As you know, the 2018 President’s Budget Request was submitted to Congress on Tuesday, May 23. I was in Washington last week meeting with the leadership of the Office of Science to understand the details of the budget request and the next steps in the budget process. This week the leaders of the DOE program offices will be engaged in more detailed discussions about research programs with Associate Lab Directors and Division Directors both at Berkeley Lab and at the other national laboratories.
The Department of Energy’s part of that budget request is described in the documents available here: https://energy.gov/cfo/downloads/fy-2018-budget-justification. In addition, organizations like the American Institute for Physics (AIP) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) publish reliable analyses of the budgets proposed for science agencies at every step in the budgetary process.
The AAAS has also written a useful tutorial for the federal budget process:
https://www.aaas.org/news/federal-budget-process-101. It says: “The President’s job is to issue the budget request, but only Congress can actually grant funding, known as appropriations. Fiscally speaking, the President starts the conversation, but Congress finishes it; or, in the old line, ‘The President proposes, the Congress disposes.’ Congress does this by passing the 12 appropriations bills necessary to fund the government each year. This process gets underway when the President delivers his or her budget in February.”
As always happens in the first year of a new Administration, the process is starting later this year. There are only 43 legislative days left before the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30. The next step in the process is up to the two relevant appropriations subcommittees, the Senate Energy and Water Development subcommittee (SEWD) and the House Energy and Water Development subcommittee (HEWD). The staff members of those committees have substantial experience with the programs in the Department of Energy that are funded by these bills. They request information throughout the year from the Department and the Laboratories about the details of the research projects and the impacts of the budgets they are responsible for preparing. All of the Laboratory Directors are following this Appropriations process closely, and we are responding as Congress requests information from us.
Each subcommittee will hold hearings in late June at which Secretary Perry will testify. Each subcommittee is expected to pass an appropriations bill that would be then acted on by the full chamber. In most years, the shape of the federal budget for the Department of Energy becomes much clearer after these bills are posted by the subcommittees. If the two bills are different, as they always are, they need to be reconciled and voted on again. Finally, the President has to sign the agreed-upon bill for it to become law.
As we know from recent history, if Congress cannot pass the appropriations bill on time, they can decide to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown. In fact, the last year that no CR was needed was 1997. A CR typically provides funding at the previous fiscal year’s funding level, unless a specific exception is directed by Congress.
The appropriations process will be moving at an accelerated pace this year. I will try to keep you up to date as it proceeds.