The week before he signed the omnibus bill, President Clinton signed the VA/HUD/Independent Agencies appropriations bill that funds the National Science Foundation, EPA, and NASA. It was the last free-standing appropriations bill to make it through the process. The bill was signed in a Rose Garden ceremony due mainly to the inclusion of a provision in the bill guaranteeing mothers a 48-hour hospital stay after childbirth.
Details on the omnibus package have been hard to come by owing to the sheer size of the bill, but the Republican leadership for the most part abandoned lower House-passed funding levels in favor of the Senate numbers or in some cases the President's original request. With Republican majorities on the line in the November elections, the leadership was eager to get out of town as soon as possible, but they also recognized the need to demonstrate that they can get the job done with the appropriations process. Stung by the negative public reaction Congress received after last year's government shutdown, Republicans were not eager for another showdown (and hence shutdown) with President Clinton. The omnibus package represents a victory for those who opposed a blanket continuing resolution that would have funded the government at last year's levels. Members of the Appropriations Committees, and particularly those who are retiring like Senate chair Mark Hatfield (R-OR), were particularly eager to pass appropriations bills that redirect funds to reflect current (as well as constituent) needs.
In June, House and Senate conferees finished work on the joint budget resolution that sets spending limits for each of the 13 appropriations bills as well as structural savings goals that must be enacted separately through the budget reconciliation process (which is still not completed for FY 1996). The March 1996 "Political Scene" column in Geotimes provides an expanded discussion of the federal budget process, and the May 1996 "Political Scene" column outlines the President's FY 1997 budget request for geoscience-related agencies.
The House passed all 13 appropriations bills before the August recess, including four bills that most directly affect the geosciences: Interior & Related Agencies, VA/HUD/Independent Agencies, Energy & Water, and Commerce/Justice/State/Related Agencies. Senate action began in earnest in July, and 8 bills had passed the Senate before the August recess with four of them also through the ensuing House-Senate conference. Four of the bills have been sent to the President and signed into law. Because many of the bills passed by the House were based on allocations from an earlier version of the budget resolution, they called for sharper cuts than required by the House-Senate compromise resolution. Senate appropriators thus have been able to spend more money, making it possible to arrange deals with the Administration in contentious areas.
The House passed its version of H.R. 3662, which includes the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy Fossil Energy R&D program, on June 20th. It was taken up by its Senate Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), on July 12th and passed by the full committee on July 16th. The original allocation from the House budget resolution called for cuts of $1.1 billion from the $12.5 billion level in the FY1996 bill. Anticipating additional funds from the compromise budget resolution, the bill added back $600 million but still cut $500 million from last year's levels. The Senate version contains $12.6 billion, roughly the same as last year's level. The Senate began debate on the bill in mid-September. When the leadership was unable to kill an amendment to raise grazing fees on public lands introduced by Sen. Dale Bumpers (R-AR), they pulled the bill from further consideration thereby guaranteeing that it would be part of the omnibus package.
The Interior bill does not include the controversial legislative riders that were a key reason behind last year's veto. The bill does contain last year's Outer Continental Shelf moratorium on oil and gas activities and the moratorium on the issuing of new hard-rock mining patents, both of which are supported by the President. Although the controversial riders are not there, disagreements on spending levels, particularly for Native American programs, and continued disagreements about logging in Alaska's Tongass National Forest make this bill a likely candidate to be bundled together with several others in a continuing resolution.
The omnibus package funds the U.S. Geological Survey at $738.9 million. Under the House-passed version, the USGS would have received $730 million, the same as in FY 1996. The President had requested a $16 million increase over last year's levels. The Senate version provides $737 million, still short of the President's request. Half of the $4 million removed from the NEHRP external grants program has been restored. The USGS budget includes the former National Biological Service and the minerals information function of the former U.S. Bureau of Mines, agencies that were eliminated in the FY 1996 appropriations bill. The health and safety portion of the U.S. Bureau of Mines was initially sent to DOE in the FY 1996 process but for FY 1997 is being moved to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, where at $40 million it will become nearly half of that agency.
The Department of Energy programs covered in this bill -- Fossil Energy and Energy Conservation -- took a large share of the cuts from FY 1996 in the House version, but the Senate restored at least some of the support for these programs. The overall Fossil Energy R&D cuts were for the most part self-inflicted by the Administration, which requested $349 million, down from $417 million last year. The House bill as reported out of committee provided $359 million with large increases for fuel cell and advanced natural gas turbine research offset by deep cuts in the Oil Technology program. The bill funds this program, which includes support for AGI's National Geoscience Data Repository System (NGDRS), at $42.4 million -- down $10.1 million from the Administration request and $13.3 million below the FY 1996 level. On the House floor, Fossil Energy R&D took an additional (unspecified) cut of $4 million and was the target of four other (unsuccessful) amendments to further cut its budget.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version on July 16, providing an additional $5.6 million over the House allocation for the Oil Technology Exploration and Production Supporting Research account within which is the Reservoir Characterization sub-account containing the NGDRS funding. The House cut $8 million from the President's request of $34.0 million for the E&P Supporting Research account, including the $2 million cut to Reservoir Characterization. The Senate version provides $31.6 million for this account. The omnibus package funded the account midway between the House and Senate levels. AGI worked hard to retain NGDRS funds. A Congressional Action Alert, available on this server, provides additional information and encouraged geoscientists to express their support for the program to Congress.
This bill funds a number of geoscience-related agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, and EPA. Most of the agencies covered by this very broad bill would receive flat funding or slight increases over fiscal year 1996. The House Appropriations Committee passed a $64.2 billion bill in mid-June with little controversy. On the House floor, however, a variety of controversial amendments were offered, many of which passed. The committee-passed bill would have provided the National Science Foundation with a $33 million increase over its FY 1996 level of $3.22 billion. This figure is still $72 million below the President's request. On the floor, however, the House passed an amendment offered by Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ) that increased funding for veterans' programs by cutting 0.4% from all other accounts in the bill -- cutting NSF's funding by $13 million. Another successful amendment was introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Bob Walker (R-PA), shifting $9.1 million from the NSF Salaries and Related Expenses account to the Research and Related Activities account. The shift is intended to bring these accounts more in line with levels authorized by H.R. 3322, The Omnibus Civilian Science Authorization bill, sponsored by Walker. This bill, which passed the House earlier this year, is not expected to see any Senate action. Although the promise of additional research funds were supposed to placate the research community, many organizations -- AGI included -- have supported NSF officials who are very concerned that resulting staff cuts will affect the agency's ability to distribute research funds in an efficient manner.
The House would have funded EPA's Science and Technology account, which funds research at EPA labs, at $540 million, which is $15 million more than last year but $39 million less than the President's request. NASA's Mission to Planet Earth would receive $1.2 billion, a cut of $87 million below last year and $220 million below the President's request. VA/HUD Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA), however, gave assurances that the program's budget would be revised upward when the bill goes to conference with the Senate. Absent from the bill are the legislative riders restricting EPA regulatory activities that, along with large cuts to EPA and HUD, were a major cause of last year's Presidential veto.
As promised, the Senate appropriators provided additional funds for NSF, NASA, and EPA. The subcommittee and full committee markups took place on consecutive days, finishing up on July 11. The subcommittee provided NSF with an additional $30 million over the House level (up to $3,270 million) with increases going principally to research ($11 million), education ($9 million), and the salaries and expenses account ($9 million) reduced by Walker's amendment in the House. The full committee added an additional $5 million increase for the Education and Human Resources program. The account funding NASA's Mission to Planet Earth received a boost but is still $100 million short of the President's request. Cuts are unspecified, however, allowing NASA to determine where to make them. EPA's Science and Technology account received an additional $5 million over the House allocation.
The conference committee agreed to the Senate numbers for NSF, providing $3,270 million overall, $2,432 million for research and related activities, $619 million for education and human resources, and the salaries and expense account was fully funded at $134 million. The conference committee also agreed to the Senate numbers for NASA and provided EPA's Science and Technology account with $552 million, only $3 million below the President's request.
Versions of this bill were passed by both houses in late July, despite the fact that no action at all had taken place as late as the July 4th recess. The bill's House Appropriations subcommittee chair, Rep. John Myers (R-IN), was displeased with his funding allocation and for a long time refused to mark up the bill. The Senate subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), had nearly $1 billion more to spend then did the House, promising a difficult conference. This bill contains funding for most of the Department of Energy, including the DOE national laboratories, Yucca Mountain project, and the geosciences program within Basic Energy Sciences. It also funds water projects of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. At the House subcommittee markup, water projects received strong support as did funding for environmental cleanup of the DOE nuclear weapons production complex ($5.4 billion). By contrast, renewable energy programs were cut by 20 percent.
A problem emerged in the Senate version with the geosciences program in Basic Energy Sciences. Although this program received fairly flat funding in the committee-passed version, a colloquy between senators during floor action indicated their intent to shift $9 million from the account into the Advanced Computational Technology Initiative (ACTI). Although a portion of those funds were already being directed toward a similar computational geoscience initiative, the rest would come directly out of existing programs. Fortunately, the conference committee found $9 million in funds for ACTI in the defense programs account, and the geosciences research program was not cut. As a whole, Basic Energy Sciences received 99.4% of the President's request.
Another bill that was slow to move, H.R. 3816 passed the House on July 24 and is waiting for floor time in the Senate. NOAA and NIST within the Department of Commerce are the primary scientific agencies covered by this bill. Last year's bill was vetoed because of large cuts to technology programs and congressional efforts to redirect the President's crime package into block grants. Funding for the agencies was provided by continuing resolutions and eventually by the full-year omnibus appropriations bill passed in April. The House version of the bill contained a $80 million cut for NOAA below its FY 1996 level, providing $1.78 billion for the agency. The Administration's request was for $2.1 billion. Among the many cuts, the House bill would eliminate the Administration's GLOBE program -- Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment -- that involves schools in the collection of environmental data. In the Senate, where the agency enjoys more bipartisan support, the Appropriations Committee voted to fund the agency at roughly $2 billion, still less than the Administration request but $150 million more than the agency's FY 1996 budget. The Senate version provided increases over the House in all five major segments of NOAA: the National Ocean Service ($197.2 million vs. $182.6 million in the House version), the National Marine Fisheries Service ($316.2 million vs. $298 million), Oceanic and Atmospheric Research ($256.5 million vs. $231.8 million), the National Weather Service ($646.5 million vs. $633 million), and the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service ($466 million vs. $425.9 million).
The omnibus package provides $204.2 million for the National Ocean Service (up $28.9 million over FY96), $323.4 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service (up $41.8 million), $253.2 million for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (up $27.2 milion), $638 million for the National Weather Service (up $32 million), and $447.6 million for the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (down $23.9 million).
For the most recent updates on science and technology appropriations, visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Project site.
Sources: The American Institute of Physics FYI Bulletin, the EESI Bulletin, and the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Project
Last updated October 9, 1996 (minor modifications 1-14-97)