U.S. Science Funding Bill Advances – With Raft of Restrictions

A seated Hal Rogers, his hands spread apart, speaks during hearing
A screen capture of Hal Rogers, chair of the House Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, during the recent mark-up of the CJS bill.

Partisan touchstones like critical race theory and environmental, social, and governance investments are among the issues encrusting the funding bill for American science currently making the rounds on Capitol Hill. A long list of restrictions on where money cannot be spent accompanies the House of Representatives’ Commerce, Justice and Science, or CJS, appropriations bill for the 2024 fiscal year.

The CJS bill, as the name suggests, funds a plethora of federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, which in turn is the largest funder of academic social science research in the United States. The fiscal year 2024 bill calls for spending $9.6 billion on the NSF, with $7.6 billion of that going to research grants and the overhead to administer those grants. That’s an increase of $91 million overall for the agency, with research funding itself bumped up by $252 million, over the base amount appropriated in the previous fiscal year.

However, it is not more than what was allocated last year when additional legislation, like the so-called CHIPS Act, is counted in. That act, which intends to increase America’s technology and research abilities, increased the overall NSF budget by about $300 million in the current fiscal year, and saw an extra $212 million of that increase going to research.

According to the U.S. Constitution, spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives. Those bills originate in the Appropriations Committee and must eventually be approved by the full House. The Senate is preparing its own version of a CJS bill and the final versions of the House and Senate bills must be reconciled before being sent to the president to sign into law.

The president also submits a budget proposal – Joe Biden’s was released in March – which while generally aspirational still signals the goals of the executive branch. Biden requested $11.3 billion for NSF. Even that pie-in-the-sky request is less than what advocates for the agency would like. The Coalition for National Science Funding at one time called for $11.9 billion (they now seek $9.8 billion) and the CHIPS Act authorizes – but does not appropriate – spending as much as $15.7 billion.

The CJS bill at this point has been ‘marked up’ by the CJS subcommittee of the larger Appropriations Committee. That occurred on July 14, and during the proceedings, the chair of the subcommittee, Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers, specifically cited NSF as meriting more money. “This bill,” he said, “prioritizes the Drug Enforcement Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and National Science Foundation, while freezing, reducing, or eliminating funding for non-essential activities.”

“Scaling back” was a key motif throughout the mark-up of the “austere” bill, with much of the rhetoric reflecting a letter drafted by 21 members of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus where they said they would reject any spending that exceeded FY2022 levels. With the Republicans holding a five-vote majority in the House, a loss of 21 votes would scuttle the bill. Unless, of course, it gained support from the chamber’s Democrats. That’s unlikely – especially given the partisan restrictions noted above.

The Senate version of the CJS bill — while reflecting a chamber even more narrowly held by the Democratic party, and hence likely to align with President Biden — calls for spending a tad less on NSF: $9.5 billion overall and $7.6 billion on research activities.

As COSSA explains:

The bill is written in-line with the FY 2024 budget caps that were agreed to earlier in the summer. As part of that agreement, total discretionary spending is capped at $1.59 trillion in FY 2024, a cut of about 9 percent below FY 2023. The share allocated to the CJS bill is $71.7 billion, which is 14.4 percent below the total CJS bill in FY 2023. As a result—and as expected—this cap has resulted in near-flat funding and even cuts to science agencies across the Senate bill.

Nonetheless, despite the flatness and despite not arising in the House, COSSA suggests this is the proposed spending plan that social and behavioral science partisans to watch. “While disappointing, especially when compared to the amounts requested by the Biden Administration earlier this year, the Senate CJS marks are likely the ‘“’best case scenario’”’ when it comes to science funding in FY 2024.” (We recommend the full six-page COSSA analysis of the Senate CJS bill for impacts on the NSF and other social science agencies such as the Census Bureau, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Justice, and Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

Once the House bill and the Senate bill are each approved, two versions will have to be reconciled. “There is a nearly $11 billion difference between the House and Senate allocations for the CJS bill,” an analysis from the Consortium of Social Science Associations reads, “signaling tough negotiations between the two chambers. At this stage, the endgame remains unclear between the two chambers.”

The culture war restrictions are likely to be among the main sticking points. Among the more science-related restrictions listed in the House act’s ‘general provisions’ on where the act’s money can be spent are:

  • Restrictions on using appropriated funds to support presidential executive orders restricting the use of privately operated detention facilities or aimed at studying gun violence, outlawing silencers or enforcing any regulation adopted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives since the end of the Trump Administration. It also would restrict spending any money on gun buybacks or support of ‘red flag’ laws.
  • Prohibiting spending money to implement the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s memorandum from August on open access to federally funded research.
  • Prohibiting spending money to support offices or programs within the covered federal agencies that address diversity, equity, and inclusion, ensuring that no grant money is spent on “any individual or organization that educates or otherwise trains or informs Federal employees about diversity, equity, inclusion, critical race theory, implicit bias, unconscious bias, or culturally relevant teaching.”
  • Prohibiting spending money to valuing the economic value of natural places.
  • Prohibiting spending money to promote or contribute to environmental, social, and corporate governance investments.
  • Prohibiting the NSF from funding the U.S. Global Change Research Program or Clean Energy Technology Program.

How Can I Affect Budgeting?

The Consortium of Social Science Associations, or COSSA, offers an easy way for American researchers to contact their federal legislators and encourage them to well fund research-oriented activities. COSSA’s ‘Take Action’ page provides a way to send a message to the researchers’ senators and congressperson with a message that begins:

As a constituent who feels strongly about the contributions that social science research makes to the lives of all Americans, I am writing to ask that you protect funding in FY 2024 for federal agencies that support this critical work, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Census Bureau, the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Institute of Justice.

To access the tool, click below:

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