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Washington Dispatch

Policy Update


Using the Ryan-Murray agreement as the framework for appropriations, Congress finally passed a fiscal year 2014 (FY14) Omnibus spending bill with bipartisan support, by a margin of 359-67 in the House and 72-26 in the Senate. The legislation largely restored the sequestration cuts that had been triggered by the Budget Control Act as a penalty for congressional inaction on a long-term budget agreement. Neither party got everything it wanted, but each was happy to have achieved a result that could pave the way for a less chaotic budget process in the coming year.

Overall, science fared relatively well, although the outcome was very uneven. Some accounts saw increases above the sequester restorations. But some failed to achieve the full restoration.

Fusion Energy Sciences at the Department of Energy (DOE), for example, received a significant boost of 26 percent above the FY12 appropriated level, effectively reviving MIT’s Alcator C-Mod facility and funding the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), although not quite at the previously planned level of $225M. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the other hand, did not manage to reverse the sequestration cuts, falling about $800M below the FY12 level. And although the National Science Foundation (NSF) did receive an increase above FY12, its increase was not as large compared to some other discretionary accounts.

Strong advocacy by the scientific community surely helped stave off draconian cuts to basic research. In fact, while overall discretionary spending has decreased 13.6 percent since FY10, R&D has fallen by only 12.3 percent, with much of that decline absorbed by defense accounts not associated with basic research. Advocacy efforts have continued to keep science on the congressional radar as a bipartisan investment critical to future US economic competitiveness.

As inflation slowly chips away at the capacity of federal agencies to support research programs, proposal success rates will continue to ebb, although not as dramatically as forecast this year had sequestration remained in effect. Continued pressure on lawmakers by scientists will be necessary to reverse the long-term trend.

Of importance to prospective DOE grantees is the new funding model mandated for the department by the Omnibus bill. Grants of less than a million dollars must be fully funded in advance for the duration of the grant (typically three years). And to accommodate the new funding structure, DOE will be forced to reduce proposal success rates and funding levels for the next two or three years absent increases in appropriations.

The details in the FY14 spending bill are as follows, with percent changes from appropriated FY12 levels shown in parentheses:

NSF is funded at $7.20B in FY14 (+2.4%). The Research & Related Activities account is set at $5.81B (+1.5%), a slight disappointment relative to increases seen in other parts of the budget. The education portion of NSF, known as Education & Human Resources, is funded at $846M (+2.1%).

The DOE Office of Science is funded at $5.07B (+3.9%): Advanced Scientific Computing Research at $478M (+8.1%), Basic Energy Sciences at $1.71B (+1.3%), Biological and Environmental Research at $610M (-0.4%), Fusion Energy Science at $505M (+25.7%) with $200M of that set aside for ITER, High Energy Physics at $797M (+0.8%) and Nuclear Physics at $569M (+3.6%).

The DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewables (EER-E) and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) are funded at $1.91B (+5.1%) and $280M (+1.8%), respectively, and the National Nuclear Security Administration is funded at $12.13B (+5.4%).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Science and Technical Research and Services is funded at $651M (+14.8%), Construction of Research Facilities, at $56M (+1.8%) and the Industrial Technology Services, at $143M (+11.7%).

DOD 6.1 (Basic Research) is funded at $2.17B (+7.7%) and DOD 6.2 (Applied Research) $4.64B (-1.9%). The DOD 6.2 account was not only cut relative to FY12, but was also cut by 0.9 percent relative to FY13 post-sequester.

The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) Science program is funded at $5.15B (+1.1%) with continuing support for the James Webb Space Telescope containing strict instructions that its total budget not exceed $8B. The bill further instructs NASA not to engage in any bilateral talks with China, although the extent of the ban, as in the past, remains somewhat unclear.

NIH was funded at a rather disappointing $29.90B (-2.5%), which is ~$800M less than in FY12.

Finally, the Office of Science and Technology of the President was funded at $5.5M (+23.4%).

Washington Office Activities

Issue: Media Update

Michael S. Lubell, director of public affairs, opined that science offers a path for bipartisanship in his Jan. 24 op-ed in Roll Call. He cited the helium reserve bill as an example of how Congress can work together to accomplish great things for the nation.

Gray Arrow Read the column

Following word of the proposed move of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Science published an article detailing the scientific community’s opposition to the plan.

Gray Arrow Read the story

Issue: Panel On Public Affairs

A proposed APS Statement on Undergraduate Research was posted on the APS website for review by APS membership. POPA reviewed the member comments and worked with the APS Committee on Education to include several edits. The statement was forwarded to the Executive Board and Council for a final vote.

POPA is undertaking a review of the APS 2007 Statement on Climate Change. Information about the process can be found at the Climate Change Statement Review web page.

The APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and the APS Committee on Careers and Professional Development have both approached POPA with proposed APS statements. The POPA Subcommittee on Physics & the Public is working with those committees on draft statements that will be considered by POPA at its June meeting.

Several ideas for POPA studies were suggested by new members at the February meeting. Any APS member can propose that POPA carry out a study. A template for proposals can be found online, along with a suggestion box for future POPA studies.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella
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