wednesday as the bill awaits the President's signature. He is expected to sign.

Late last night (9 December 2014), leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees introduced a massive spending bill commonly referred to as the "CRomnibus" — since it is a combination of a continuing resolution (CR) for the Department of Homeland Security (through 27 February 2015) and an omnibus appropriations package for the jurisdictions of the remaining 11 appropriations subcommittees.

The bill includes substantial increases for NASA and its Science Mission Directorate compared to all benchmarks: last year (FY 2014), the FY 2015 President's Budget Request ("Request"), and both of the relevant House and Senate Appropriations bills we saw introduced and partially passed earlier this year. The National Science Foundation (NSF) also sees a significant, above-inflation increase of 2.4% over FY 2014 and 1.2% over the FY 2015 Request. The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, which funds a number of astronomical projects through its Cosmic Frontier program, was held flat at FY 2014 levels, but the Cosmic Frontier program nonetheless sees a 6% increase.

Account FY 2014 Op Plan FY 2015 Request FY 2015 CRomnibus FY 2015 House FY 2015 Senate
NASA $17,646.5 $17,461.0 $18,010.2 $17,896.0 $17,900.0
    Science Mission Directorate $5,148.2 $4,972.0 $5,244.7 $5,193.0 $5,200.0
Earth Science $1,824.9 $1,770.0 $1,772.5 $1,750.0 $1,832.0
Planetary Science $1,343.4 $1,280.0 $1,437.8 $1,450.0 $1,302.0
Astrophysics $678.3 $607.0 $726.8 $680.0 $749.0
Education & Public Outreach** $15.0 $42.0 $30.0 $42.0
James Webb Space Telescope $658.2 $645.0 $645.0 $645.0 $645.0
Heliophysics $643.3 $669.0 $662.0 $668.0 $671.0
NSF $7,171.9 $7,255.0 $7,344.2 $7,404.0 $7,255.0
Research & Related Activites $5,808.9 $5,807.5 $5,933.6 $5,974.0 $5,839.0
Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction $200.0 $200.8 $200.8 $200.8 $200.8
Education & Human Resources $846.5 $889.8 $866.0 $876.0 $889.8
DOE $27,281.0 $28,436.4 $27,916.8 $27,305.8 $28,359.4
Office of Science $5,071.0 $5,111.2 $5,071.0 $5,071.0 $5,086.0
High Energy Physics $797.5 $744.0 $766.0 $775.0 $774.4
Cosmic Frontier $99.1 $101.2 $105.5 $103.1 $106.6

All funding in the above table is in then-year millions of US dollars. **Education & Public Outreach funding is bookkept in the Astrophysics Division but shared across SMD.


I encourage those interested in a fuller picture of the NASA budget in this bill to peruse SpacePolicyOnline.com's excellent (as always) CRomnibus coverage and fact sheet. I will only focus on the astronomical sciences at SMD here. 

The most important takeaway is that in a highly constrained budget environment —the cap on total discretionary spending was almost exactly flat from FY 2014 to 2015 — appropriators have increased NASA's and NSF's total budgets by more than the cost of inflation. NASA's top-line in particular increases by $363M (2.0%) compared to FY 2014 and $549M (3.1%) over the Request. This represents an even larger increase than most had anticipated, after both the House and Senate appropriators introduced and partially passed bills with $101M smaller increases earlier this year. In the final negotiation for this bill, appropriators found what were assuredly difficult compromises in order to make growing our national space agency a high priority.

Stepping below this top line, we also find a top-line increase for SMD of $96.5M (1.9%) over last year and $272.7M (5.5%) above the Request. Appropriators had agreed on a $44M smaller increase earlier this year, but each chamber broke that funding up in its own fashion. With the newly increased top line and some (re)shuffling and rephasing of programs between the Earth Sciences Division and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (again, see SpacePolicyOnline.com), appropriators reconciled many of the differences to the benefit of the astronomical sciences. 

The Planetary Science Division (PSD) is funded at $94.4M (7.0%) above FY 2014 and $157.8M (12.3%) above the FY 2015 Request, which explicitly includes $118M in law for a mission to Europa (including funding for planetary science technology potentially useful for such a mission). As usual, the report language has much to say about how this funding should be allocated within the division. I won't go through all the specific direction here (I encourage you to read it if you're interested), but I will highlight the addition of "not less than $5M" for studying a future New Frontiers mission, something glaringly missing from the Request. The report also provides at least $100M for the top decadal priority Mars 2020 rover mission and $165.4M ($35.4M above FY 2014) for Research & Analysis.

The Astrophysics Division (APD) top line appears to increase a lot in the CRomnibus compared to FY 2014, reaching $726.8M, but that includes $42M for education and public outreach (EPO) shared among the full SMD EPO portfolio. (Note: Each of the divisions has some SMD-wide programs whose budgets are bookkept in the division even though the money is shared across the directorate, but I call out the EPO line here because it is newly consolidated this way for FY 2015.) Comparing apples to apples, the $684.8M top line for APD programs (after subtracting EPO) in the CRomnibus is $6.5M (1.0%) above FY 2014 and $77.8M (12.8%) above the FY 2015 Request. Much of the increase over the Request comes from Congress resoundingly rejecting the Administration's proposal to cancel the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which is funded at $70M in the CRomnibus (compared to $87.3M in FY 2014) as well as the proposed cut to Hubble Space Telescope funding. The CRomnibus also includes $50M for pre-formulation work on the top decadal survey priority Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), down slightly compared to the $56M provided in FY 2014.

The Heliophysics Division (HPD) will see an $18.7M (2.9%) increase compared to FY 2014 but misses the Request level by $7M (-1%). Within the division, the CRomnibus report calls for no less than $5M to be allocated to make progress on the top decadal survey priority Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, and Education (DRIVE) inititative. The report also specifically allocates $39.5M for the Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission and $38.9M for Heliophysics Research & Analysis. 

Finally, the CRomnibus keeps the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on schedule for a 2018 launch under the $8B cost cap (which remains in law). The annual allocation decreases compared to FY 2014, but this is consistent with the re-baselined plan formulated in 2011. 


The CRomnibus provides a $172.3M (2.4%) increase to the NSF top line compared to FY 2014 and $89.2M (1.2%) over the Request. This comes thanks in large part to long-time NSF champion and retiring chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, Representative Frank Wolf, who included an all-time high of $7.404B for the NSF top line in his House CJS bill earlier this year. Though the CRomnibus did not quite reach this level (-$59.8M), the high House mark no doubt pushed the final compromise level significantly above the Request. 

Under the top line, the CRomnibus increases the Research & Related Activities account by $124.7M (2.1%) above last year and the Request. In keeping with recent history, there is little direction for how this funding is divvied up below this and down at the level of the astronomical sciences. This is welcome news given recent efforts to more finely manage that account to target increases and decreases to specific fields of science.

The Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction account remains flat at $201M, keeping major facilities like the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) on track. The astronomical sciences have long benefitted from this funding, outside its own divisions' budgets, to build world-class facilities like the recently completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which are then operated out of the division budget.

Finally, the Education & Human Resources account, which funds both education research and programs as well as the NSF's Graduate Research Fellowships, is slated to increase by $19.5M (2.3%) compared to FY 2014 but does not hit the Request at $889.8M (-$23.8M, -2.7%). 


While the DOE top line beats both last year and the Request levels, its Office of Science, which is the predominant federal agency for funding of basic research in the physical sciences, is funded flat at last year's levels and below the Request (-$40M). However, most of the astronomical research — largely focused on dark matter, dark energy, and the cosmic microwave background — falls within the Cosmic Frontier program, which sees a $6.4M (6.5%) increase over FY 2014 and $4.3M (4.2%) above the Request. This funding will go to a range of projects, including the LSST camera and a host of direct detection of dark matter experiments. 

The Big Picture

As always, I look to Matt Hourihan at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Research & Development (R&D) Budget program for the broader picture of the R&D portfolio. This morning, he tweeted out his first-blush analysis comparing R&D agency budgets to FY 2014, the FY 2015 Request, and the FY 2015 House and Senate appropriations bills. With the exception of the Environmental Protection Agency's Science and Technology programs, all agencies are funded at or above last year in the CRomnibus.

In addition to spending provisions, the bill includes a vast array of policy riders — most in the form "None of the funds appropriated here may be used to...." One of particular interest to the science community, and which has been in spending bills for the last several years, prevents agencies from sending more than 50 employees (or contractors, by most agencies' implementation) to international conferences. There are others that increase reporting requirements and partially cap spending on domestic conferences as well. While none of these are specifically aimed at curbing participation in scientific conferences, they do significantly affect scientists and engineers in our fields and the agencies we work with. The AAS is part of ongoing efforts to educate policymakers on the importance of conference participation, but we clearly have more work to do.

The process is of course not done yet, and when the bill goes to the floors of the House and Senate there may be opportunities for amendments that change the above provisions. With the bill still needing to be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the President, it seems likely that the Congress will need a few more days beyond tomorrow — when the current CR is set to expire. If necessary, they plan to pass a short-term CR lasting the few extra days they would need. We will keep a close watch as things move forward!