I am writing to give you the latest update on the federal budget process, following up on my May 31 column. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved separate versions of the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill that funds the Department of Energy. This weekly update, https://www.aip.org/fyi/fyi-this-week/week-july-24, includes charts for the Presidential Budget Request, the House bill, and the Senate bill. The House version of the FY 18 appropriations bill would fund the Office of Science at FY 17 levels, while the Senate version would increase funding by 3%. (The American Institute of Physics maintains a handy tracker to the federal science budget, https://www.aip.org/fyi/federal-science-budget-tracker, which helps you follow the budget process for all science agencies.)
On Thursday, the House passed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill as part of a “minibus” legislative package that includes the funding bills for Defense, Military Construction and Legislative Operations. It remains unclear, however, how and when Congress will move to reconcile their two versions of the spending legislation. If they do not pass the appropriations bill on time, as usually happens, they can decide to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown. During such a temporary CR, most programs would be funded on the lower of the two approved appropriations bills. The CR also would typically include a list of “anomalies” giving funding details for individual projects that could not be kept on track with the formulaic approach.
What does all of this mean for our Laboratory? In broad summary, the total funding to the Lab next year will probably be close to what it is this year. A few specific projects and programs will see significant decreases, and for the most part we now know which ones. Making great research advances in this complex funding environment will require effective management as well as world-class science. But the general outlook for the Laboratory is significantly more positive than it appeared earlier in the year.
I was in Washington last week for meetings of the National Laboratory Directors’ Council and for discussions with members of Congress about the national laboratories and their role in the federal research enterprise. We continue to follow the FY 18 budget process closely, and I will report back when I know more.