Washington and Social Science: Could ‘Regular Order’ in Funding Return?

May 4, 2018 1058

The House approved several financial services measures, the 21st Century IRS Act, the Taxpayer First Act, and the FAA Reauthorization Act. The House also voted on and failed to adopt a balanced budget Constitutional amendment. The Senate voted to confirm several nominations, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Congress Embarks on FY19 Appropriations Process: Back to “Regular Order”?

Shortly after clearing the fiscal year 2018 Omnibus last month, House and Senate members of the appropriations committees agreed that, given the brevity of the congressional calendar this year with upcoming elections, it was time to begin moving quickly on the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process. Unlike last year, House and Senate appropriations committees know their appropriations allocations, or ceilings, for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, thanks to the enactment of the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act.

Social Science news bulletinFor the time being, the House and Senate are committed to proceeding under “regular order” – in other words, marking up and considering individually each of the 12 annual appropriations bills (as opposed to bypassing the committee process and enacting an “omnibus” appropriations bill). On April 26, the House Appropriations Committee kicked off an aggressive mark-up schedule by approving at subcommittee level the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Legislative Branch appropriations bills. For the week of May 7, the full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark-up both of these bills, and will also consider at subcommittee level the FY19 Energy and Water Appropriations Act.

The House Appropriations Committee mark-up of the FY19 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations Act – the annual funding vehicle for the National Science Foundation (NSF) – has not yet been scheduled, but is likely to occur sometime later in May or early June. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet scheduled any mark-ups, but will likely begin later in May.

Social and behavioral science advocates will be watching very closely to see how the appropriations committees address the disparity in proposed cuts to the individual research directorates at NSF. In his fiscal year 2019 budget for the NSF, the president is proposing a 2 percent increase for the NSF’s “research and related activities” account. However, within that account, the president is also proposing an 11.2 percent cut for the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate. Typically, the appropriations committees do not include specific line-items for individual directorates, so it will be interesting to see how, or if, they will address specific proposed directorate cuts. 

Rescissions Would Have Severe Costs

By CRD Senior Vice President Matt Dennis

 If one were to design in a laboratory specific legislation intended to encumber stable governing and inhibit responsible, bipartisan legislating, it would be hard to develop one as noxious as a rescissions package clawing back budget authority appropriated in the recently enacted Omnibus Appropriations bill.

Such a gambit would pull the rug out from federal, state and local agencies, which are – quite reasonably – planning budgets based on the enacted law. How can any agency function with stability when it is whipsawed over the course of a year between budget cuts, two government shutdowns, a budget increase, and then the possibility of an unexpected reduction or elimination?

Even the introduction or debate about a rescissions package would force agencies to put on hold grants, contracts, hiring, capital investments, and other routine actions of a functional government. Whether Americans want a big government or small government, all Americans have an interest in an efficient government. Advancing a rescissions package would introduce new inefficiencies for purely political reasons.

This budget uncertainty at the federal, state and local level would also trickle down and have negative consequences for organizations that partner with government at all levels, as well as their employees and the populations they serve.

Corporations that depend on government contracts would be unable to hire and retain employees or invest in new services, equipment, or facilities while agencies’ budgets are on hold. Nonprofit organizations that rely on public grants to provide health care services, improve schools, and develop communities would be paralyzed, taking the hardest toll on those most in need of services.

Congress and the White House should be working to minimize uncertainty and support contractors and grantees, but advancing a rescissions package would do the exact opposite.

Beyond the substance, reneging on the Omnibus – which was enacted with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress and the president’s signature – would have severe political consequences as well.

Given the near certainty that a rescissions package would target non-defense discretionary investments important to Democrats, it would render bipartisan deals in the future impossible – not just on appropriations, but on anything.

For example, why would any party in the minority consider earnest, bipartisan work on a farm bill, surface transportation reauthorization, or telecommunications reform when evidence suggests that as soon as the bill is enacted into law, the majority might attempt to reverse the agreements already made by both parties in Congress and the White House.

Advancing a rescissions package would cause further postponement of the 2019 appropriations process, which is already significantly late as a result of the six-month delay in enacting the 2018 Omnibus.Such a delay increases the likelihood of long-term Continuing Resolutions and brinkmanship over unrelated issues.

Republican appropriators in the House and Senate are largely cool to the idea because they understand that your word is your bond. They also know that if Democrats win the majority in the House and/or Senate in the upcoming election, the actions they take today could have serious repercussions tomorrow.

The 2018 Omnibus provided reason for guarded optimism that Congress and the White House are still capable of enacting responsible, bipartisan legislation that improves Americans’ lives. Advancing a substantively harmful and politically damaging rescissions package would be a counterpoint showing that optimism may have been misplaced.

Matt Dennis is a former communications director for the minority staff of the House Committee on Appropriations

In the News…

Facebook is Planning on Turning its Data Over to Social Scientists. Should Users Trust the Project?” | Pacific Standard, April 13

“In a Big Data World, Scholars Need New Guidelines for Research” | Scientific American (blog), May 4

“A House Too Far: Two Scientists Abandon Their Bids for Congress” | By Jeff Mervis at Science, April 27

“Democrats Push For Internal Documents on 2020 Census Citizenship Question” | National Public Radio, April 24

Upcoming Hearings and Briefings


5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9

2043-2045 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Register here:



7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9

Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539, Independence Ave & New Jersey Ave 20515 Washington, D.C.

Panelists include Dr. Fay Cook, Director, NSF Social and Behavioral Sciences Directorate, RSVP:



Professor John Holdren, formerly director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to President Obama. Please join The AAPSS at The Willard InterContinental Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, for the 2018 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Lecture on Social Science and Public Policy from 4-5:30 p.m. on May 17.

Questions? Contact

Late Night Quotable

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Conan O’Brien, May 2

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Jimmy Fallon, April 30

“North Korea has announced plans to change time zones to line up with South Korea. Which means that North Koreans will have to set their clocks ahead — 100 years.”

Seth Meyers, April 30

“Today Americans celebrated national Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day. Tomorrow kids will celebrate New Appreciation for Going to School Day.”

Jimmy Fallon, April 26

“Scientists are predicting that in a few years we’ll be able to smell the TV shows we watch. This is good news for every single show except Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

Conan O’Brien, April 16

Mark Vieth is a senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Before that, Vieth was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as chief of staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania.

View all posts by Mark Vieth

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