25 April 2016

The Senate's Version of FY 2017 Budgets for NASA, NSF, and DOE

Heather Bloemhard Vanderbilt University

The spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2017 that include NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been approved by the Senate Appropriations committee. The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 passed out of committee on 14 April 2016, and the Commerce, Justice, and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 passed out of committee on 21 April 2016. Next, each of these bills must be voted on by the full Senate. Recall from a previous post that the House will be considering their own versions of these bills.

In this post, we will present a summary of these two bills. The table below shows how the budget request breaks down for the relevant accounts, in millions of US dollars. We are comparing the total request from the President's Budget Request with the baseline request (total request without the mandatory discretionary authority) and the Senate bills. The President's Budget Request for FY 2017 was discussed in a previous post. The House version of these bills will be discussed in a future post.

Account FY 2015
FY 2016
FY 2017
Request Total
FY 2017 Baseline Request FY 2017
FY17 (Senate)-FY16
NASA $18,010.2 $19,285 $19,025 $18,262 $19,300 0.08%
Science Mission Directorate $5,243 $5,589.4 $5,600.5 $5,302.5 $5,400 -3.4%
Earth Science $1,784.1 $1,921 $2,032.2 $1,972.2 $1,984 3.3%
Planetary Science $1,446.7 $1,631 $1,518.7 $1,390 $1,355.9 -16.9%
Astrophysics+STEM Education $730.7 $731 $781.5 $696.5 $807 10.4%
JWST $645.4 $620 $569.4 $569.4 $569.4 -8.2%
Heliophysics $636.1 $650 $698.1 $673.7 $678.7 4.4%
National Science Foundation $7,398 $7,463.5 $7,964 $7564 $7,509 0.6%
Research & Related Activities $6,041.6 $6,033.7 $6,425.4 $6,079.4 $6,033.7 0%
Major Research Equipment & Facility Construction (MREFC) $144.76 $200.3 $193.1 $193.1 $246.6 23.1%
Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope $25.12 $20 $20 $20 $20 0%
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) $79.6 $99.7 $67.2 $67.1 $67.1 -32.6%
DOE $27,403.3 $29,602.7 $32,490 $30,240 $30,741.3 3.9%
Office of Science $5,067.7 $5,347 $5,672.1 $5,572.1 $5,400 1.0%
High Energy Physics $766 $795 $818 $818 $833 4.8%
Values in the table are in millions of US dollars

Recall from the post about the President's Budget Request that we were uncertain how Congress would handle the proposed mandatory budget authority. The Senate has not authorized any mandatory budget authority but has backfilled most of the programs so that they aren't cut below FY 2016 levels. NASA Planetary Science is an exception to this, as we'll discuss.


NASA funding is nearly flat compared to FY 2016 while the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is down 3.4%.

Planetary Science

Funding for planetary science in the Senate bill is comparable to the President's Baseline Budget Request, but this does bring it down by nearly 17% when compared to FY 2016. Recent trends have indicated that the Senate funds planetary science below expectations while the House opts for a higher number. When the two versions are conferenced, we usually end up a bit higher than the middle, c.f. FY 2016 and FY 2015. Since the report language does not include a lot of detail about funding levels for specific programs, we can't make any predictions beyond what these past trends imply.

Mars 2020 is funded at $387.7 million and Near-Earth Object observation is at $60 million, each $10 million higher than the request. OSIRIS-REx and continued operations of New Horizons are supported at the request, $44 million and $14 million, respectively. Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA), which is part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a new program line in FY 2017. The Senate bill includes $16.1 million, which is a $10 million increase over the request. It is worth pointing out that the increases to these programs mean that the rest of Planetary Science is underfunded a total of $65 million when compared to the President's Baseline Request.


Astrophysics funding in the Senate bill is up nearly 16% compared to the President's Baseline Budget Request and up 10% compared to FY 2016. This includes $42 million for STEM Education activities, which is a $17 million increase over the request. Hubble is funded at $98.3 million, and instructions were given that Hubble should be operated in such a way that it will have at least two years overlap with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Further, the Senate Appropriations committee indicated that this should include continued support "for the well-regarded Hubble Fellowship program." SOFIA is fully-funded at the request. WFIRST is funded at $120 million. Recall that the President's Baseline Budget Request was $14 million and the Total Request was $90 million. A new technology development line was included at $5 million; the goal of this line is to develop the technology that will be necessary to detect life on Earth-sized exoplanets.

The total amount of increases to specific programs is $129 million when compared to the President's Baseline Request. The Astrophysics top-line increased by $110.5 million, meaning that the rest of the Astrophysics programs would have to absorb the $18.5 million net loss.

James Webb Space Telescope

JWST is funded at the request level, which fully supports an October 2018 launch. The decrease in funds is within the planned funding profile for the project.


The Senate bill includes a 4% increase for Heliophysics compared to FY 2016; this is comparable to the increase in the President's Baseline Request. Solar Probe Plus and Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission are both included at the request, $232.5 million and $17.4 million, respectively. An additional $5 million is included in Other Missions and Data Analysis "to continue implementation of the Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate (DRIVE) Initiative." It's not clear to us how this increase will be distributed between the missions.


The Senate bill includes $7.5 billion for NSF, which is a 0.6% increase compared to FY 2016. Research and Related Activities is flat funded at $6.03 billion. Special instruction was given regarding facilities. Specifically, the Senate "encourages NSF to sustain support for...scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences division..." and "...directs NSF to continue working with the National Solar Observatory...to transition the management and operational responsibilities" of solar telescopes. New construction for the Astronomical Sciences division within the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) budget line includes the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST). Both LSST and DKIST are funded at the request, which keeps them on track for their 2022 and 2019 completion dates. The increase for MREFC would provide additional funding for a third Regional Class Research Vehicles for the Division of Ocean Sciences.

DOE Office of Science

The Senate's Energy and Water Appropriations bill includes $30.7 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) and $5.4 billion for the Office of Science. High Energy Physics (HEP) within the Office of Science is funded at $833 million. HEP includes, among other things, the Cosmic Frontier, which includes the dark energy and dark matter experiments. The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) is funded at $12 million, Large Underground Xenon (LUX) and ZEPLIN (ZonEd Proportional scintillation in LIquid Noble gases) are at $12.5 million, and the LSST Camera is at $45 million.