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FY 2018 Budget Request: NASA, NSF & DOE

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - 09:23

In March, the White House released a Budget Blueprint that presented the overall framework for the administration's FY 2018 funding priorities (more information in a previous blog post). On 23 May 2017, the White House released the full FY 2018 budget request, titled "A New Foundation for American Greatness." This document provides more detail about the administration's funding priorities, and includes a discussion of "new policies for jobs and growth and new spending priorities." Among the new policies is to control federal spending, and to, in particular, "reduce non-defense discretionary spending each year with a 2-penny plan." The new budget priorities include to invest in defense by reversing the defense sequestration and "provide an infrastructure plan to support $1 trillion in... infrastructure investment." The White House also published an additional document titled "Major Savings and Reforms" that provides some detailed explanations for most of the cuts in the budget proposal. We will summarize the requests for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE) — the three agencies that fund most of the research grants and programs for AAS members. If the agency or program in which you are interested is not included here or in the additional summaries below, then please get in touch.

A note on the appropriations process: Under the "regular order" appropriations process, the release of the president's budget request would mark the beginning of congressional consideration of the funding for FY 2018. The presidential transition means that the request was delayed. However, Congress must still pass the FY 2018 funding bills by 30 September 2017. The result is that Congress has already started to consider their funding priorities for FY 2018. It's unclear how they will factor in the administration's funding priorities. The hearings that the congressional committees hold about FY 2018 will start to give us a better idea of this.

The table below summarizes the funding levels for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE), in millions of US dollars.


FY 2016 Operating Plan FY 2017 Omnibus* FY 2018 Request Delta* Percent Change*
NASA $19,285 $19,653.3 $19,092.2 -$561.1 -2.8%
Science Mission Directorate $5,589.4 $5,765 $5,711.8 -$53.1 -0.9%
Earth Science $1,921 $1,921 $1,754 -$167 -8.7%
Planetary Science $1,631 $1,846 $1,929.5 +$83.5 +4.5%
Astrophysics $725.4 $731.5 $772.7 +$41.2 +5.6%
Heliophysics $650 $678 $677.8 -$0.2 -0.2%
SMD's STEM Activation $37 $37 $44 +$7 +19%
JWST $620 $569.4 $533.7 -$35.7 -6.3%
National Science Foundation $7,463.5 $7,472.2 $6,652.9 -$819.3 -11%
Research & Related Activities (R&RA) $6,033.6 $6,033.6 $5,361.6 -$672 -11.1%
Mathematical & Physical Sciences (MPS) $1,349.2 -- $1,219.43 -$129.7 -9.6%
Astronomy Division (AST) $246.7 -- $221.2 -$25.6 -10.4%
Geosciences (GEO) $876.7 -- $783.3 -$93.4 -10.7%
Atmospheric & Geospace Sciences (AGS) $253.7 -- $227.7 -$26 -10.3%
Major Research Equipment & Facility Construction (MREFC) $200.3 $209 $182.8 -$26.2 -12.5%
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) $99.67 $99.67 $57.8 -$41.9 -42%
Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) $20 $20 $20 $0 0%
Department of Energy (DOE) $29,602.7 $30,786 $28,042 -$2,744 -8.9%
Office of Science $5,347 $5,392 $4,472 -$919.5 -17%
High Energy Physics $795 $825 $673 -$152 -18.4%

* Where FY 2017 Omnibus numbers (based on the appropriations bill that passed at the beginning of May 2017) are available, our "Delta" and "Percent Change" calculations are FY18-FY17. Where those numbers are not available, our "Delta" and "Percent Change" calculations are FY18-FY16, where FY16 is the FY 2016 Operating Plan.


The administration has proposed canceling NASA's Office of Education, citing "challenges in providing oversight and integration of Agency-wide education activities." The Office of Education is funded at $37.3 million for "close-out costs."

The FY 2018 funding level for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is consistent with the funding profile needed to keep JWST on schedule for an October 2018 launch.

For clarity, STEM Activation funding is presented separately from the Astrophysics division, which still administers the programs. Because STEM Activation is separate for Office of Education, there will be no changes to STEM Activation programs, which would get an increase in the administration's request.

Planetary Science

The $54 million increase to the Planetary Science Division (PSD) would support increases to Research and Analysis, Discovery, and the Europa flyby mission. The rest of PSD's current portfolio, e.g., Mars Exploration and New Horizons, are supported with no major changes. The Discovery program is funded at $306.1 million, which supports InSight's new launch date, Lucy moving to Phase B, and Psyche officially moving into the formulation phase. The Europa flyby mission is supported for a 2022 launch, however, there is no mention of a Europa lander.


We don't have much detail about the FY 2017 funding levels for the programs within Astrophysics, so it's hard to know which programs will share in the $41 million increase. We do know that Hubble and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astrophysics (SOFIA) within Cosmic Origins would be decreased compared to FY 2017 Omnibus funding level, which reflects "more efficient operations... without impact to science." A mid-2020's launch of Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is supported, with $126.6 million.


Similarly, we don't have much detail about the FY 2017 funding levels for the programs with Heliophysics. The request would enable NASA "to implement the Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, and Educate (DRIVE) Initiative as recommended in the Heliophysics Decadal Survey." The Living with a Star program would be increased to $381 million to allow LWS Science to focus on "space weather research, enhancing the ability to forecast and characterize space weather events in collaboration with NASA's inter-agency partners." Solar Probe Plus and Solar Orbiter Collaboration are supported.

National Science Foundation

The administration proposes an 11% cut to the NSF. According to their explanation in the "major savings and reforms" document, this decrease is in alignment with "the Administration's goal to transfer funds across agencies in order to strengthen national security and public safety." This 11% cut is shared relatively equally across the directorates and divisions. At the NSF briefing about the budget, Dr. France Cordova, director of NSF, explained that each directorate was instructed to identify strategic priorities and ensure that the core programs would continue to be supported.


Within the AST topline, all current facilities continue to be supported, though funding levels for Arecibo Observatory, Green Bank Observatory, and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) are decreasing to reflect the divestment process. The operations costs for the Atacama Long Millimeter Arry (ALMA), Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) have increased slightly. This leaves around 30% of the AST funding for AST's competed lines, e.g., individual investigator grants.


AGS supports, among other things, some funding for Arecibo Observatory and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), both of which are decreased in this request.The budget line for the Office of Polar Programs (PLR) has been separated from GEO, though GEO will still administer the office.


AST has two new facilities being constructed through the Major Research Equipment & Facility Construction (MREFC) account, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). Both are nearing completion, and the decreased funding for constructing LSST is within the project's funding profile. First light is scheduled in late-2019 for DKIST and in 2023 for LSST. Operations costs for DKIST and LSST are starting to ramp up, as noted above.

DOE-Office of Science

DOE's Office of Science funds astronomical science research through the High Energy Physics (HEP) office. HEP includes, among other things, the Cosmic Frontier, which includes the dark energy and dark matter experiments. Cosmic Frontier is funded at $77.1 million, which is a 41% decrease compared to FY 2016. This decrease is partly due to the planned funding profile of the LSST Camera (note that I had previously incorrectly stated that LSSTCam would be completed in FY 2018). The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) and ZEPLIN (ZonEd Proportional scintillation in LIquid Noble gases) fabrication will continue as planned. The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) will be rebaselined.

Additional Information

Heather Bloemhard
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
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