Washington and Social Science: Shutdown and OSTP Appointment


In December, Congress enacted a two-week continuing resolution to keep federal government agencies funded from December 7 through December 21. The House and Senate failed to enact appropriations legislation to fund several federal departments and agencies, and, as a result, the federal government experienced a partial government shutdown effective December 22. Congress also cleared the Agriculture and Nutrition Act (or Farm Bill) and a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill (the First Step Act), both of which were signed into law by the president. The Senate approved a joint resolution directing the removal of U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in Yemen. The Senate also confirmed the nominations of Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Dr. Steven Dillingham as director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The House and Senate failed to enact appropriations legislation to fund several federal departments and agencies, and, as a result, the federal government experienced a partial government shutdown effective December 22. The 115th Congress adjourned sine die on January 3.

115th Congress Adjourns Amid Government Shutdown

On January 3, the 115th Congress (2017-2018) came to a close, making way for the new 116th Congress (2019-2020). Unfortunately, despite a number of bipartisan achievements (criminal justice reform, opioid addiction legislation), this Congress will be remembered for what it failed to achieve: preventing a government shutdown.  Partisanship remained at an all-time high as Democrats in Congress and Republicans and the president continue to remain far apart on the issue of a wall across the U.S. border with Mexico Border Wall.

Social Science news bulletin

As a result, nine federal departments and numerous agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), are affected by the partial shutdown. Roughly 380,000 federal employees are subject to work furloughs, including most of the program managers and other employees at NSF. The shutdown does not affect most of the employees at the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, because their fiscal year 2019 budgets were approved and funded by Congress through September 30, 2019.

At NSF, “no new funding opportunities (Dear Colleague Letters, program descriptions, announcements or solicitations) will be issued during the shutdown… and no new grants or cooperative agreements will be awarded,” according to NSF’s website.

116th Congress Sworn-In, Attempts to End Shutdown

On January 3, the members of the 116th Congress were sworn into office to commence the first session of the new Congress. The new Congress also marks a change in power in the U.S. House of Representatives, with Democrats now in the majority, while Republicans retain the Majority in the U.S. Senate. The House elected Representative Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to serve as speaker, her second time leading the House since her first tenure as speaker from 2007-2011.

The 116th Congress includes 10 new senators and 101 new representatives. The party breakdown in the new House of Representatives is 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans, with one congressional race in North Carolina still unresolved. In the Senate, there are now 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a total that includes two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

In the House, one of the first items on the agenda is approving the remaining appropriations bills and ending the partial government shutdown. On January 3, the House approved a “minibus” appropriations bill (H.R. 21) that is identical to a package approved by the Senate prior to the beginning of the shutdown on December 22. It includes the Senate-approved FY19 Commerce-Justice-Science, or CJS, bill that funds the NSF at $8.1 billion. The package includes no new funding for the border wall, and as a result the president indicated he would veto the package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he would not bring up the package for a vote in the Senate, and Congress and the president remain in a stalemate over how to resolve the shutdown.

Droegemeier and Dillingham Confirmed During Waning Hours of the 115th

On January 2, in the remaining hours of the 115th Congress, the Senate reconvened for a brief session before banging the gavel to usher in the new Congress the following day. In one of its last items of business, the Senate voted on a package of nominations that included the confirmation of Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier to serve as the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP. The former vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma was nominated by the president on July 31, 2018, and the position has been vacant since John Holdren, the OSTP director under President Obama, left the position in January, 2017.

The nomination package also included the confirmation of Dr. Steven Dillingham as director of the U.S. Census Bureau. Dr. Dillingham’s confirmation fills a position that has been vacant for over a year following John Thompson’s resignation as director. During his confirmation hearing in October, Dillingham avoided commenting on the controversial decision last March by the administration to add a question about U.S. citizenship status to the 2020 census.

Science Funding Committees Begin Taking Shape

Over the next few weeks, Democratic and Republican leaders will be appointing members to various congressional committees, including the House and Senate Appropriations Committees; the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; and the Senate Committee on Science, Space and Transportation.

In the House, with the change of power from Republicans to Democrats, there will be new Democratic committee chairs on the appropriations and authorizing committees.  The House Committee on Appropriations is now chaired by Representative Nita Lowey, D- New York, with the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science now chaired by Representative Jose Serrano, D-New York.  Representative Kay Granger, R-Texas, will serve as the full committee’s ranking minority member (subcommittee ranking members have not yet been determined).

The Science, Space and Technology Committee will be chaired by former ranking member Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. With the retirement of Lamar Smith, Representative Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, will serve as the committee’s ranking member.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee remains largely unchanged, with senators Richard Shelby, R-Alabam, and Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, remaining as chair and ranking member, respectively. Senators Jerry Moran, R-Kansas and Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, remain as chair and ranking member, respectively, of the CJS subcommittee. 

However, with the election of Senator John Thune, R-South Dakota, to Republican Whip, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will have a new chair, Senator Roger Wicker, R-Massachusetts. With the defeat last November of Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, Maria Cantwell of Washington assumes the position of ranking member on the committee.

In the News…

“U.S. Senate confirms Kelvin Droegemeier to lead White House science office” | Science (Jeff Mervis), January 3

“Congress just got a bumper-crop of scientists. Meet the 11 new science whizzes on Capitol Hill” | Business Insider, January 3

“What will it take to end the shutdown? Watch these three things” | Washington Post (Monkey Cage), January 7

“’A Christmas Carol’ Offers Critique Of What Was Then A New Social Science: Economics” | National Public Radio, December 25, 2018

Late Night Humor

Stephen Colbert: “Tonight I am excited to announce that after a 17-day shutdown, I am reopening The Late Show. I held my ground, because I kept my promise and built a wall — of mashed potatoes, around my midsection, over the Christmas holidays.”

Jimmy Fallon: “It just came out that they were letting companies like Netflix read your private Facebook messages. Which explains why Netflix doesn’t just ask, ‘Are you still watching?’ It also asks, ‘Are you and Stacey going to work things out?’”

Jimmy Kimmel: “Amazon should not be wrapping presents in the same packaging El Chapo used to send the heads of his enemies to the local police.”


Mark Vieth

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.

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