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The Senate's Version of FY 2019 Spending

Friday, June 22, 2018 - 12:57

The Senate has now placed its version of fiscal year (FY) 2019 science spending on the table, passing its Energy and Water (E&W) and Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) spending bills out of the full Senate Appropriations Committee on 24 May and 14 June, respectively. The House passed its versions a few weeks ago — see our recent blog post for details — and so we are progressing through "regular order" roughly on schedule for now. Next up is passage on the full floors of the House and the Senate, followed by conference(s) to negotiate differences between House and Senate versions of the bill(s). This year, both chambers are opting to send the 12 appropriations bills out as "minibuses," or packages of three at a time, in an effort to avoid the omnibus approach, where all 12 bills are packaged as one, as in FY 2018. While that strategy ultimately led to a 2,300-page must-pass bill just 48 hours before the fifth continuing resolution of FY 18 would have expired.

For the FY 2019 appropriations season, the E&W bill is packaged as part of the first minibus, along with the Legislative Branch and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs in each chamber; the House passed its minibus on 8 June, and the Senate is poised to pass its version soon.

Here, I summarize the Senate appropriations proposals for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Dept. of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC), the three entities that fund most of the research grants, facilities, and programs with which AAS members engage. The above plot shows the request, House, and Senate proposed increases and cuts, and below I get into the details. If an agency or program in which you are interested is not included here or in the additional summaries below, then please get in touch. We also include links and pull some direct quotations from the draft bill language and the accompanying committee reports. Committee reports are not legal statutes, but they do offer direction and expansion upon the intent of appropriators when they set top-line spending levels or include broad policy measures in the statutory language. Thus, it is the practice of most federal entities to follow the report recommendations as if they were indeed legally binding. If and when a final appropriations bill and accompanying report are passed out of Congress, anything in the House or Senate reports not directly superseded by the conference report still would apply.

For some other information:


NASA

Senate CJS bill
Senate CJS report

Office of Education

The Senate, like the House, rejected the administration's proposal to eliminate the NASA Office of Education. Instead, the Senate wants to give it a 10% increase and redesignate it the "STEM Opportunities Mission Directorate," which was floated in the Senate CJS FY 19 NASA Budget hearing last month in an exchange with Administrator Bridenstine.

Science

Across SMD broadly, the Senate used the report to express approval for the SMD's efforts in cloud computing, and directs NASA to report back within 90 days of enactment

...on the status of expanding the adoption of cloud computing within the Mission Directorate, including the use of commercial cloud computing services, use cases where cloud computing has enhanced services, current plans for the expansion of cloud computing, security impacts, any factors delaying or inhibiting the expansion of cloud computing usage, and any cost savings achieved in the previous 3 fiscal years by the utilization of commercial cloud computing services.

Planetary Science

The Senate bill proposes a slight (1.2%) decrease to the Planetary Science budget, compared to the significant (23.8%) increase proposed by the House. The report largely supports the request level for many of the programs, including New Frontiers, Radioisotope Power Systems, the new Lunar Discovery and Exploration line, Planetary Defense (including both Near Earth Observations and the Double Asteroid Redirection Test) and Europa Clipper. The report does not mention the Europa lander; while the president's proposal also did not include the lander, the House has again included it in its FY 19 spending bill, and NASA has elected to move forward with soliciting instruments for a Europa lander). On Mars 2020, the committee "reiterates its previous direction that if the Mars helicopter demonstration would delay the overall Mars 2020 mission, it should not be included in the Mars 2020 program." NASA announced last month that the Mars helicopter demonstration would travel with the Mars 2020 mission.The committee additionally expressed specific support for NASA Planetary Science contribution to Green Bank Observatory, a National Science Foundation facility in the process of divestment,

Green Bank Observatory.—The Committee recognizes the significant investment NSF has made to develop the world-class scientific facility at the Green Bank Telescope Observatory [GBO] and the benefit NASA has gained through its use of the GBO facility. NASA is encouraged to continue its use of GBO to support its Planetary Science Research program, including orbital debris monitoring and other activities, and to coordinate with NSF and other government agencies to develop and support multi-agency management plans for GBO, including research, facilities, and maintenance funding. NASA shall include in its fiscal year 2020 budget request any planned support for the subsequent 5 fiscal years.

which has received pushback from Congress. "Divestment" need not mean closure, but, to NSF, might mean finding new partners, or increasing the share of partner contributions.

Astrophysics

The Senate rejected the administration's cut to NASA Astrophysics, instead applying an increase of roughly the same magnitude (12%). The Senate bill would fully support continued JWST development at the requested level, though the report does state that

The Committee is disappointed with the execution and management of this project, especially given the attention paid to it by NASA and contractor leadership. The Committee expects to be briefed expeditiously when the ongoing independent assessment is complete and expects to be kept fully informed on issues relating to program and risk management, achievement of cost and schedule goals, and the program’s technical status. The Committee appreciates GAO’s continuing work to monitor JWST progress, costs, and schedule.

NASA had proposed to cut the Hubble Space Telescope operating budget for FY 2019 only, in order to use up some of its uncosted funds leftover from previous years. As it has done each year that NASA has tried to do this, the committee again rejected the proposal, citing "costs that the program has absorbed to continue three fellowship programs, address hardware degradation through software changes, and enhance the long-term value of Hubble’s data archive."

The Senate bill would provide $352 million for WFIRST, which the project has identified would be needed from the Astrophysics Division in FY2019 in order to stay on budget and on schedule after entering the Preliminary Design Phase (Phase B) at the end of last month. On WFIRST, the report states

The Committee rejects the proposal to cancel this mission which was the highest priority of the most recent Astrophysics decadal survey to settle fundamental questions about the nature of dark energy and has provided $352,000,000 for WFIRST to be developed on a timeline that allows a 2025 launch date. The Committee is concerned about the growing cost of the prime mission and expects NASA to use a firm $3,200,000,000 mission cost cap in its future planning of the mission. To reduce mission costs and ensure that overlap with the James Webb Space Telescope is maximized, NASA should implement the most efficient development program for the telescope and its instruments.

One point of question that remains is the non-SMD contribution to WFIRST. The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) had been planning to support some of the coronagraph technology development, which would be a contribution in addition to the $3.2 billion lifetime cost of the project. Further, that $3.2 billion includes operations costs (for a five-year prime mission, as is typical of NASA science missions), but not Headquarters-held reserves, which are usually substantial for directed missions of this scope.

The Senate report brings up the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), stating that

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 resources prioritize and ensure they are meeting their science goals. NASA is encouraged to review SOFIA at the appropriate time to determine if this mission should have its prime mission extended.

This does not definitely comment one way or another on the designation of a 20-year prime mission of SOFIA asserted in the House FY 2019 spending bill and the FY 2018 omnibus conference report, which is contradicted by the NASA internal documentation and agreements for the facility. NASA had been intending to consider SOFIA in the 2019 Senior Review, as is typical for all missions past their five-year prime mission (SOFIA entered prime mission phase in 2014).

Finally, the Senate report directed NASA to accept the National Academies' recommendation to keep the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey on schedule, which NASA recently did.

Heliophysics

The Senate proposed a 5% increase to the Heliophysics division, stating that the committee "recognizes that a greater understanding of our Sun and the accompanying technologies developed for that purpose will help to mitigate the hazards that solar activity poses to ground- and space-based platforms that strengthen our national security, economic competitiveness, and scientific prowess." The only specific guidance on spending the boost is an increase of $9 million from the request for the Solar Terrestrial Probe line, " to support continued mission formulation and development of Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe [IMAP], implement accompanying Missions of Opportunity [MOs], and maintain operations for ongoing missions."

NSF

Senate CJS bill
Senate CJS report

The Senate proposes a slightly smaller increase to the NSF top line (3.9%) than what the House proposed (5.3%), as compared to the FY 2018 value. Congress has, at the request of the NSF advocacy community, refrained from setting directorate-level spending (or lower) within the Research and Research Activities (R&RA) account, leaving that to the administration/agency to determine. Within its guidance to the NSF on R&RA is a general note that, "the Committee strongly encourages NSF to leverage the Nation’s research communities through partnering and collaboration to make available infrastructure, expertise, and financial resources to the U.S. scientific and engineering research and education enterprise."

While the Senate report does not set science division funding, it does call out a handful of divisions/disciplines for specific attention and to express support, of which astronomy is one:

Astronomy.—U.S.-based astronomy researchers and facilities funded through NSF continue to make groundbreaking discoveries utilizing world-class scientific research instruments and facilities. NSF funding enables research in the U.S., at facilities across the globe, and at observatories operated by universities, including the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, the National Radio Astronomy Observatories, and the National Solar Observatory. As NSF determines the appropriate levels of support for astronomy research grants by scientists and students engaged in ground-breaking research and investments, the Committee expects NSF to continue its support of world-class scientific research facilities and instrumentation to maximize its investments in research while preliminarily preparing for facility upgrades and activities associated with supporting the next Astrophysics decadal. In addition to this support, partnerships should be explored when feasible to maximize research capabilities at such facilities.

The report also specifically shares support of the NSF 10 Big Ideas — "meant to define the focus of cutting-edge research uniquely suited for NSF’s broad portfolio" — but only as activities above and beyond the core research already being performed at NSF, and thus "NSF shall maintain its core research at levels not less than those provided in fiscal year 2017." The president's budget request had proposed reductions across the science divisions to shift some funding into the Big Ideas, but that was under a flat top line of NSF. For astronomy, the most relevant Big Idea is Windows on the Universe, which was identified for committee support in the Senate report.

DOE Office of Science

Senate E&W bill
Senate E&W report

The Senate requested a slightly higher (6.2%) increase to the Office of Science (5.4%) than the House did. When looking at High Energy Physics (HEP), the report dedicates significant space to supporting adherence to findings of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel. In particular,

In accordance with the P5, the Committee strongly urges the Department to maintain a balanced portfolio of small-, medium- and large-scale experiments, and to ensure adequate funding for the basic research program at universities and the national laboratories. In particular, in addition to the support for the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility to study neutrino physics, the Committee urges the Department to support the P5 recommendation for a next-generation Stage 4 Cosmic Microwave Background experiment for precision studies of the early universe.

Note that the CMBS4 will also be under consideration by the Astro2020 Decadal Survey for NSF support, and a concept for implementing the experiment was submitted by request last fall to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC). The AAAC is tasked with advising the NSF, NASA, and DOE on selected issues within the fields of astronomy and astrophysics that are of mutual interest and concern to the agencies.

Ashlee N. Wilkins
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society (AAS)
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