Congress will wait to decide on science funding

Decisions on appropriations for federal agencies have been put on hold until after mid-term elections in November

By Pat Kobor

Temporary legislation is providing funding for federal agencies, including science funding agencies, through December 3, 2010. The House and Senate adopted this Continuing Resolution (CR) before departing Washington for their home districts.

Under the CR, funding will continue at Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 enacted levels for most programs. In total, the CR will provide funding at a rate approximately $8.2 billion below the FY 2010 level the difference being that temporary FY 11 funding will be reduced to levels in the President’s FY 11 budget for the Census and military base realignment. However, the CR does not preclude Congress from increasing or reducing final funding levels, which will be adopted either in a “lame duck” session or after the next Congress is seated in January, 2011.

The budget and appropriations process stalled this year amid rising concern about the deficit. Not a single spending bill has been enacted yet for FY 2011, which began on October 1, 2010. The House and Senate were not able to agree on a budget resolution which would have served to set agreement on a cap for total discretionary spending. President Obama proposed a freeze on most domestic spending when he offered to cap FY 2011 discretionary spending at $1.128 trillion, which the House knocked down to $1.121 trillion.  The Senate is divided over whether to set the cap at $1.114 trillion or $1.108 trillion.

Part of the Congress’s difficulty about where to set spending levels for FY 2011 sprang from the uncertainty over whether to let any or all of the tax cuts expire that were enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency.  The tax cuts are currently set to expire on December 31, 2010. Those decisions are also being deferred to a lame duck session.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been the science agency most likely to get a significant budget increase in FY 11.  The President proposed an 8% increase over FY 10, including an 8.2% increase for the Research and Related Activities Account (RRA) through which the NSF funds research.  The relevant House and Senate appropriations subcommittees each provided similar increases for the RRA, so to date there is little disagreement between the chambers about the eventual level of NSF funding. 

Barring the adoption of new budget cuts, there appears to be similar agreement over eventual funding for NIH.  The President proposed a $32.2 billion budget, up $1 billion, or 3.2 percent, over FY 10 funding.  Both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees approved bills with the same increase.

Pat Kobor is Senior Science Policy Analyst in the APA Science Government Relations Office. She advocates for psychological research at the National Institutes of Health.