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SPECIAL UPDATE: House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill, Senate Will Wait Until January

(Posted 12-11-03)

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

IN A NUTSHELL: The House of Representatives approved H.R. 2673, the Consolidated Appropriations bill for FY (Fiscal Year) 2004, on December 8th by a vote of 242-176. However, the Senate has declined to vote on the bill until January 20th, leaving the $328 billion bill in limbo. This legislation provides funding for the bulk of the federal departments and agencies, which are typically funded in seven different appropriations bills. This special update reports on spending levels for geoscience-related programs at the National Science Foundation, NASA, NOAA, EPA and the Departments of Education and Agriculture.


In what has become a familiar refrain, Congress was unable to complete its work on funding the government by the October 1st start of Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. And in what has become an equally familiar refrain, their inability to cooperatively settle outstanding issues on a bill-by-bill basis has led Congress to combine seven remaining spending bills into an "omnibus" appropriations bill. This consolidated bill was passed by a House-Senate conference committee on November 25th. There was enough controversy in the House to delay final passage until after the Thanksgiving holiday, but they passed the bill on December 8th, 242-176, after a day of debate.

The Senate is a different story. There are a myriad of reasons why the bill has yet to be approved by the Senate and funding set for next year. Most Democrats, and some Republicans, are furious about the number of projects and special grants for programs in individual member's districts. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI) told The Washington Post that the bill contains: "over 7,000 individual pieces of member pork," costing taxpayers $7.5 billion. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has also been outspoken about congressionally directed spending in the bill at the expense of funding base programs.

But despite this bluster, the only real disagreements about spending levels were in the education and health care accounts. Otherwise, the protracted wrangling is about legislative provisions, called "riders," that have been tacked on to the bill. These include the outsourcing of federal work, overtime pay and TV station ownership.

Unable to muster the votes to cut off debate and call a vote, Senate Majority Leader Frist opted to let Senators enjoy the holidays in their home states and resume legislative business on January 20th. In the interim, a Continuing Resolution (CR) will keep those departments and agencies without funding approved for next year humming along at FY 2003 levels until January 31st.

Information about departments, agencies and programs most important to geoscientists are below. Note that the figures cited below reflect lawmakers' intentions when they parceled out funding. Due to Congress' tardiness in passing the FY04 appropriations bills, nearly one-third of the new fiscal year has passed. The figures below are subject to a 0.59% across-the-board cut -- a figure likely to increase as final approval remains just beyond their grasp. Indeed some have suggested that the conference committee may have to reconvene and "tweak" the bill in a few places to garner enough Senate votes for passage in January. The truly pessimistic are looking toward a CR that would fund the remaining departments and agencies through September 30th, the end of FY 2004.

To see how your Representative voted on H.R. 2673, click on . Text of the bill and conference report is available at

National Science Foundation

The omnibus bill would provide NSF with a $5.6 billion budget in FY 2004, an increase of $268 million, or 5%, over FY 2003. In an apparent nod to the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 that sets a track for doubling the NSF budget in five years (an approximate budgetary increase of just under 15% per year), the conferees noted "very severe overall fiscal constraints" in their report language. The new increase contrasts with the 10.4% increase approved in the last budget cycle.

Under the conference agreement, Research and Related Activities will receive a 5.6% boost, translating to increases between 3.1% and 7.5% for each directorate. The report states: "The managers have given their highest priority to funding basic research within the research and related activities account. This account supports investigator-initiated grants within each of the core disciplines as well as critical cross-cutting research which brings together multiple disciplines. The conferees urge the Foundation in allocating the scarce resources provided in this bill and in preparing its fiscal 2005 budget request to be sensitive to maintaining the proper balance between the goal of stimulating interdisciplinary research and the need to maintain robust single issue research in the core disciplines."

The Geosciences Directorate is slated to receive a 4.1% increase to $719 million, in line with the House recommendation and a boost over the flat funding proposed in the administration's request and the Senate bill. The Office of Polar Programs will be funded at $345 million next year, 8.2% more than last year.

The conference agreement would allocate $155 million for Major Research Equipment and Facilities construction--slightly more than the Senate bill, but far less than the $192 million provided by the House. EarthScope, the geophysical instrument array designed to investigate the structure and dynamics of the North American continent, would receive $43.2 million for FY 2004, its second year of funding. This is slightly less than the administration's request but nearly equal to the House and Senate recommendations. The House bill included $12 million in initial funding for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) but the Senate bill omitted all funding for this initiative. The conference agreement follows the Senate recommendation and omits all funding for NEON "without prejudice," which implies that the project was not rejected due to merit concerns and may be funded in future years. According to the conference report, "The conferees direct NSF to consider the recommendations in the National Academy of Sciences report and continue to refine the NEON plan from funds provided under research and related activities." The House had also included $25 million to initiate ship construction for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) but due to the Senate's insistence on "no new starts," funding for IODP was abandoned in conference.

The conference report would provide $139 million for the NSF Math and Science Partnership program, which aims to strengthen K-12 math and science education by linking local schools with colleges and universities. Undergraduate education would receive $162 million, and graduate education would receive $156 million, which is sufficient to set NSF graduate stipends at $30,000 per year.

A table with NSF numbers and additional information on the NSF budget can be found at .

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The conferees provided NASA with $15.5 billion, $200 million more than last year, to meet the president's request. That increase led to additional funding for the Science, Aeronautics and Exploration programs, which include the Office of Space Science and the Office of Earth Science. The overall account will receive $7.93 billion next year, a 6.6% increase over FY03 funding, but no specifics were given for the individual offices. The amount provided by the conferees for FY 2004 is meant to keep the program running, assist NASA in addressing problems brought about by the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia and to serve as a placeholder until President Bush unveils a new space strategy early next year.

Report language of potential interest to graduate students and faculty is: "The conferees are in agreement with the House direction for NASA to evaluate the level of stipends for its Graduate Student Research Program and the Earth System Science Fellowships as well as the House direction for an evaluation on the merits of expanding its use of graduate fellowships."

The report also encouraged NASA to speed up development of a next-generation Landsat satellite given the technical difficulties currently faced by Landsat 7: "The conferees are aware that technical problems affecting the Landsat 7 satellite threaten the nation's ability to continue providing land remote sensing data.... To ensure that the U.S. Government does not experience a loss of remote land sensing capabilities which would jeopardize the nation's domestic, foreign policy and national security interests, the conferees instruct NASA to immediately begin developing a successor to the Landsat 7 system...[and] instruct NASA, working in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey, to develop a successor system that may be implemented in the near term based on the remaining options cited in the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act."

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) commented: "The bill also takes an appropriately measured approach with NASA, providing some increased funding, emphasizing safety, recognizing the need to fund the full range of NASA programs, and moving ahead cautiously with new program requests." He went on to praise the conferees saying, "like the Science Committee, the Appropriations Committee is emphasizing the need to comply fully with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's recommendations."

Additional information on the NASA budget can be found at .

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

EPA will receive $8.4 billion next year, a $220 million increase over the Senate's mark, a $390 million boost from the House's bill and nearly $770 million beyond Bush's budget request. This increase benefited programs across the board. The Science and Technology account will be funded above either the House or Senate recommendations of $767 million and $716 million, respectively. Instead, it will garner $786 million, a 9.8% increase over last year. Environmental Programs and Management will receive a $200 million increase over last year's funding and $80 million more than the president requested. the Leaking Underground Storage Trust Fund will receive $76 million, a $3 million boost over FY 2003 levels and more than either the House or Senate recommended.

Hazardous Substances Superfund will receive a $5 million increase over last year, despite the administration's request for a $130 million boost. Looking for a way to trim costs of this program, the conferees directed the "EPA IG [Inspector General] to conduct an evaluation of Superfund expenditures at headquarters and the regions and recommend options for increasing resources directed to extramural cleanup while minimizing administrative costs. The conference agreement does not include a provision, as proposed by the Senate, to require EPA to allocate a specific percentage of its superfund budget to site remedy construction and long-term response activities. However, the conferees expect EPA to direct the maximum possible resources to these activities, and look forward to reviewing the IG's recommendations for increasing funding for these critical activities within available resources."

State and Tribal Assistance Grants were ramped up to $3.9 billion for FY 2004, a 1.7% increase over last year. Even though there was a slight increase, the Clean Water State Revolving Funds within that account were cut by $150 million. But that was good news for an account that the administration requested be cut by $500 million. Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds will be flat-funded at $850 million and the Brownfields program was cut by $74 million from last year's level, bringing total funding for that program down to $93 million.

More on the EPA budget at .

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

In the report accompanying the bill, the Conference Committee detailed final spending parameters for NOAA in the coming year. Programs and projects that the House trimmed from NOAA's budget were restored, and NOAA received $3.7 billion, a $400 million increase over the President's request and $530 million more than last year. The National Weather Service was granted a 5% increase to $730 million, slightly less than the Administration's request, for better weather forecasting. The National Ocean Service received a 16% increase over last year, which is a 24% increase over the President's request and nearly 30% more than the House had proposed. Despite the Senate's harsh words for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the program also received an increase to $401 million, $29 million more than last year and $75 million more than the administration requested.

More on the NOAA budget at .

Department of Education

The omnibus bill would provide the Department of Education with a $2.9 billion increase, bringing it to a total of $56 billion. With more money to go around, the conferees agreed to the funding level proposed by the House for the Math and Science Partnerships of $150 million for next year. The appropriators noted in their press release that they would like to see that increase translate to additional teachers trained in the fields of math and science.

More on the Department of Education budget at .

Department of Agriculture

While the Conference Committee reduced the total budget for the Department of Agriculture by 5.2%, cuts did not extend to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). NRCS funding for FY 2004 will rise to $853 million, $33 million more than last year and $149 million more than the administration requested. Within the NRCS, the Watershed Surveys and Planning account will receive $10.5 million, splitting the difference between House and Senate recommendations but vastly more than the $5 million requested by the President. In an unexpected move, the Committee appropriated $119 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service and Rural Development mission areas for information technology, systems, and services to acquire a Common Computing Environment. The Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Account, on the other hand, was cut by $22 million from last year. The $87 million it will receive is still far more than the President's proposed $40 million. The ARS will receive $1.09 billion, almost a 5% increase over last year's funding despite the administration's request for a $48 million cut.

More on the Department of Agriculture budget at .

Update prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: House Appropriations Committee, House Science Committee, Library of Congress THOMAS web site, Senate Appropriations Committee, The Washington Post.

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

Posted December 11, 2003