Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE


USGS Fortunes Improve in Senate; NSF, NASA Funding Bill Passes House

(6-27-00)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

IN A NUTSHELL: Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2001 Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 4578). The full House of Representatives had previously passed the bill on June 16th. Senate appropriators provided the U.S. Geological Survey with $847.6 million, a 4.2% increase over FY 2000 levels. The Senate number is $31 million more than the House but still $48 million less than the president's request. On June 21st, the House passed H.R. 4635, the FY 2001 VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA -- numbers for geoscience programs in those agencies were unchanged from the original bill. Action on those and other appropriations bills will now move to the Senate after the July 4th recess. This special update reports on the current status of appropriations for these agencies as well as DOE and NOAA.

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President Clinton announced yesterday that the 10-year projection of the federal budget surplus is up by $1 trillion over the last forecast made just four months ago. With this news that the federal debt could be a thing of the past, Clinton proposed loosening the budget caps that have kept Congress from providing the spending increases requested in his fiscal year (FY) 2001 budget. But a strong negative reaction from Capitol Hill suggests that the surplus projections will not have an effect on appropriation levels any time soon, and that spells trouble for science funding. The House recently passed bills that do not come close to the increases requested by the president for geoscience-related agencies. Although numbers are up somewhat in the Senate, they are still well below the requested levels. More complete information is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2001.html. An up-to-date list of all appropriations bills is available from the Library of Congress at http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/legislative/appover.html.

U.S. Geological Survey

On June 16th, the House passed H.R. 4578, the FY 2001 Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, by a 204-172 vote. As reported in an earlier alert, the House bill provides $816.7 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, a 0.4% increase over FY 2000 and far short of the 10% increase requested by President Clinton.

The Senate Appropriations Committee began consideration of the Interior bill last week, passing its version of the bill (using the House number, H.R. 4578) on June 22nd. The committee also released explanatory report language (S. Rpt. 106-312) at the same time. Senate appropriators had a larger overall allocation for the bill than their House counterparts, allowing them to provide higher funding levels for the U.S. Geological Survey -- $847.6 million compared to $816.7 in the House bill. The Senate level still falls well short of the president’s requested $895.4 million. The USGS received $813.4 million in FY 2000.

Like the House bill, the Senate bill for the most part ignores administration initiatives in favor of restoring funds to existing programs and recommending several specific projects. As in the House, the exception is partial support for administration-requested increases to improve real-time hazard monitoring capabilities for earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods.

Unlike the House version, the Senate bill would provide across-the-board increases for uncontrollable costs (such as cost-of-living salary increases). For the Geologic Division, the Senate bill would provide $218.5 million, up $7.3 million over FY 2000 but $6.3 million below the request. Within that amount, the Senate bill provides a $2 million increase for upgrading seismic networks, $0.5 million for volcano hazards work, and $0.5 million for geologic mapping projects related to groundwater studies. The Senate bill also restored funding cuts proposed in the president’s budget to the Energy Resources program ($2.5 million) and the Minerals Resources program ($3.2 million). The report specifies several projects to be funded, including coastal erosion studies in South Carolina and numerous projects in Alaska.

The Senate version of H.R. 4578 provides $196.7 million for the Water Resources Division, up $10.8 million above FY 2000 and $0.9 million below the president’s request. The bill provides increases of $3.1 million for upgrading the streamgage network and $2 million to accelerate the groundwater studies program. Specified projects include work in Lake Champlain, Lake Mead, Hawaii, and Alaska. The bill would restore funding for several programs cut in the president’s request: toxic substances hydrology program ($1.7 million), hydrologic research and development ($2.5 million), and hydrologic networks and analysis ($2.2 million).

The Biological Resources Division would receive $147.8 million, up $10.9 million over FY 2000 and up $7.4 million over House levels but $11 million below the request.

Similar to the House report, the most interesting Senate report language has to do with the National Mapping Division (NMD), which would receive $126.7 million, the same as FY 2000 and a whopping $28.6 million below the request. (The House had cut an additional $4 million from NMD's budget.) Both reports criticize the division's handling of contracts and redirection of funds to programs not specified by Congress. The Senate report states: "The Committee is deeply disturbed by events that have transpired over the past year within the Mapping Program. Mapping Program staff redirected substantial sums of money to activities, which were unauthorized and for which dollars were not appropriated, without the Committee's knowledge or consent....The Committee will not tolerate the continued failure of the Mapping Program to operate in a responsible and accountable manner...." The Senate report also expresses dismay that "complaints continue to be heard regarding the Survey's perceived competition with the private sector. Most recent complaints have focused on the assumption by USGS of Landsat 7 activities at the EROS Data Center, but each year has brought a flurry of similar complaints regarding related issues. The Committee is frustrated that USGS has not made further inroads in this area and insists that it address these problems directly...."

For more on the Interior bill, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/approps_interior2001.html.

DOE Fossil Energy R&D

The Interior bill also funds the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy R&D program, which would receive $401.3 million, an increase of $25.7 million above the president's request and $7.9 million above FY 2000. The Senate Appropriations Committee provided $51.5 million for the petroleum R&D account, where most upstream research is funded. This level is down $5.7 million from FY 2000 and $1 million below the president's request. The committee provided $26.4 million for exploration and production supporting research (up $5.6 million from the president's request), $14.7 million for reservoir life extension/management (up $3.6 million), $10.8 million for effective environmental protection (up $0.1 million), $2.6 million for emerging processing technology applications (unfunded in request), and $9 million for ultra clean fuels (down $1 million). These increases are offset by a $12 million "transfer of unobligated balances from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve petroleum account." The committee provided $39.8 million for natural gas research, up $8.2 million over FY 2000. The increase includes an additional $3 million for gas hydrate research.

National Science Foundation

Five days after voting on the Interior bill, the House passed H.R. 4635, the FY 2001 VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act by a 256-169 vote. Levels for geoscience programs in NSF stayed the same as in the original bill, but the Office of Polar Programs lost $18 million to Housing and Urban Development programs for the homeless due to an amendment from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which passed by voice vote on the last day of floor debate. The Geosciences Directorate is funded at $523.8 million, down $59.2 million from the request. As reported in the May review, the Earthscope project in the Major Research Equipment account was not funded. More information on geoscience funding in the VA/HUD bill is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/approps_vahud2001.html.

NASA

The VA/HUD bill also provides $13.7 billion for NASA, a decrease of $321.7 million below the President’s budget request.  The Science, Aeronautics and Technology sector – research and development activities in space science, life and microgravity science, earth sciences, aero-space technology, advanced concepts and technology, space operations, and academic programs – received $5.6 billion, a decrease from the $5.9 billion requested.   Within this sector, the Earth Science Enterprise had requested $1.4 billion and is marked to receive the full request amount.

DOE Office of Science

On June 20th, the House Appropriations Committee passed H.R. 4733, the FY 2001 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, which includes the majority of funding for the Department of Energy (DOE).  The committee report (H. Rept. 106-693) funds the science function of DOE at $2.8 billion, a decrease from the $3.2 billion request.  Within that function is the Office of Basic Energy Science (BES), which requested a total of $1.0 billion for research in materials sciences, engineering, chemical sciences, geosciences and biosciences. The committee provided only $791.0 million. According to the report, the committee was restricted in their allocations and authorized BES to “reallocate funding among all the operating accounts in basic energy science.”  Because of the relatively small allowance for geoscience research within the BES budget, the reprogramming of funds will have a greater effect on the division.  The bill should be debated on the House floor shortly after Congress returns from the July 4th recess.

NOAA

On June 26th, the House passed the FY 20001 Commerce, Justice, and State and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 4690, by a 214-195 vote.  Within the Department of Commerce, NOAA requested $2.9 billion and received $2.2 billion from the House.  The Oceanic & Atmospheric Research program had requested $302.5 million and was awarded $264.6 million, which includes $46. 2 million for atmospheric research, $117.3 million in climate and air quality research, and $88.1 million for oceans and Great Lakes program.  The National Weather Service had requested $634.9 million and received $621.7 million from the House.  Now that H.R. 4690 has passed the House, the Senate will begin working on the bill after its returns from the July 4th recess.

Next Steps

The Interior bill is now cleared for Senate floor consideration after which it would be taken up by a House-Senate conference committee. In recent years, the Interior bill has been one of the last to pass Congress, usually well after the October 1 start of the new fiscal year and usually in a package with several other appropriations bills. The urgency of election-year campaigning is likely to speed the process up a bit.

The Senate is not expected to take up the VA/HUD bill until late July. The Senate allocation for this bill is particularly low as the Senate Appropriations Committee has shifted funding to other bills. It is expected, therefore, that the initial numbers for NSF and NASA will be quite low, but it is also likely that the continued good news on the federal budget surplus will encourage the release of additional funds for these programs in the closing rounds of the appropriations process late this summer and into the fall. Congress will be very eager to get home and campaign in the fall and is not likely to drag out negotiations with the Clinton Administration over these bills. Hence a late-season compromise is all but inevitable. Keep an eye out for future alerts, which will call on the geoscience community to tell their senators and representatives of the importance of federal investment in geoscience programs.


Sources: American Institute of Physics, E&E News, House and Senate Appropriations Committee, Library of Congress, USBudget.com

Special update prepared by David Applegate and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted June 27, 2000


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