May 26, 2016 Budget Update

As Congress heads into the Memorial Day recess, below is an update on progress we have made towards our Government Relations goals for Northeastern related to federal funding for FY17 (which begins October 1st).

Last October Congress and President Obama agreed to a two-year budget deal that increased discretionary spending by $50 billion in FY16 and by an additional $30 billion in FY17.  A few weeks ago, Senate Appropriators set the funding levels for the twelve Senate FY17 appropriations bills in line with last year’s budget deal.  In contrast, the House was unable to pass a budget resolution or set spending levels for its draft bills, as some Members have sought to reduce spending below the previously agreed-on levels.    

FY17 Appropriations

As of this writing, the Senate has passed two FY17 appropriations bills (Energy & Water and Transportation/HUD) and the House just one (Military Construction/VA).  That said, several other bills have been marked up by the Appropriations Committees in one or both branches.  Here are selected highlights of interest to the Northeastern research community within these bills:

Department of Defense (DoD)

The House would provide $63.36 billion for DoD Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) accounts, an increase of $262.8 million above the current level.  This includes a $30.9 million increase above FY16 for DOD Science and Technology (6.1-6.3). DARPA would receive a $104 million or 3.7 percent increase above FY16 to $2.9 billion.  

Of particular interest to the university community, the Senate DoD bill approved yesterday in committee includes favorable report language we requested related to Army strategic materials, Navy cybersecurity, and Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle research.  These provisions and associated program funding increases will directly benefit Northeastern faculty research.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The Senate funding bill provides $7.5  billion for the NSF, essentially level funding with FY16.  The House would reduce the NSF overall by $57.4 million below last year.   Within that, the House would increase the NSF’s Research and Related Activities Account by almost $46 million

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The House bill provides a 3.2 percent cut to NOAA below FY16, while the Senate would increase overall NOAA funding by $33.5 million.  The Senate would provide $15 million for National Ocean Service Regional Coastal Resilience Grants (a $10M increase) aimed at reducing the risks that climate change poses to coastal ecosystems and communities.  The Senate bill once again includes report language Northeastern requested directing NOAA to “consider how additional ocean and coastal cooperative institutes could support NOAA’s mission objectives, including those related to coastal resilience…and update its CI21 report with guidance explaining how research institutions can partner with NOAA scientists to expand the cooperative institute network in future years.” 

Department of Energy (DOE)

The House would provide an increase of $259 million over FY16 for DOE; the Senate $355 million over last year.  The DOE Office of Science would be funded at $5.4 billion in both bills, a $50 million or 1% increase over last year.  Both branches would provide flat funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program and the Basic Energy Sciences program.  The House has proposed to cut the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by $248 million or 12 percent from FY16, while the Senate would level fund the program.  Similarly, the House would cut Biological and Environmental Research by $14 million, while the Senate would increase the program by $28 million.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The House bill provides $19.508 billion for NASA overall, $223 million above FY16 and $1.245 billion above the President’s request.  The Senate would boost NASA by $21 million overall.  One of the more notable sections of the House report would mandate NASA to contract an independent feasibility study on transitioning its centers to Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).  The model, where a university or nonprofit organization manages an R&D facility on behalf of the Federal Government, is how NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is operated.  The report would also detail ways in which NASA centers can work more collaboratively with academia and industry. The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) would receive $739.2 million in FY 2017, $52.7 million or 7.7 percent above the FY 2016 enacted level.  The FY 2017 Senate mark, by comparison, would keep funding for STMD flat at $686.5 million. 

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Senate funding bill provides $661 million for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), a $6 million increase over FY16.  Included in the bill is $40.5 million for the University Programs Accountwhich funds our ALERT Center and Center on Critical Infrastructure Resiliency, on which Northeastern is a partner.   This level of funding is $776K above the request and would allow S&T to maintain at least 10 centers.  

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

The House draft FY17 Interior Appropriations bill would increase funding for the NEH by $2 million to $150 million.  

As of this writing, neither branch has yet introduced a draft Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill, which funds the NIH and the Department of Education.  That is likely to happen in June.  

With just a handful of legislative days left before the summer recess, it’s likely that Congress will need to enact a series of continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government operating until Congress can pass a final omnibus spending bill after the November election. 

State Budget Update

Lastly, this week the Massachusetts Senate also approved its version of the Commonwealth’s FY17 budget.  Included in the bill was $1 million for the Commercialization Seed Fund, which provides grants to help faculty transition new technologies from the lab to market.  Several faculty received seed grants from this program last year, making the university the largest beneficiary of the program in the state.  The Senate budget level funded the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance at the FY16 level, $1 million below the amount provided by the proposed House budget in April.  We will be working with legislative leaders to boost funding for both programs in the final budget.