19 November 2020

Senate Appropriations for FY 2021

Kelsie Krafton

Kelsie Krafton Space Studies Board of the NAS

President's FY 2021 Budget RequestThe Senate Appropriations Committee has released the latest fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills for the Appropriations Subcommittees on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Defense; Energy and Water Development; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; Legislative Branch; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies; State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. The Smithsonian Institution is funded in the Interior bill; 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 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, when the Trump administration released the President's Budget Request (PBR), outlining their desired funding levels for the agencies. The next step was 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 aspects 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 was announced in July 2020.

Now the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees have given their own set of numbers; the bills themselves are fairly bare-bones, and more information on all the agencies' budgets is included in the reports. You can find all the bills and reports if you scroll down this press release. The House and Senate must agree on the budget and send it to the President to be signed into law before the end of the current continuing resolution in December. 

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. 


FY 2021 Senate CJS Bill 
FY 2021 Senate CJS Report

NASA received a slight bump from Senate Appropriators compared to FY 2020 (+4%), in contrast with the multi-billion dollar increase the administration had proposed and the flat top-line from the House. The Heliophysics Division is funded at the $776 million level that was advocated for, a significant improvement.

As with the House, this bill prohibits the use of funds by NASA, the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP), or the National Space Council to engage directly in activities with China or a Chinese-owned company or for hosting official Chinese visitors at certain facilities (with some exceptions).

Account FY 2020 FY 2021 PBR FY 2021 House FY 2021 Senate
NASA $22,629.0 $25,246.0 $22,629.0 $23,495.0
Science Mission Directorate $7,138.9 $6,306.5 $7,097.5 $7,274.7
Planetary Science $2,713.4 $2,659.6 $2,713.4 $2,674.3
Research $281.7 $305.4    
Planetary Defense $150.0 $150.0 $150.0 $156.4
Lunar Discovery and Exploration $300.0 $451.5 $410.0 $451.5
Discovery $506.3 $484.3   $484.3
New Frontiers $142.8 $179.0 $179.0 $202.2
Mars Exploration $565.7 $528.5 $570.0 $542.3
Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds $628.5 $414.4    
Radioisotope Power $138.5 $146.3   $146.3
Astrophysics w/o JWST $1,306.2 $831.0 $1,306.2 $1,346.2
Research $231.2 $269.7   $269.7
Cosmic Origins $202.7 $124.0    
Physics of the Cosmos $132.8 $143.9    
Exoplanet Exploration $554.2 $47.2    
Astrophysics Explorer $185.3 $246.2   $246.2
JWST $423.0 $414.7 $423.0 $414.7
Heliophysics $724.5 $633.1 $633.1 $776.0
Research $251.7 $230.5   $280.8
Living with a Star $126.8 $127.9   $163.2
Solar Terrestrial Probes $141.1 $126.3   $158.6
Heliophysics Explorer $204.8 $148.4   $173.4
Office of STEM Engagement $120.0 $0.0 $126.0 $120.0

* 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.

Planetary Science

  • The Planetary Science Division top-line represents a slight cut from FY 2020. The Senate marked $1,983.0 million of the Division's $2,674.3 million leaving $691.3 for Outer Planets and Research. This remainder is less than the sum of these two programs in FY 2020 (by 24%) and the PBR (by 4%), so they would need to be cut in some combination.
  • New Frontiers was marked even higher than the increase it received from the administration (making it a 42% increase over FY 2020). "The Committee expects NASA to continue the selection and launch cadence of New Frontiers and Discovery class missions in spite of any cost pressures from planetary flagship missions or the Mars program. In addition, the Committee expects NASA to submit a report with the 2022 budget request to frame how the request fulfills the Planetary Science Decadal Survey. Within New Frontiers, $120[million] is provided for the Dragonfly mission."
  • The Committee provided $542.3 million for the Mars Exploration Program for the Mars 2020 landing and a Mars Sample Return (MSR) 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. "NASA intends to manage MSR as a line item separate from Planetary Science, akin to the James Webb Space Telescope management model."
  • The Committee did not mention the Europa Clipper Mission in their report, in contrast with the House. 
  • The Committee gives $156.4 million for planetary defense, including $66.4 million for the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), and supports the development of the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM). The Committee is aware of the National Academies' recommendation that NASA develops a dedicated space-based infrared survey telescope designed for discovering Near-Earth Objects.
  • "The Committee directs that the Lunar Discovery and Exploration program adhere to the lunar science priorities established by decadal surveys and the National Research Council’s Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon." The Committee expects NASA to provide funding under this program only for lunar landers and rovers majority-designed, developed, and built in the United States. 


  • The Committee included $98.3 million for the Hubble Space Telescope, again rejecting the administration's proposal to cut Hubble operations.
  • The bill marks $15 million for the search for life technology development "to leverage and scale technologies developed for the James Webb Space Telescope". It also added a section on Technosignatures, which did not appropriate any funds, instead stating that nothing in this bill would prohibit NASA from funding technosignitures research within the research funding provided. 
  • The Committee included $505.2 million for the Nancy Grace Roman Wide-Field InfraRed Survey Telescope [Roman] to be developed on a timeline that allows a 2025 launch date, rejecting the administration's proposal to cancel the mission, which was the highest priority of the most recent Astrophysics decadal survey. 
  • The Committee did not fund the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), instead requesting it undergo senior review. "NASA regularly reviews its missions, as part of the senior review process, to measure mission performance based on scientific merit, national needs, the technical status of the mission, and budget efficiency to help prioritize resources and ensure they are meeting their science goals. NASA shall review SOFIA at the appropriate time to determine whether this mission should have its prime mission extended. The Committee is aware that SOFIA could not fly all missions scheduled in 2020 and directs NASA to apply the funding associated with those missions to SOFIA’s 2021 operations."
  • The bill marked $269.7 million for Astrophysics Research, recognizing that "a strong research program maximizes the scientific value of space-based missions by ensuring that the data collected through such observations can continue to provide new insights .... supporting these activities through extramural grant funding contributes to the long-term viability of the US astrophysics community." 
  • The Committee provided $414.7 million for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), not including any costs directly related to the global pandemic health crisis, which so far NASA has not requested additional funds. 
  • The $40 million increase from FY 2020 for the Division, and the elimination of SOFIA costs leaves the budget in a place that does not require cuts to other programs. The Senate marked $1,165.0 million of the $1,346.2 million Astrophysics budget (not including JWST). That is 87% of the budget, so any impacts from COVID or additional language will come out of that remaining 13%, which contains Chandra, Fermi, non-Explorer mission development (Euclid, Athena, LISA), and the technology development for the Decadal Survey priorities.   


  • The Senate bill funds Heliophysics Division at the advocated level of $776 million. This is in contrast to the House bill which funded the Division at the request level and gave no further details in the bill or report.
  • The Senate bill said the budget increase is for continuing mission formulation and development of Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP); implementing accompanying Missions of Opportunity (MOs); maintaining operations for ongoing missions, including the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission; and beginning formulation for the Dynamical Neutral Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling (DYNAMIC) mission as a PI-led mission.
  • The Committee directs NASA to fund operations and scientific analysis for MMS at the FY 2020 level, supports the request level for Research Range, and provides $25 million for DYNAMIC.
  • The Senate bill provides $173.4 million for Heliophysics Explorers to enable NASA to accelerate the cadence of alternating Small Explorer and Mid-sized Explorer missions and to enable a regular selection of MOs following the recommendations of the National Research Council Decadal Survey.
  • The Senate bill provides $280.8 million for Heliophysics Research to support the implementation of the DRIVE (Diversity, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate) initiative, a top priority of the National Research Council Decadal Survey, enable the development of new technologies, support multidisciplinary research collaboration, and support early career investigators.
  • The Committee directs the administration to formally include a technology development program as a standalone account line in future budget proposals to Congress.
  • In response to the Space Weather Action Plan and the recommendations of the Decadal Strategy for Solar and Space Physics, the Committee provides $25 million for space weather science applications focused on enabling other agencies to dramatically improve their operational space weather assets and the forecasts they generate using data from those assets, including current and future ground-based telescopes and instruments that are expected to come on line, such as the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.
  • The recommendation provides $163.2 million for Living With a Star including $25 million for development of a specific mission architecture for the Geospace Dynamics Constellation, as recommended by the heliophysics decadal survey mid-term review. 


FY 2021 Senate CJS  Bill 
FY 2021 Senate CJS Report

There have been several pieces of legislation introduced by the 116th Congress 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). However, these increases have not manifested in the appropriations from the House or Senate, which provided the normal 3% and 6% increases respectively. Generally, we advocate for and appreciate this type of slow and steady funding increase for the science agencies, but the NSF is so oversubscribed now that billions of dollars in top-rated research are going unfunded. 

Account FY 2020 FY 2021 Request FY 2021 House FY 2021 Senate
National Science Foundation $8,278.4 $7,947.7 $8,548.3 $8,478.0
Research & Related Activities (R&RA) $6,737.2 $6,213.0 $6,967.1 $6,907.4
Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS)   $1,448.3    
Astronomical Sciences Division (AST)   $242.1    
Mid-scale Infrastructure   $1.0    
Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure   $65.0   $75.0
Major Research Equipment & Facility Construction (MREFC) $243.2 $229.75 $243.2 $239.75
Vera C. Rubin Observatory $46.3 $40.75 $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

  • The Committee encourages NSF to use partnerships and collaboration like cost-sharing for current and future facilities.
  • The bill does address the need for investments in research infrastructure. 
  • The Committee expects NSF to follow the research and investment priorities of the next Astrophysics decadal survey.
  • The bill recognizes and supports the new Spectrum Innovation Initiative as the increasingly congested spectrum can negatively impact the astronomical sciences.
  • The Committee recognizes the significant investment NSF has made in the Green Bank Telescope Observatory (GBO) and the benefit other agencies have gained through their use of the GBO facility. The bill encourages the development of a multi-agency management plan for GBO.
  • The Committee recommends that NSF establish a well-funded High-Performance Computing budget line in future budget submissions to Congress to support world-class leadership in computing for the national open science community.

Major Research Facilities

  • The Committee’s recommendation includes funding at the PBR level for the continued construction of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory.
  • The Committee looks forward to working with NSF to understand the impact of extended construction shutdowns due to COVID on the cost and execution of large projects.
  • The Committee encourages NSF and the National Science Board to continue planning and budgeting for the next generation of major facilities needed to ensure the United States maintains its scientific leadership.

Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure

  • The Committee supports the procurement of larger mid-scale instrumentation under the MREFC account. Using MREFC for larger mid-scale projects will allow these projects to benefit from the oversight that all MREFC projects undergo.
  • NSF is encouraged to award at least one mid-scale project led by an institution in an Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research State.

Education and Human Resources

  • The Committee supports the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Excellence in Research program, and the recommendation includes $20 million for the program. The Committee hopes the program will address that a substantial portion of research funding previously went to only a small number of HBCUs.
  • Funding in this account is also used to implement the Building Blocks of STEM Act (Public Law. 116–102).
  • The Committee rejects the PBR's funding reductions for the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, or the Graduate Research Fellowship and instead provides the FY 2020 funding level for these programs.
  • The Committee recommends $35 million for the HBCUs Undergraduate Program, $8 million for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, $47.5 million for the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, $15 million for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, $24 million for Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology, and $45 million is provided for the Hispanic Serving Institutions program to build capacity at institutions of higher education that typically do not receive high levels of NSF funding. In addition, the bill provides $20 million for the Inclusion Across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science program and $18 million for the Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers program. 

DOE Office of Science and NIST

FY 2021 Senate E&W Bill
FY 2021 Senate E&W Report
FY 2021 Senate CJS  Bill 
FY 2021 Senate 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 $2 million for the Cosmic Microwave Background-Stage 4 MIE; $12 million for the Dark Energy Spectroscope Instrument; and $18.5 million for Vera C. Rubin Observatory operations. The Committee acknowledges the contributions by partner organizations towards data management at Rubin Observatory and directs DOE to employ those organizations and potentially the national laboratories for the successful operation of this project. 

Overall, NIST, like many other agencies, was kept flat from FY 2020 (which is much better than the administration's proposed 29% cut). Scientific and Technical Research and Services overall received a $32.5 million increase over FY 2020. The Committee encourages NIST to take promote racial and cultural acceptance and diversity within its workforce. NIST is directed to submit a report to the Committee analyzing the current racial and cultural makeup of the agency; planned efforts to recruit, retain, and advance applicants and employees critical to promoting greater racial and cultural diversity, and the outcomes of these efforts; and any additional steps and recommendations planned to promote greater racial and cultural acceptance and diversity throughout the NIST workforce, including the development and analysis of metrics to evaluate success. 

Account FY 2020 FY 2021 Request FY 2021 House FY 2021 Senate
DOE Office of Science $7,000.0 $5,837.8 $7,050.0 $7,026.0
High Energy Physics $1,045.0 $818.1   $1,050.0
Cosmic Frontier $94.9 $69.9    


Account FY 2020 FY 2021 Request FY 2021 House FY 2021 Senate
NIST $1,034.0 $737.5 $1,044.0 $1,050.0
Scientific and Technical Research and Services $754.0 $652.0 $789.0 $786.5
Fundamental Measurement, Quantum Science, and Measurement Dissemination $191.5 $173.7    

* All values are in millions of dollars. 

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