Hurricane Harvey hit Houston two weeks ago, bringing not only death but also dislocation and property destruction to many families. Sadly, Irma appears to be taking a similar toll on Florida and the Caribbean islands. Among the many lasting effects of these extreme storms will be the extraordinary federal appropriations that will be needed for emergency assistance to help people in the afflicted areas recover their lives.
Motivated by the immediate need to start providing this emergency assistance, the Congress and the President agreed last week to pass legislation that temporarily raises the nation’s debt limit, provides emergency funding to deal with Harvey’s destruction, and keeps the federal government funded at FY17 levels through December 8 under a Continuing Resolution. While it came about as a result of these catastrophic storms, the passage of this legislation removes some of the immediate uncertainty for the nation and for Berkeley Lab.
Although the President and the Congress deferred voting on the FY18 budget until December 8, the Continuing Resolution provides much needed clarity as the Lab and the entire federal government transitions to a new fiscal year on October 1. Fortunately, even though passed very late in this fiscal year, the FY17 spending legislation, especially the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, provided the Department of Energy with solid funding levels. During the CR, FY17 funding levels will give DOE the flexibility needed to sustain most existing programs, experiments and projects.
The benefits of a CR may not be felt uniformly across the Lab, however. The DOE will have the authority under the CR to provide spending guidance at less than FY17 levels for its duration — with the option to spend at the lower of either the House or Senate versions of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bills (see comparative tables here). Because final dispensation of funding levels are unknown during a CR, programs are often wary to spend up to the highest levels allowed and will take a more conservative approach toward burn rate. Additionally, the CR enacts a slight rescission of 0.6791 percent across all agencies and programs.
Though the CR provides some breathing room, the Congress is continuing to work on moving appropriations bills forward. Hopefully they will conclude before the CR expires in early December. Until then, we will continue to monitor the situation closely, partner with our sponsors at DOE to ensure that programs here at the Lab are adequately funded, and work to minimize disruptions.