17 December 2015

FY 2016 Omnibus Will Be Better for Some Disciplines than Others

Heather Bloemhard

You may have seen the recent headlines or tweets about the Omnibus spending bill. All the excitement is over the fact that the conference committee has finally finished negotiating the fiscal-year (FY) 2016 appropriations, and the results are now public.

The 2,000-page document is now in the hands of the rest of Congress — and everyone else with an interest and an Internet connection. This means that we can see how the various agencies fared. Before we get distracted with an explanation of the funding situation for the astronomical sciences it's important to realize that there are still a few important steps before the appropriations saga of FY 2016 is over:

  1. The House of Representative must vote to pass the Omnibus. Rumor has it this vote will happen on Thursday, 17 December.
  2. The Senate must vote to pass the Omnibus. There has been some suggestion that the Senate will vote on Friday, 18 December.
  3. President Obama must sign the Omnibus. The White House has signaled that he will sign it.

And now, on to the funding levels and priorities as listed in the Omnibus for FY 2016! The table below summarizes the funding levels enacted in FY 2015, the President's Budget Request for FY 2016, and the FY 2016 Omnibus; all amounts are in millions of US dollars. 


FY 2015

FY 2016

FY 2016

FY 2016 - FY 2015
% Change

NASA $18,010.2 $18,529.1 $19,285 7.08%
Science Mission Directorate $5,244.7 $5,288.6 $5,589.4 6.57%
Earth Science $1,772.5 $1,947.3 $1,921 8.38%
Planetary Science $1,437.8 $1,361.3 $1,631 13.44%
Astrophysics $726.8 $709.1 $730.6 0.52%
Education & Public Outreach $42 $20 $37 -11.9%
JWST $645.4 $620 $620 -3.94%
Heliophysics $662 $651 $649.8 -1.84%
NSF $7,344.2 $7,723.6 $7,463.5 1.62%
Research & Related Activities $5,933.6 $6,186.3 $6,033.6 1.69%
Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction $200.8 $200.3 200.3 -0.25%
Education & Human Resources $866 $962.6 $880 1.56%
DOE $27,042.4 $29,923.8 $29,717 8.45%
Office of Science $5,067.4 $5,339.8 $5,350.2 5.57%
High Energy Physics $766 $788 $795 3.79%
Cosmic Frontier $106.8 $119.3 $119.3 11.7%

Specifics of the Omnibus 

NASA and the Science Mission Directorate

The NASA top line represents a 4% increase over the amount requested in the President's Budget Request, with SMD 5.7% higher than the request. In this compromise both the House and the Senate got all (or nearly all) of the funds they wanted for planetary science and Earth science, though the directions for how to spend the funds within each division have been changed.

NASA Planetary Science

    • Mars exploration: The Omnibus provides $448 million for Mars Exploration, with $250M for the Mars 2020 rover.
    • Near-Earth object observations: NEO observations are supported with $50 million, which includes $6.1 million for an asteroid deflection assessment (AIDA).
    • Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx): The Omnibus provides $189.7 million for OSIRIS-REx.
    • Discovery program: The total for the Discovery program is $189 million; this includes $19 million for the Lunar Reconnaisance Program and funds to enable a 2017 announcement of opportunity.
    • New Frontiers: New Frontiers is increased to $7 million to accelerate the next announcement of opportunity, with a target of before February 2016.
    • Outer planets research: The Omnibus provides $261 million for outer planets research, which includes $175 million for the Jupiter Europa Clipper.
      • The Omnibus stipulates that the Clipper "...shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments...with a target launch date of 2022."
      • They expect that the Clipper will be launched on a Space Launch System platform.
      • NASA is directed to create an Ocean World Exploration Program using a mix of Discovery, New Frontiers, and flagship-class missions; the primary goal of this program would be "to discover extant life on another world."
    • Planetary-science technology: The Omnibus includes $197 million for planetary-science techonology, with at least $25 million for icy satellites surface technology and $15 million for plutonium-238 production.

NASA Astrophysics

    • Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST): The Omnibus includes $90 million for WFIRST-AFTA and instructions that it should be moved into Phase-A in January. This is 5.4 times the NASA request for WFIRST.
    • Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA): SOFIA is fully funded with $85.2 million.
      • The Omnibus acknowledged and approved of NASA's decision to not include SOFIA in the 2016 Astrophysics Senior Review.
    • Hubble Space Telescope: Hubble is recognized for the contributions it has made, and the Omnibus includes $98.3 million for continued operations.
    • Everything Else: This category covers all of the other programs - except JWST, which falls into it's own line and is fully funded. The Omnibus includes $730.6 million for "Everything Else." This represents ~0% increase from FY 2015.

NASA Heliophysics

    • Solar Probe Plus: The Omnibus includes $230.4 million for Solar Probe Plus and affirms Congress's "multiyear commitment to a 2018 Solar Probe Plus mission."

NSF Research & Related Activities

Any divestment within the Astronomical Sciences portfolio must first be reported to Congress. In fact, Congress encourages NSF to sustain support for all of the "programs and scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences division, including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory."

All House language regarding transparency and accountability has been replaced. Congress now "encourages NSF to continue efforts to implement transparency requirements" including explaining how each grant award serves the national interest. The House language regarding replicability of scientific research has also been replaced. Congress requires NSF to continue to make improvements in this area and to update Congress on progress, but doesn't stipulate a timeline.

NSF Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) is funded at the requested level, $20 million. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is also funded at the requested level, $99.67 million. 

NSF Education & Human Resources

The $880 million provided for Education & Human Resources is 8.5% less than the request but more than the previous House and Senate versions of FY 2016. Included in that number is funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutes, the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program. Grant and scholarship programs related to broadening participation — Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, CyberCorps: Scholarships for Service, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and informal STEM learning — are also included.

DOE Office of Science

The Omnibus funds Office of Science at 0.2% more than the request and 5.6% more than FY 2015. Congress supports the priorities outlined by the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) Report. 

    • Long Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF): The Omnibus includes $26 million for the construction of LBNF.
    • Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI): The Omnibus provides $10.3 million for DESI.
    • G2 Dark Matter Experiments: The Omnibus includes $10.5 million for the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) and ZonEd Proportional scintillation in LIquid Noble gases (ZEPLIN) experiments.
    • Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST): The Omnibus provides up to $40.8 for the LSST Camera.
    • Homestake Mine: The Omnibus expresses ongoing support for the work at the Homestake Mine in South Dakota.
    • Cosmic Frontier: Cosmic Frontier experimental physics is supported at the requested level.

If you should happen to have a burning desire to review the Omnibus, then you can find it here.