FY2018 Federal Budget Update

This page, updated as time permits by staff of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance at Bates College, contains information regarding appropriations bills in the works on Capitol Hill for the 2018 Federal Fiscal Year (beginning October 1, 2017), with an emphasis on agencies and programs that have supported research and other programs at Bates. It is not intended to serve as a comprehensive analysis of the Federal budget process, nor as lobbying communication directed at any elected or appointed official. Any statements of opinion represent that of the staff member who has signed their name, and may or may not represent opinions shared by the trustees, president, faculty, or other staff of Bates College.

During Congress’s August recess, the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance has begun to analyze those bills that would fund grant programs that may be relevant to the College.

National Science Foundation

The strongest projections can be made with those agencies for which appropriations bills have come out of committee in both the House and the Senate and are pending scheduled votes by the full houses. One such agency is the National Science Foundation. Whereas the executive budget request proposed double-digit cuts to NSF, the totals proposed in both these bills represent much smaller budget cuts–$7.3 billion dollars, a roughly 2% cut compared to the $7.47 billion budgeted in the current fiscal year. However, there are significant differences of emphasis between the House and Senate bills. The House bill keeps most NSF programs level funded, with nearly all costs coming from the “Major Research Equipment and Construction” line, which would be slashed from $210 million in the current fiscal year to $78 million next year. Some such cuts were already contemplated by NSF leadership in their response to the executive budget, but complying with such a budget would require even sharper reductions in pending projects in fields such as astronomy. The Senate bill distributes the cuts a bit more evenly, keeping Major Research Equipment and Construction at $183 million, while making 2% cuts to “Research & Related Programs,” including Polar and Antarctic Programs, and “Education and Human Resources.” These budget lines represent the funds for nearly all NSF grants to Bates historically.

NASA, NOAA, Department of Justice

The same bills from the House and Senate also lay out appropriations for NASA, the research agencies of the Department of Commerce (NOAA and NIST), and the Department of Justice. These all contain good news for Bates, relative to the Executive Budget. The latter had proposed total elimination of the Sea Grant program and of NASA’s Educational Programs budget. Both of these are kept in place by both the House and the Senate bills. As with NSF, there are differences of emphasis between the House and Senate bills, with the House giving NASA a 1% increase over the current fiscal year, as compared to a 1% cut from the Senate. The Research, Evaluation and Statistical programs of the Department of Justice—small to begin with, $89 million in the current year—would be cut by either bill. However the Office on Violence against Women, which currently provides a grant to Bates from its “Reducing Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Stalking on Campus” program, would be in line for increases—a substantial one from the House bill, from $482 million this year to $524 million next, that is, 9%.

Cautionary Note on Conference Committees and Continuing Resolutions

The differences between the House and Senate bill mean that, even if they are each passed in relatively short order, the bills will have to be referred to a conference committee. This increases the likelihood that a final bill will not be passed by both houses and signed by the President in time for the October 1 start date of the Federal fiscal year, necessitating as in several recent years a Continuing Resolution to keep the agencies operating. During the period of the Continuing Resolution, agencies will be cautious in making new grant awards, while they wait to see what their final appropriations look like.

Energy, Agriculture, and Defense

Other agencies on which both houses are making budgetary progress include the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense. These are agencies with which Bates has limited experience in obtaining funding. Whereas the Executive Budget proposed deep cuts to the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, the House bill keeps it level-funded from this year to next, and the Senate bill includes a 3% increase. In the present fiscal climate, this may make the Department of Energy a more attractive source of funding to those faculty whose research programs it is relevant to. The White House, House, and Senate are all in agreement on substantial increases to the Pentagon, some of which would go to Defense research laboratories. However, most of the money from these increases will go toward applied instead of basic research, for which Bates is not in a position to competitively apply. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the research funding branch of the USDA, is likely to be roughly level-funded—it faces a 2% cut from the House bill, or a 1% increase from the Senate—which keeps it in play as a possible source of funding for the limited number of Bates faculty for whom it is a prospect.

National Institutes of Health

Roughly on par with the NSF as a source for research funding at Bates are the National Institutes of Health. Their prospects are slightly less certain, as the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to bring forward a full appropriations bill including the NIH. (The NIH is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, whose budget and operations would be severely impacted by any repeal of the Affordable Care Act—so the recurrent ACA-related drama on the Senate floor may help account for this delay.) The House, however, is considering a bill that would include a 3% increase to the NIH, and expressly forbids the capping of institutional indirect costs. This is a tacit rebuke to the White House, whose budget proposal included deep cuts to NIH funding and a cap on University indirect costs, prompting a major lobbying campaign by research-intensive universities. Within NIH, the big winner from the House bill would be the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is slated to get a 20% budget increase. At Bates, NIA funds Nancy Koven’s research project. The bulk of this increase is to be directed toward research on Alzheimer’s Disease. If this emphasis remains in place through the Senate and the Conference Committee, then researchers considering applying for NIH funding whose work may have relevance to Alzheimer’s should pay attention.

Reprieves for NEA, NEH, AmeriCorps & Fulbright; Challenges for Environmental Research

Other sections of this House bill, and other bills reported by the House Appropriations Committee, suggest that things could have been much worse. Programs and agencies whose budgets were slated by the executive budget request for total elimination or crippling cuts, such as the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), or the Fulbright program, would either be flat-funded by the House (CNCS), or face relatively small cuts—2% to Fulbright, 3% to the NEA and NEH. Where the White House and the House Appropriations Committee seem to be in agreement, however, is on cuts to environmental research. Programs facing cuts in double-digit percentage terms include the Environmental Protection Agencies Science and Technology programs (11% cut), and both the National Parks Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (18% cuts to each). While none of these are major sources of research funding, all have directly or indirectly supported environmental research and education in which Bates faculty and students have participated.

A Note on the Maine Delegation

It is worth noting that Maine Senator Susan Collins does serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, so for the programs above where this committee has yet to officially weigh in, it may be worthwhile for Maine residents concerned about their future to communicate with her office. As previously, Bates faculty and staff are reminded that, when communicating with elected officials as private citizens, to refrain from doing so using College-owned computer and network equipment.

– Joseph Tomaras, Director of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance, August 31, 2017