26 January 2021

Final Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2021

Kelsie Krafton

Kelsie Krafton

The (now former) President signed the final appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2021 into law on 27 December after it was passed by Congress on December 21. The most relevant bills for our field are the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) bill and the Energy and Water Development (E&W) bill, but I will also note that the Smithsonian Institution is funded in the Interior bill and the Department of Defense in the Defense bill. CJS funds NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); E&W funds the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science.

Federal Budget Process Infographic
Click to download a 1-page infographic (PDF) of the federal budget process from the Washington Post.

If you need a brief refresher on the fiscal year budget cycle (PDF infographic available from the Washington Post), this is the final step 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. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittees then gave their own set of numbers, and 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, which happened 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 $49 billion, respectively.


FY 2021 CJS Bill Highlights (PDF)

FY 2021 CJS Statement (PDF)

NASA received a slight bump from FY 2020 (+3%). The bill provides $7.3 billion for ongoing science missions, including the Roman telescope and robotic missions to explore the Moon and Mars. The bill provides $127 million to restore funding for NASA’s STEM education programs, including $51 million for Space Grant and $26 million for NASA EPSCoR.

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 Δ ($) Δ (%)
NASA $22,629.0 $23,271.3 +$642.3 +2.8%
Science Mission Directorate $7,138.9 $7,301.0 +$162.1 +2.3%
Planetary Science $2,713.4 $2,700.0 -$13.4 -0.5%
Research $281.7      
Planetary Defense $150.0 $156.4 +$6.4 +4.3%
Lunar Discovery and Exploration $300.0 $451.5 +$151.5 +50.5%
Discovery $506.3      
New Frontiers $142.8 $183.2 +$40.4 +28.3%
Mars Exploration $565.7 $570.0 +$4.3 +0.8%
Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds $628.5      
Radioisotope Power $138.5 $146.3 +$7.8 +5.6%
Astrophysics w/o JWST $1,306.2 $1,356.2 +$50.0 +3.8%
Research $231.2      
Cosmic Origins $202.7      
Physics of the Cosmos $132.8      
Exoplanet Exploration $554.2      
Astrophysics Explorer $185.3      
JWST $423.0 $414.7 -$8.3 -2.0%
Heliophysics $724.5 $751.0 +$26.5 +3.7%
Research $251.7 $280.8 +$29.1 +11.6%
Living with a Star $126.8 $148.2 +$21.4 +16.9%
Solar Terrestrial Probes $141.1 $148.6 +$7.5 +5.3%
Heliophysics Explorer $204.8 $173.4 -$31.4 -15.3%
Office of STEM Engagement $120.0 $127.0 +$7.0 +5.8%

* All values are in millions of dollars.

Report Highlights

  • The NASA section starts with a statement on the partial funding requests we saw during the Trump administration. The bill directs NASA to refrain from requesting only part of the funding it requires to accomplish all of its missions and objects to NASA's efforts in recent fiscal years to redirect funding away from priorities clearly set by the Congress in law. During congressional hearings on the budget, committee members frequently expressed their frustration with the dramatic cuts and cancellations of core programs.
  • The bill provides $45.6 million for Science Mission Directorate (SMD) education and outreach efforts, and supports the recommendation that the Astrophysics program continue to administer this SMD-wide education funding. Congress encourages SMD-funded investigators to be directly involved in outreach and education efforts and support citizen science, and directs NASA to prioritize funding for ongoing education efforts linked directly to its science missions.

Planetary Science

  • Within the Lunar Discovery and Exploration budget line, the bill includes $22 million for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, $70 million for the new Lunar Future initiative, and the request level ($254 million) for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), adding that the CLPS funding is only for lunar landers and rovers majority designed, developed, and built in the United States. Congress expects that this level of funding supports a regular cadence of at least one robotic mission to the lunar surface per year. The bill references the decadal surveys and the National Research Council's Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon.
  • Within the planetary defense line, the bill provides $66.4 million for the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) to ensure a June 2021 launch; $90 million is for other Near Earth Object Observations missions and data analysis. NASA is expected to pursue a 2025 launch date for the Near Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM).
  • The bill mentions the Asteroid Sample and Advanced Curation Facility and the Astromaterials Curation Annex and their role in the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission but does not earmark funding for them specifically. Congress directs NASA to engage the academic community in the sample return missions and to make samples available for research by the scientific community worldwide.
  • The New Frontiers budget includes $100 million for Dragonfly missions. Congress directs NASA to continue the selection and launch cadence of New Frontiers and Discovery class missions regardless of any cost pressures from planetary flagship missions or the Mars program.
  • The bill keeps the House language regarding the Mars Exploration Program and includes $263.5 million for the development of an MSR mission to be launched in 2026.
  • The bill includes $403.5 million for the Jupiter Europa Clipper mission.
  • The bill includes $17.5 million for Icy Satellites Surface Technology, which had been given no funding in the President's Budget Request.


  • The bill includes $93.3 million for the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • The bill provides $10 million for search for life technology development to leverage and scale technologies developed for the James Webb Space Telescope.
  • The bill provides $85.2 million for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
  • The bill includes $505.2 million for the Roman Telescope.


  • Within Heliophysics Research, the bill includes the request level of $27.4 million for Research Range.
  • Within Living with a Star, the bill includes $25 million for space weather science applications and $15 million above the request for Geospace Dynamics Constellation.
  • Within Solar Terrestrial Probes, the bill includes funding for the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission at the FY 2020 level and $10 million to begin formulation for the Dynamical Neutral Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling mission as a Principal Investigator (PI)-led mission.
  • The bill aims to support the Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate initiative as recommended in the most recent heliophysics decadal survey, as well as science centers and early career researchers.
  • NASA is directed to establish a standalone heliophysics technology program in future budget requests.
  • NASA's space weather science applications program is directed to focus on research and technologies that enable other agencies to improve space weather forecasts and assets, including ground-based assets such as the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.


FY 2021 CJS Bill Highlights (PDF)

FY 2021 CJS Statement (PDF)

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 bills, which provided a 2.5% increase over FY 2020. While we generally advocate for and appreciate slow and steady funding increase for the science agencies, the NSF is so oversubscribed now that billions of dollars in top-rated research are going unfunded.

Account FY 2020 FY 2021 Δ ($) Δ (%)
National Science Foundation $8,278.4 $8,486.8 +$208.4 +2.5%
Research & Related Activities (R&RA) $6,737.2 $6,909.8 +$172.6 +2.6%
Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS)        
Astronomical Sciences Division (AST)        
Mid-scale Infrastructure        
Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure $65.0 $76.25 +$11.25 +17.3%
Major Research Equipment & Facility Construction (MREFC) $243.2 $241.0 -$2.2 -0.9%
Vera C. Rubin Observatory $46.3 $40.75 -$5.55 -12.0%

* 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 NSF section starts with a statement on the devastating collapse of the 305-meter radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. "During its 57 years in operation, the telescope was an integral part of U.S. capabilities to advance scientific research and served as an iconic, beloved site for the residents of Puerto Rico and the scientific community." With safety as the number one priority, NSF is directed to report to the Committees within 60 days of enactment of this Act on the causes and extent of the damage, the plan to remove debris in a safe and environmentally sound way, the preservation of the associated AO facilities and surrounding areas, and the process for determining whether to establish comparable technology at the site, along with any associated cost estimates. The bill addresses the need for investments in research infrastructure.
  • The bill adopts the House's language regarding Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Student Diversity and Success Research and expands it to encourage NSF to support the listed activities at Hispanic Serving Institutions, Alaska Native Serving Institutions, Native-Hawaiian Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities and to direct NSF to include these types of institutions in the required report, in addition to HBCUs.

Research and Related Activities

  • The bill provides $200 million for EPSCoR.
  • Congress directs NSF to maintain its core research at levels not less than those provided in FY 2020, including supporting existing observational networks and research infrastructure, including astronomy facilities, the academic research fleet, federally funded research and development centers and the national high-performance computing centers.
  • The bill supports the budget request of $17.54 million for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, and directs NSF to support the existing ancillary academic partnerships.
  • The bill supports NSF's effort to develop multi-agency plans at Green Bank Observatory and provides the request level of $7.3 million to support operations and maintenance at GBO through multi-agency plans, or directly through the NSF.
  • Congress states its support for investments in the Spectrum Innovation Initiative.
  • Congress directs NSF to invest in additional high-performance computational systems and renew its commitment to developing and supporting systems that facilitate leaps in computational simulation.

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction

  • NSF is directed to award at least one mid-scale research infrastructure project led by an institution in an EPSCoR State.
  • The NSF Director is required to prepare, and include as part of the NSF's annual budget request to Congress, a plan for the proposed construction of, and repair and upgrades to, national research facilities. The Director, with the approval of the National Science Board, also develops a prioritized list of MREFC projects approved by the Board. NSF and the Board are encouraged to engage in robust planning for and investments in the next generation of world class facilities, including any projects recommended by the upcoming Astrophysics decadal survey.

Education and Human Resources

  • The bill includes $968 million for Education and Human Resources including: $49.5 million for Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, $75 million for the Advanced Technological Education program, $36.5million for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program, $16.5 million for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, $62.5 million for Advancing Informal STEM Learning, $8 million for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, $24 million for Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology, and $18 million for Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers.
  • The bill does funds the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, and the Graduate Research Fellowship programs at the FY2020 level. Funding in this account is also used to implement the Building Blocks of STEM Act.
  • The bill includes $46.5 million for the Hispanic-Serving Institutions program to build capacity at institutions of higher education that typically do not receive high levels of NSF funding.

DOE Office of Science and NIST

FY 2021 E&W Bill Highlights (PDF)

FY 2021 E&W Statement (PDF)

FY 2021 CJS Bill Highlights (PDF)

FY 2021 CJS Statement (PDF)

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 $6 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. Congress acknowledges the longstanding planning and contributions of resources by partner organizations with respect to data management on the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. The Department is directed to employ the computational expertise and existing capabilities in data management of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, potentially in partnership with the national labs, to ensure the successful operation of this project and access for the broad research community. The Department is strongly urged to maintain a balanced portfolio of small-, medium-, and large-scale experiments and to ensure adequate funding for research performed at universities and the national labs. The Department is encouraged to fund facility operations at levels for optimal operations.

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 $34 million increase over FY 2020. NIST is directed to take discrete steps to promote racial and cultural acceptance and diversity within its workforce, and to submit a report 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. NIST is directed to contract with an independent entity to assess the needs of NIST's campuses, at a minimum, identifying facilities in greatest need of repair, describing the work needed to bring them up to current standards, and including cost estimates for each project.

Account FY 2020 FY 2021 Δ ($) Δ (%)
DOE Office of Science $7,000.0 $7,026.0 +$26.0 +0.4%
High Energy Physics $1,045.0      
Cosmic Frontier $94.9      


Account FY 2020 FY 2021 Δ ($) Δ (%)
NIST $1,034.0 $1,034.5 +$0.5 +0.0%
Scientific and Technical Research and Services $754.0 $788.0 +$34.0 +4.5%
Fundamental Measurement, Quantum Science, and Measurement Dissemination $191.5      

* All values are in millions of dollars.

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