The $1.1 trillion omnibus budget bill that President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday to cover funding through the current fiscal year (FY 2017) is generally favorable for science agencies. However, scientists and other observers caution that a bigger battle over funding for science agencies will be waged over the president’s proposed budget for FY 2018, which the administration is expected to release in full on 22 May.
Antonio Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told Eos that although the FY 2017 budget looks good, there is “a certain amount of kick[ing] the can down the road. This [FY 2017 budget] is just a way of biding time until there is more time and more bandwidth to deal with some of the proposed anticipated budget cuts.”
“Past is not prologue,” Busalacchi added. “It would be hubris to think that this [FY 2017 budget]—which funds the government through 30 September—is an encouraging sign. I’m not taking any bets at all that this is a sign of more to come.”
Other experts are also focusing on the FY 2018 budget. Joel Widder, cofounder and partner of Federal Science Partners, a government relations consulting firm based in Washington, D. C., told Eos that appropriators in Congress “were not swayed by draconian reductions” proposed by the White House in its FY 2017 supplemental budget request, which the administration released the same day it issued an FY 2018 budget blueprint. “Will they be able to maintain that work style for 18? That is the $64,000 question.”
To Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York–based environmental group, the prospects for the FY 2018 budget depend on whether “the experienced Republican members of Congress are not afraid of Trump.” If they aren’t, he told Eos, “they will continue to support science programs that they know are necessary to keep America competitive in the 21st century.”
“FY17 was an easier fight; the year is already more than half over, and the recommended cuts by the president would be incredibly disruptive,” Slesinger added. “So FY18 is the real test, and it is not clear that the FY17 fight will play a large role.”
Energy Department Funding
An analyst with the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a Washington, D. C., think tank, told Eos that increased funding in the FY 2017 budget for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science (which increased 0.8% to $5.39 billion) and its Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (which went up 5.2% to $306 million) could now serve as a baseline for FY 2018. Brad Townsend, associate director for energy innovation for BPC’s Energy Project, said, however, that there will be more time to work through the FY 2018 budget than the FY 2017 budget, “which could afford everyone more time to negotiate more aggressively.”
“The reason that these [DOE research and development] programs did well against expectations is that there is a strong consensus in Congress that investments in energy research pay big dividends to taxpayers in the form of lower cost energy, enhanced energy security, and cleaner environmental attributes,” Townsend said. Moreover, energy research and development has a “good track record” for creating “good paying, non-outsourceable jobs,” he added.
A Message for Scientists
Mark Abbott, president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., told Eos that Congress sent a message with the FY 2017 budget that it strongly supports a broad and diverse research and development portfolio. However, Abbott said that the scientists cannot rest easy. Members of the science community “have got to argue that we are going to help this economy grow in a range of ways,” he said, including contributions such as avoided costs by better understanding weather systems.
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer