22 July 2020

House Appropriations for FY 2021

Kelsie Krafton

Kelsie Krafton

President's FY 2021 Budget RequestFor the past two weeks, the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittees met to finalize their fiscal year (FY) 2021 markups. The House Appropriations Committee released summaries of the first and second minibuses of fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills for House Floor consideration next week. The first minibus includes four FY 2021 spending bills: State-Foreign Operations, Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The Smithsonian Institution is funded in the Interior bill. The second minibus includes seven FY 2021 spending bills: Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Service and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. The Defense bill funds the Department of Defense, the Energy and Water Development (E&W) bill funds the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill funds NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

If you need a brief refresher on what this means and the fiscal year cycle, this is an important step forward in the government deciding to how to fund the agencies for the next year. That includes funding for NASA, NSF, DOE, and NIST, which are all important sources of research grant and facilities for our community. The FY 2021 cycle officially started on 10 February 2020 (which feels like five years ago thanks to the pandemic), when the Trump administration released the President's Budget Request (PBR), outlining their desired funding levels for the agencies. The next step is for Congress to take that input (and much, much more input from stakeholders through letters and hearings) and create its own version of the budget. The House and Senate generally first try to agree on the budget resolution, which sets the total amount of money the Appropriations Committees will have to spend. Last year, Congress got stuck on this step, but eventually passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 which covered FY 2020 and FY 2021, thus saving us time on this step this year. 

The House and Senate each have their own Appropriations Committee which is then divided into the same 12 subcommittees, each of which is responsible for some aspect of US spending. For example, multiple science agencies fall under the jurisdiction of the CJS Subcommittee. The House Subcommittees get to take the first go at sculpting the agency budgets, which is what is being announced this week. The bills themselves are fairly bare bones; more information on all the agencies' budgets is included in the reports that comes with the full House Appropriations Committee Markup. After this, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will come up with their own set of numbers, and eventually the House and Senate must agree on the budget, which is then sent to the president to be signed into law. 

The two key subcommittees for most of our community are CJS and E&W. They had total FY 2021 budgets of $71 billion and $93 billion respectively; however, it should be noted that $43.5 billion of the E&W appropriation is for "Additional Infrastructure Investments", a.k.a. "emergency spending to support the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic". This emergency spending is a source of disagreement with the House Republicans across multiple subcommittees.


FY 2021 House CJS Bill 
FY 2021 House CJS Report

NASA received a top line that is flat from FY 2020, in contrast with the multi-billion dollar increase the administration had proposed. The Heliophysics Division is funded at the request level, a 12.6% cut from FY 2020. Since it doesn't have its own line in the table below, I will note here that Europa Clipper received $403.5 million, as recommended in previous Planetary Science Decadal Surveys. Also of note for funding lines is $419.1 million awarded for infrastructure restoration. 

In addition, the bill prohibits NASA, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Space Council (NSC) from working with China or Chinese-owned companies unless they are specifically authorized to do so by a law enacted after this Act. None of the funds awarded in this budget may be used to host Chinese researchers at NASA facilities. There is an exception to both of these provisions that can only be granted through the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Account FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 PBR FY 2021 House
NASA $21,500.0 $22,629.0 $25,246.0 $22,629.0
Science Mission Directorate $6,895.6 $7,138.9 $6,306.5 $7,097.5
Planetary Science $2,748.4 $2,713.4 $2,659.6 $2,713.4
Research $236.4 $281.7 $305.4  
Planetary Defense $150.0 $150.0 $150.0 $150.0
Lunar Discovery and Exploration $188.0 $300.0 $451.5 $410.0
Discovery $409.5 $506.3 $484.3  
New Frontiers $120.4 $142.8 $179.0 $179.0
Mars Exploration $690.0 $565.7 $528.5 $570.0
Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds $755.6 $628.5 $414.4  
Radioisotope Power $198.5 $138.5 $146.3  
Astrophysics w/o JWST $1,191.6 $1,306.2 $831.0 $1,306.2
Research $222.8 $231.2 $269.7  
Cosmic Origins $222.8 $202.7 $124.0  
Physics of the Cosmos $151.2 $132.8 $143.9  
Exoplanet Exploration $367.9 $554.2 $47.2  
Astrophysics Explorer $227.0 $185.3 $246.2  
JWST $304.6 $423.0 $414.7 $423.0
Heliophysics $720 $724.5 $633.1 $633.1
Research $248.9 $251.7 $230.5  
Living with a Star $177.8 $126.8 $127.9  
Solar Terrestrial Probes $145.3 $141.1 $126.3  
Heliophysics Explorer $147.9 $204.8 $148.4  
Office of STEM Engagement $110.0 $120.0 $0.0 $126.0

* All values are in millions of dollars. 

Report Highlights

  • The Committee rejected the administration’s proposed eliminations of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the entire Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement account. The Committee provided $505.2 million for the Roman Telescope, the highest priority in the 2010 Astrophysics Decadal Survey, which includes continued development of the coronagraph as a technology demonstration mission. 
  • Not less than $30 million for NASA’s collaborative efforts with US colleges and universities to conduct research through small spacecraft missions, including CubeSat and SmallSat missions.

Planetary Science 

  • New Frontiers was able to keep the 25% increase it received from the administration. The Committee provided $179 million for New Frontiers missions, possible destinations and science goals must be aligned with the scientific goals and priorities as described in the Planetary Science Decadal Survey. 
  • The Committee provided $570 million for the Mars Exploration Program for the Mars 2020 landing and a Mars Sample Return launch in 2026. Given that sample return was the highest priority of the previous Planetary Science Decadal Survey, NASA must provide the Committee with a year-by-year future funding profile for a mission to be ready for a 2026 launch. In addition, "the Committee endorses the mid-term decadal survey recommendation for NASA to develop a comprehensive Mars program architecture, strategic plan, and management structure that maximizes synergy among existing and future domestic and international missions and science optimization at the architectural level."
  • The Committee provided funding for a feasibility study of a Commercial Deep Space Communications Relay program to help ensure sustained operations in deep space, to be completed within 180 days. 
  • The Committee provided $403.5 million for the Europa Clipper Mission and stated that the Clipper mission should use a launch vehicle that reduces overall mission costs and complexity and expedites science results. The Committee believes that the mission should use a launch vehicle that reduces overall mission costs and complexity and expedites science results in concert with the decadal survey.
  • The Committee provided no additional funding for the Jupiter Europa Lander, stating that previous funding is sufficient to continue research and development through fiscal year 2021, and that NASA should include adequate funding in fiscal year 2022 for continued research and development in anticipation of the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey. 
  • The Committee provided $35 million for Icy Satellites Surface Technology to meet the Planetary Decadal's science goals for the Jupiter Europa mission and to enable a lander and Ocean Worlds Technology mission by the next decade, adding that investments in landing, mobility, sampling, communications, autonomous operations, and power technology for low-temperature environments should be prioritized. 
  • Of the $150 million for Planetary Defense, no less than $66.4 million is assigned to the Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission. 


  • The Committee provided $85.2 million for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), reversing the administration's proposed phasing-out of the program.
  • The Committee provided $423 million for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), not including any costs directly related to the global pandemic health crisis. NASA announced last week that the launch of the JWST is now planned for 31 October 2021, instead of March 2021. NASA said this extension should not require additional funds. 
  • The flat funding from FY 2020 of $1.306 billion for the division will require some tough managerial decisions to implement. The House mark is $475 million greater than the President's Budget Request amount of $831 million. However, the administration zeroed out the Roman Telescope ($505 million) and only gave SOFIA $12 million, the amount needed to cover mission personnel salaries while still zeroing out the mission itself. When you add back in the money for Roman and SOFIA to the Request, you get $1.409 billion. Where does this increase from FY 2020 come from then? In the table above you can see that the Request provided significant increases to the Explorers program and Research. Fitting back into the FY 2020 budget will most likely require some changes to those numbers from the Request level. 


  • The Heliophysics Division is funded at the Request level, a 12.6% cut from FY 2020. No further details are given in the bill or report. 


FY 2021 House CJS  Bill 
FY 2021 House CJS Report

Over the weekend, Sethuraman Panchanathan was sworn in as the NSF's 15th director after his appointment in late June. There have been several pieces of legislation introduced to dramatically increase the NSF's budget, the most recent of which is the Endless Frontier Act (introduced in both the Senate and House as S. 3832 and H.R. 6978 respectively). Despite this, NSF was also kept at flat funding from FY 2020, but Research & Related Activities (R&RA) was given a $230 million bump. More information will be included in the report that comes with the full House Appropriations Committee Markup.

Account FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 Request FY 2021 House
National Science Foundation $8,338.3 $8,278.4 $7,947.7 $8,548.3
Research & Related Activities (R&RA) $6,578.1 $6,737.2 $6,213.0 $6,967.1
Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS) $1,490.6   $1,448.3  
Astronomical Sciences Division (AST) $287.0   $242.1  
Mid-scale Infrastructure $15.6   $1.0  
Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure $60.04   $97.67  
Major Research Equipment & Facility Construction (MREFC) $285.3 $243.2 $229.75 $243.2
Vera C. Rubin Observatory $53.5 $46.3 $40.75 $40.75

* All values are in millions of dollars. NSF does not publish enacted current year (FY 2020) funding levels for most programs, so we’re left to compare to FY 2019 in many cases. 

Report Highlights

  • It should be noted that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) included $75 million for NSF R&RA and $1 million for NSF Operations and Award Management, but that all of those funds were for the prevention, preparation, and response to the coronavirus. 

Major Research Facilities

  • In a section of the report titled "Divestment activities", the Committee that it is aware of the NSF's efforts to work with academic, private sector, and other government agencies on how to maintain operations at some of its observatories. The Committee requested that NSF continues to keep it informed on the status of these activities. Any proposal by NSF to divest the Foundation of these facilities must be included in future NSF budget requests.
  • In the section titled "Existing astronomy assets", the Committee instructs NSF to sustain support for the programs and scientific facilities funded by the Astronomical Sciences Division at no less than the fiscal year 2020 levels to maintain full scientific and educational operations.
  • In the section titled "Facility Operations", the Committee states its support for NSF’s role in building and operating research facilities and that the need for continued investment in major facilities is not expected to diminish over the coming decade. Within 90 days of the enactment of this Act, NSF shall report to the Committee on how it is implementing the recommendations of the National Science Board Report 2018 17 and on how it will ensure continued health of existing facilities.
  • In the section titled "Infrastructure planning", the Committee is concerned about NSF’s planning for the construction and development of large-scale facilities, including ground-based telescopes. The Committee encourages NSF to develop a comprehensive and prioritized list of large-scale facilities requested by NSF-supported science disciplines. 
  • The Committee commends NSF’s partnership with academic institutions and the National Solar Observatory to operate the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope in addition to the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope ("The Committee encourages NSF to continue it partnerships to ensure this valuable resource is available for continued research"). 
  • With regards to the Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 (Astro2020) the Committee directs NSF to continue its support for existing astronomical facilities in its budget planning, including through its Windows on the Universe Big Idea. The Committee also expressed its support for preliminary investments in emerging priority facilities, such as the next generation Very Large Array and the Extremely Large Telescopes, and encourages NSF to continue providing funding in preparation for these future facilities over the coming year. The report also highlighted the flagship observatories at NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, and the National Solar Observatory.
  • The recommendation includes $40.75 million, the requested level, for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, the top large ground-based astronomy project by the 2010 Decadal Survey. 

Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure

  • The recommendation includes $70.59 million within the MREFC account, for mid-scale research infrastructure. NSF must report within 180 days on the implementation of the recommendations in the National Science Board 2018 report Bridging the Gap: Building a Sustained Approach to Mid-scale Research Infrastructure and Cyberinfrastructure at NSF.

Education and Human Resources

  • NSF is encouraged to use the funds appropriated to support research to understand the success of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in graduating Black students with STEM degrees while giving students a greater sense of well-being. NSF must submit a report to the Committee on how NSF funded research is contributing to the success of HBCUs within 180 days of enactment of this Act. The agreement includes $20 million to continue the HBCU Excellence in Research Program. 

DOE Office of Science and NIST

FY 2021 House E&W Bill
FY 2021 House E&W Report
FY 2021 House CJS  Bill 
FY 2021 House CJS Report

Overall, the DOE Office of Science was kept at the same funding level as 2020. While this does not keep up with inflation, it does reject the proposed cuts by the administration. The bill provides little detail beyond the top line number, but the language focused on infrastructure. There were no top-line numbers specified for High Energy Physics or Cosmic Frontier in the report. 

Overall, NIST, like many other agencies, was kept flat from FY 2020 (which is much better than the administration's proposed 29% cut), and it should be noted that the agency received $66 million from the CARES Act, but this money is only to be used for preventing, preparing for, and responding to coronavirus. Scientific and Technical Research and Services overall received a $35 million increase over FY 2020, and the Committee stated their rejection of the proposed cuts to Fundamental Measurement, Quantum Science, and Measurement Dissemination. 

Account FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 Request FY 2021 House
DOE Office of Science $6,858.0 $7,000.0 $5,837.8 $7,050.0
High Energy Physics $980.0 $1,045.0 $818.1  
Cosmic Frontier $101.0 $94.9 $69.9  


Account FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 Request FY 2021 House
NIST $985.5 $1,034.0 $737.5 $1,044.0
Scientific and Technical Research and Services $724.5 $754.0 $652.0 $789.0
Fundamental Measurement, Quantum Science, and Measurement Dissemination $170.0 $191.5 $173.7  

* All values are in millions of dollars. 

Related Posts