22 June 2022

First Step in FY23 Congressional Appropriations Process Complete

Julie Davis American Astronomical Society (AAS)

On Tuesday evening, the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Subcommittee released the first draft of their FY2023 appropriations bill, and on Wednesday night proceeded with their mark-up process. The bill was passed to full committee with no amendment. 

This is the first step in each fiscal year’s congressional appropriations process, which begins in the House. Each of the twelve appropriations subcommittees begin with a mark-up, or meeting in which subcommittee members offer, debate, and vote on amendments to their respective appropriations bill. The subcommittees then pass the results of their mark-up to the Appropriations Committee for full committee mark-up, before it is then passed to the House floor for a vote. For the policy-curious, you can learn more about the appropriations process here, and follow along with our friends at the American Institute of Physics FYI Budget Tracker.

Earlier this spring, AAS submitted Outside Witness Testimony to the subcommittee, outlining our priorities for FY2023 appropriations and promoting the recommendations of the decadal surveys. In collaboration with other science coalitions, we advocated for increased top line numbers for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, the NSF, and the DOE Office of Science. These numbers, or “asks,” tell Congress what amounts astronomers, planetary scientists, and solar physicists need to accomplish their science, build and maintain facilities, and start new projects.

With the House CJS numbers now in the hands of the House Appropriations Committee, we must now wait as the rest of the process moves forward. The Senate counterparts to the House subcommittees are currently undergoing the same process with their twelve appropriations bills, and eventually the two chambers will have complete appropriations bills that they vote to approve. These bills will be sent to a conference to reconcile any differences before enactment on October 1st, the official start of FY2023. However, this deadline is often missed, leading to continuing resolutions (a continuation of the previous year's funding levels). The distraction of the upcoming midterm elections will likely mean a continuing resolution and delay of final appropriations into the late fall.

Below you can find brief summaries and analyses of the House CJS appropriations bill for each astronomy-relevant agency under its jurisdiction (i.e. NASA and NSF). 

NASA

The House designated $25.5 billion for NASA overall, a $1.4 billion dollar (6%) increase over FY 2022 appropriations. The bill text does not break down values below the directorate level, meaning the exact allocations for astrophysics, planetary science, and heliophysics are unknown at this time. It is yet to be seen whether the Biden administration's priority for Earth science funding will come to fruition. Additionally, controversial changes such as NASA’s proposed cut to funding for the Near Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission remain up in the air. STEM Engagement comes in at the requested level, indicating congressional support for increasing US STEM talent.

Proposed appropriations for NASA are a small increase--slightly less than the PBR and significantly less than the AAS's coalition-backed ask for NASA SMD. Combined with the presidential budget request de-emphasizing astronomical sciences, this is a disappointing initial result. In the face of record-high inflation, anaemic growth in the SMD budget will push the start of decadal priorities like the Great Observatories Mission and Technology Maturation Program and the Uranus orbiter farther out, while also leaving little wiggle room in the budget given the ambitious missions already underway (e.g. Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, Europa Clipper, and Mars Sample Return). 

Account

FY21

FY22

FY23 

Request

FY23

AAS Ask

FY23

House 

Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

7,300

7,610

7,990

5%

9,000 15% 7,905 4%

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%

- -
STEM Engagement  127 137 150 19% - 150 19%
      EPSCoR 26 26 - - - 26
      Space Grant 51 54 - - - 62

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures. Percentage increase/decrease is measured against FY22 enacted.

National Science Foundation 

House CJS proposes an overall increase for NSF of $790 million (9%) from FY2022 levels. This increase is well below both the President's Budget Request and the AAS coalition-backed ask. While any growth is appreciated, these single digit percentage increases over the last several years have placed NSF in an increasingly difficult position. The foundation is being asked to maintain existing facilities, build new facilities, and support ever-increasing demand for research grants while the budget has grown on average only 3% per year since 2016. Most concerning is Major Research Equipment and Facilities (MREFC) line, for which both the president's budget request and the House mark propose a decrease of 25%. This is in part due to cost ramp-down as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory nears completion, but the decrease for MREFC is disastrous for the decadal recommendations. Without substantial growth for MREFC, it will be impossible to support work on the Extremely Large Telescopes, ngVLA, and CMB-S4. 

Account FY21 Actual FY22 Enacted

FY23 

Request

FY23

AAS Ask

FY23

House

NSF 8,440 8,840 10,500 19% 11,000 24% 9,630 9%
Research and Related Activities 6,760 7,160 8,430 18% - 7,710 8%
Mathematical and Physical Sciences 1,590 * 1,750 - - -
EPSCoR 200 215 250 14% - -
STEM Education 1,110 1,010** 1,380 - - 1,250 -
Major Research Equipment and Facilities 161 249 187 -25% - 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% - 460 15%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures. Percentage increase/decrease is measured against FY22 enacted.

* 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. 

 

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