9 May 2022

Updates on the Federal Budget (FY22 Appropriations and FY23 President's Budget Request)

Julie Davis American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Over the last month, the federal government released both the fiscal year (FY) 2022 appropriations bill and the FY2023 President’s Budget Request. Both the FY2022 appropriations and the FY2023 President’s Budget Request have impacts on astronomy, especially given the release of our newest decadal in November last year. This post will cover a brief refresher on the federal budget process, and a summary of what’s happening with astronomy-related line items in the federal budget.

A Refresher on the Federal Budget Process

Each year, the executive and legislative branches of the federal government work to create a budget and disburse funding to fulfill the responsibilities of all the federal agencies.

The annual budget cycle begins with the President’s Budget Request, nominally released in February. The President’s Budget Request (PBR) tells Congress what the president recommends for overall federal fiscal policy: how much money the government should spend, what to spend it on, how much tax revenue to take in, and what the difference between spending and tax collection should be (i.e., how much of a deficit or surplus to take on). The PBR is a way for the president to convey administration priorities, like healthcare or climate change mitigation, by suggesting to increase or cut specific budget line items.

Federal agencies (e.g., NASA, the National Science Foundation, etc.) work in the months leading up to the PBR release to provide the administration with their annual budget requests. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) together help translate the administration priorities and the agency budget requests into one final budget, which is then handed over to Congress to consider.

From February to October, Congress works on appropriations: writing the bills that actually fund government agencies (as opposed to the budget, which merely suggests where funds should be spent). After receiving the PBR, the House and Senate each have a Budget Committee that develops their own budget “resolutions.” Differences between these two resolutions are ironed out in a “conference” before handing the final resolution to the appropriations committees.

The appropriations committees hold the “power of the purse” and allocate each year’s discretionary funding (as opposed to mandatory spending like social security or Medicare/Medicaid). Funding in this category must be renewed each year to keep government agencies open and programs operating. While the President’s Budget Request suggests where money should be spent, Congressional appropriations are the final authority on federal spending.

Each appropriations committee has 12 subcommittees covering different topics. These subcommittees examine the budget requests and hold hearings to understand the needs of the federal programs under their jurisdiction before producing an appropriations bill. These bills are approved by the subcommittee then returned to the full committee, where they are marked up, amended, and passed as a full appropriations bill in both the House and the Senate.

The House and Senate bills often differ and must be reconciled before final passage. Once the final version is negotiated between the two chambers and passed, the president can then sign the bill into law. However, if Congress cannot agree on a budget by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1st, a continuing resolution must be passed or the government shuts down.  

With the budget process occurring over a full year, it is important to remember that multiple years’ budgets are always underway. Now that the PBR is out and Congress has begun work on FY2023 appropriations, federal agencies are already hard at work on their FY2024 budget requests, due in the fall to the OMB so they can begin writing the FY2024 PBR.

This sets the stage for the discussion of our current federal budget situation. With 5 months of continuing resolutions after the October 1st 2021 deadline, the FY2022 appropriations bill and the FY2023 PBR came out nearly back to back, so we’re going to look at them together in one post.

FY2022 Appropriations

Let’s first look at this year’s appropriations. Fiscal year 2022 began on October 1st, 2021, but due to political gridlock the appropriations bill was not signed into law until early March 2022. The $1.5 trillion FY2022 appropriations package passed after more than five months of funding the government at previous year spending levels through continuing resolutions. 

The bill provides $782 billion in defense funding, a $42 billion increase over FY2021, and $730 billion in non-defense funding, a $46 billion increase over FY2021. The 6.7% increase in non-defense spending is the largest increase in four years.

The text of the bill recognizes the importance of the Astro2020 decadal survey and expected NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to include appropriate funding in their FY2023 budget requests. Normally, the previous year’s appropriations are taken into consideration while writing the next year’s budget request. This year, however, the FY2022 appropriations bill was too late to influence the FY2023 President’s Budget Request, which we will discuss in the next section. All science agencies will receive funding increases, though the percentage increases are generally below the ambitious amounts initially proposed in the FY2022 President’s Budget Request and less than the current elevated rate of inflation.

National Science Foundation

NSF’s topline will increase by 4% to $8.8 billion, limiting implementation of any new agency-wide initiatives. However, the requested amounts for major facility construction including the Vera C. Rubin Observatory were funded at the requested level. The Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure tracks 1 and 2 are funded at FY2021 levels, but with the added earmark to have no fewer than 1-2 awards go to Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) states. This could be problematic given that the criteria for awards should be based on scientific merit rather than geographic location.  

Account

FY21
Estimate

FY22 Request

FY22 Final

NSF

8,490

10,170

20%

8,840

4%

Research and Related Activities

6,880

8,140

18%

7,160

4%

Mathematical and Physical Sciences

1,580

1,690

7%

*

-

Astronomical Sciences

277

294

6%

*

-

Education and Human Resources

1,110

1,290

16%

1,010**

-

Major Research and Facilities Construction

241

249

3%

249

3%

Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure

76

76

0%

76

0%

Vera C. Rubin Observatory

41

41

0%

41

0%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures

* Appropriations do not allocate at the division level

**The budget request and House figures account for the proposed consolidation of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program budget into the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate. However, the final bill continues to fund the program through both the EHR Directorate and the Research and Related Activites Directorate, while allowing NSF to transfer all the funds to EHR.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) topline budget also increased by 4% to $7.6 billion, with Planetary Science increasing the most at 16% (+$420 million). The Astrophysics budget increased by 3% (+$38 million), but Congress chose to continue SOFIA ($85 million), which was not included in the NASA budget request and as such could cause a mild squeeze on the division budget. The budget for JWST was granted as requested ($175 million), with budget decreases reflecting the new phase of operations now that the telescope is safely launched. Heliophysics increased by 4% ($5 million), continuing a trend of sluggish growth.

Account

FY21

FY22 Request

FY22 Final

Science Mission Directorate

7,300

7,930

9%

7,610

4%

Earth Science

2,000

2,250

13%

2,070

3%

Planetary Science

2,700

3,200

19%

3,120

16%

Astrophysics

1,360

1,400

3%

1,390

3%

JWST

415

175

-58%

175

-58%

Heliophysics

751

797

6%

778

4%

Biological and Physical Sciences

79

109

38%

83

4%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures

Department of Energy (DOE) High Energy Physics

DOE High Energy Physics increased by 5% (+$49 million).

Account

FY21

FY22 Request

FY22 Final

Office of Science

7,030

7,440

6%

7,480

6%

High Energy Physics

1,030

1,060

3%

1,080

5%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures

FY2023 President’s Budget Request 

On March 28, the Biden administration released the FY2023 President’s Budget Request (PBR). Like the FY2022 PBR, the request again proposes to increase funding for non-defense science agencies, with emphasis on administration priorities in climate change mitigation, clean energy research and development, manufacturing, and technology. These priorities, however, result in disappointing funding levels for astronomy across NASA, NSF, and DOE.

National Science Foundation

Biden’s PBR still seeks significant expansion for NSF (24%, $10.5 billion), though the bulk of this increase is allocated for the newly approved Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships. In fact, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) directorate, which includes the AST division, has the lowest percent increase of all the directorates, at a 9% increase compared to FY2021 enacted levels. Critically, the AST division has the lowest increase of all the divisions in MPS at 1.7%. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) projects do not include any significant new funding for astronomy facilities, but current project requests (Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, Rubin Observatory) include pandemic disruption offsets.  

Below you will find a table comparing the FY2023 PBR to the FY2022 appropriations (previous section), and the FY2021 actual budget (the budgeted expenses and revenues of the base year as adjusted to reflect those experienced).

Account FY21 Actual FY22 Enacted FY23 Request
NSF 8,440 8,840 10,500 19%
Research and Related Activities 6,760 7,160 8,430 18%
Mathematical and Physical Sciences 1,590 * 1,750 -
EPSCoR 200 215 250 14%
STEM Education 1,110 1,010** 1,380 -
Major Research Equipment and Facilities 161 249 187 -25%
Mid-scale Research Infrastructure 74 76 76 0%
Vera C. Rubin Observatory 34 41 15 -63%
Agency Operations and Award Management 385 400 473 18%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures

* FY22 appropriations at division level not yet available

**The budget request and House figures account for the proposed consolidation of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program budget into the Education and Human Resources Directorate. However, the final bill continues to fund the program through both the EHR Directorate and the Research and Related Activites Directorate, while allowing NSF to transfer all the funds to EHR.

For FY2023, NSF requests $187 million for MREFC, which includes a final annual installment for the Rubin Observatory. The agency also notes it received supplemental funds through pandemic recovery legislation that have helped defray increased project costs, and that it is still working to assess pandemic-driven delays across its construction portfolio. The highest costs and largest pandemic impacts are associated with the Antarctic facilities, which will result in delays of upgrades to the IceCube Neutrino Observatory

NSF does not request funds to begin construction of any major new facilities, though it does briefly reference projects recommended in the latest decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics, such as the Extremely Large Telescopes and the next generation Very Large Array.

For FY2022, Congress directs NSF to fund the Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP) with $148 million from the education directorate and up to another $148 million from its research account, amounting to a total budget increase of up to 4%. For FY2023, NSF proposes to fund the program solely through the education directorate and raise its budget by 20%. The extra funds would enable the agency to increase the number of new fellows from about 2,000 to 2,750 and increase their stipend by $3,000 to $37,000.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The NASA SMD budget request of 5% growth has its most significant increase for Earth Science (17%), while Planetary Science is flat (+1%), Astrophysics decreases (-1%), and Heliophysics declines slightly (-2%). Ramp-up of the Mars Sample Return mission will cause cuts/delays to the Mars Ice Mapper and Near-Earth Object Surveyor missions. 

Account

FY21

FY22

FY23 Request

Science Mission Directorate

7,300

7,610

7,990

5%

Earth Science

2,000

2,060

2,410

17%

Planetary Science

2,700

3,120

3,160

1%

Astrophysics (incl. JWST)

1,770

1,570

1,560

-1%

Heliophysics

751

778

760

-2%

Biological and Physical Sciences

79

83

100

22%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures

The budget of NASA’s Planetary Science Division has roughly doubled over the last five years, and the administration is seeking to add $40 million in FY2023. However, this increase is outweighed by the expanding needs of the Mars Sample Return mission, putting an immediate squeeze on other efforts. Cost growth on the Mars Sample Return mission and Europa Clipper could also affect how quickly NASA can respond to the ambitious recommendations of the new Planetary Science decadal survey. 

The Discovery mission program requests $230 million, reflecting an expected budget trough from the launch of the Lucy asteroid mission and soon-to-launch Psyche mission to a metallic asteroid. Due to budget pressure, NASA states it is delaying its competition for the next Discovery mission, which it had expected to announce in 2023. The more expensive New Frontiers-class missions, however, propose an increase from $272 million to $478 million to accommodate the Dragonfly mission to Titan and the growing budget for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx). NASA states it may announce its competition for the next New Frontiers mission in the program as early as 2023 — two years earlier than previously planned.

The decrease in the JWST budget has led overall funding for astrophysics to decrease 11% in FY2022, and the PBR proposes a marginal topline cut for FY2023 to about $1.56 billion. That flat funding will allow missions currently in development to proceed, but it will keep the division from responding quickly to the recommendations of the new decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics. NASA requests $10 million to wind down the SOFIA mission in light of the decadal recommendations. The Nancy Grace Roman Telescope project incurred pandemic-related cost increases, but remains on track to stay under the Congressionally-mandated cost-cap of $3.5 billion. NASA is requesting $24 million for FY2023 for Astrophysics Explorer future missions*. The astrophysics division plans to fund studies of two or three proposals for probe missions starting in early 2024 with a final selection slated for mid-2025. Following a recommendation in the new decadal survey, the mission will be either an X-ray or far-infrared space telescope.

*Previous text erroneously designated the $25M for the Probe class.

Department of Energy High Energy Physics

DOE High Energy Physics requests a 4% increase, with up to $20 million allocated for decadal priority CMB-S4.

Account

FY21

FY22

FY23 Request

Office of Science

7,030

7,480

7,800

4%

High Energy Physics

1,030

1,080

1,120

4%

Overall, the FY2023 PBR presents a challenging environment for starting new projects and advocating for the decadal survey priorities. Significant effort will be required to promote the investments needed to realize the decadal priorities against the combined forces of unusually high inflation and administration priorities.

For more information on FY2022 appropriations or the FY2023 President's Budget Request, visit our friends at the American Institute of Physics FYI Science Policy Federal Budget Tracker. There you can find detailed tables of all science-related federal agency budgets, as well as analysis articles and links to the full agency budget requests, the President's Budget Request, the appropriations bills, and much more.