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New Science Funding Numbers Likely on Hold Until Post-Election
August 16, 2016

By Paula Skedsvold, Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences
In partnership with (Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology)

Congress is in the midst of a seven-week recess. When Members of Congress return in September, they will need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to continue funding the government on October 1, 2016, the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017. No Member of Congress wants to risk a government shutdown in an election year, so the debate in September will center on how long the CR should run — until December 2016 or March 2017 — and who will be in charge of making those final funding decisions.

For federal science agencies, a CR puts on hold any new programs and final decisions about funding for the year. Indeed, some agencies such as NIH typically fund research programs below current levels until a final funding level is settled.

Although the funding bills for FY 2017 have not been completed, House and Senate appropriators have successfully moved many of the FY 2017 spending bills through their respective Committees. Assuming this initial work can be wrapped into a final “omnibus” spending bill after the elections, science agencies will be able to adjust the final numbers for research spending upon passage.

NIH Outlook

So where do things stand now? For the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Senate appropriators are once again showing favor to NIH-funded research. For the second year in a row, the Senate would provide a $2 billion increase to NIH in FY 2017 funding. On the House side, appropriators would increase NIH funding by $1.25 billion. If an omnibus bill can be negotiated in December 2016, it is likely that final NIH funding will land some place between these two figures, and perhaps closer to the $2 billion figure given widespread support for NIH on Capitol Hill.


It’s not all sunshine, though. The federal government is still operating within the ten-year budget and sequestration level caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011, with modest adjustments due to the successful lifting of sequestration cuts in two, two-year periods. This means, however, that increasing funds for one agency within a particular spending bill often means that other agencies or programs would take a hit. And indeed, the Senate bill that increases funding for NIH would mean cuts to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of $10 million and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of $5.5 million. On the House side, the cuts are even deeper. AHRQ would receive $54 million less in FY 2017 than the current year, and IES would be cut by $82 million. The Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) will join its colleagues in health and education sciences to urge Congress to restore funding for these agencies in a final funding bill.

NSF Projections

For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the news is not quite as optimistic as the outlook for NIH. The Senate Appropriations Committee would provide an increase of $46.3 million to the agency in FY 2017, but the Research account (which funds six of seven research directorates, including the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate), as well as the Education and Human Resources account, are flat-funded. House appropriators, on the other hand, would increase the NSF Research account by $45.7 million, but cut overall funding for the agency by $57 million, primarily in the facilities line. Of particular importance to the social and behavioral sciences community, there is no language in the House or Senate bills or accompanying report language that would cut funding for the NSF SBE Directorate. Last year’s House bill would have cut the SBE and Geosciences Directorates by 16%, but advocacy by FABBS, other social and behavioral science organizations, and the broader science community restored funding to current levels.

Prior to Congress reconvening, FABBS will be working alone and in collaboration with the broader science community to encourage passage of a short-term CR in September; an omnibus spending bill in December that will provide stability for funding research in FY 2017; and restoration of funds for agencies that were cut in the appropriations bills. We will keep our member scientific societies abreast of new developments.