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Fiscal Year 2019 Science Funding Update

Saturday, September 1, 2018  
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The new federal fiscal year begins on October 1, 2018. This gives Congress and the Administration about four weeks to wrap up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 spending bills to keep government programs operating, and importantly, funding for federal research dollars flowing. Following is an update on the appropriations bills that include funding for a number of federal science agencies which support research in the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.

On August 23, the U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 85-7, H.R. 6157, a bill combining the Senate Appropriations Committee versions of the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and Defense Appropriations bills. The vote marked the first time in 15 years that the Senate had passed the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill before the beginning of the fiscal year.

The combined package funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and Institute for Education Sciences (IES).

Specifically, the bill provides the NIH with $39.1 billion, AHRQ with $334 million, and IES with $615 million—levels either at or above the agencies FY 2018 funding. The NIH emerged the biggest winner, passing with a $2 billion increase over its FY 2018 funding level. 

Before Senate consideration of the bill, FABBS sent a letter to Senators Blunt and Murray, Chair and Ranking Member (respectively) of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, expressing support for the Subcommittee’s bill. The letter stated FABBS’s opposition to any potential floor amendments that would either cut the bill’s proposed funding levels for the NIH, AHRQ, or IES or undermine these agencies’ missions.

To facilitate final passage of the bill, Senate leadership rejected the consideration of any potentially controversial floor amendments. Ultimately, of the 309 amendments that were filed prior to floor debate, only 53 noncontroversial amendments passed as part of a manager’s package. Earlier in the week, the Senate voted on and passed four additional innocuous floor amendments.

While Senate passage of the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill is significant, it does not assure the bill’s enactment before FY 2019 begins on October 1. The House of Representatives must still consider either its version of the bill or adopt procedures to consider the Senate-passed version.

Once a final version of the bill passes Congress, its enactment is still not guaranteed. While the White House has not overtly threatened to veto the bill, in a Statement of Administration Policy ( issued prior to Senate consideration, the Administration expressed displeasure about the bill’s overall levels of non-defense discretionary spending (which includes funding for all non-defense science agencies) and its rejection of the Administration’s proposal to merge AHRQ into the NIH. 

Focus: NSF

While the Senate on August 23 approved a massive $857 billion appropriations "minibus" bill -- comprised of funding for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education -- little progress has been made on moving the FY 2019 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations Act that funds the National Science Foundation. Since the Senate Appropriations Committee reported the bill to the full Senate on June 14, there has been no official indication of when the Senate will bring the bill to the floor for consideration.

The Senate CJS bill provides $8.1 billion for NSF ($301 million above the current level), including $6.5 billion for research and related activities ($222 million above current spending levels). By contrast, The House CJS bill, approved by the House on May 17, provides slightly more ($8.2 billion) than the Senate bill for NSF, and more (a total of $6.7 billion) than the Senate bill for research and related activities. 

There may be an attempt to move the CJS bill during September, but floor time is limited. In addition to the CJS bill, the Senate has not yet approved the Homeland Security and State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bills. In addition, the Senate has indicated that it will use the month of September to consider legislation responding to the opioid crisis.

All appropriations bills must be completed by September 30 to avoid a government shutdown, and Congress is likely to consider short-term continuing resolutions to keep the government open through the elections.

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