Budget Agreement Boosts U.S. Science

December 18, 2015:  Congress today overwhelmingly passed the 2016 spending bill. The House of Representatives this morning voted 316 to 113, with a majority of Republicans and nearly all Democrats favoring the $1.1 trillion package for all federal agencies. The Senate concurred a few hours later with a vote of 65 to 33. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law later today.

Early on 16 December, congressional leaders released the text of an omnibus spending bill that will fund all federal agencies for the rest of the 2016 fiscal year. We’ve taken a look at how individual agencies fared under the bill (see bullets below). Science has also compiled a table showing the budgets of key research agencies and programs.

These stories appear following this summary of the legislation.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) leads the way among U.S. science agencies getting increases in the final 2016 spending bill released today.

NIH is the winner in absolute dollars. It gets a bump of $2 billion, or 6.6%, from its current budget of $30.1 billion. Spending on science programs at NASA would grow by 6.6%, to $5.6 billion, and rise by 5.6% in the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, to $5.35 billion. The National Science Foundation would receive an additional $119 million, or 1.6%, to $7.46 billion, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would get a 6% boost, to $291 million.

“It’s fantastic news. We’re beyond excited,” says Jennifer Zeitzer of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. United for Medical Research, a Washington, D.C.–based lobbying group, says “this meaningful increase for NIH makes real progress toward catching up from the past decade of underfunding and keeping up with scientific advancements and public health needs.”

 

With the exception of NIH, these final numbers are higher than what was contained in spending bills for individual agencies passed by panels in the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this year. The increases were made possible by a late-October agreement between Congress and the White House that set overall spending levels for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. It added $50 billion this year to the $1.017 trillion spent in 2015, divided equally between civilian and military spending, and $30 billion in 2017. The agreement also negated the threat of a government shutdown this fall from conservatives unhappy with any increase in federal spending.

There could be more to the story, however. Congressional leaders have not yet released the report language that accompanies the 2009-page omnibus spending bill. That language contains specific instructions to agencies about how to allocate their dollars. And those instructions could ruffle some feathers.

In the meantime, Congress did spell out a few things in the overall bill itself. For example, NASA was given $175 million to continue work on a mission to Jupiter’s Europa moon, a pet project of Representative John Culberson (R–TX), who leads the House spending panel that oversees NASA. And DOE was told not to spend more than $115 million on the U.S. contribution to ITER, the international fusion reactor being built in France, until ITER officials present a new schedule for the troubled project. It also requires DOE to recommend, by May 2016, whether the U.S. should stay in ITER or withdraw.

*Originally posted in Science Magazine  (http://news.sciencemag.org/funding/2015/12/budget-agreement-boosts-u-s-science)