Shortly before Christmas, the US Congress extended a continuing resolution that freezes spending at 2017 levels until the 19th of January. The move bought Congress time to decide on final numbers for the 2018 fiscal year, but in doing so, postponed much awaited budget increases for several science and research agencies, writes Jeffrey Mervis in Science.
In September, a $2 billion increase for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) was approved by a Senate spending panel, almost twice the size of an earlier budget boost approved by the House of Representatives. But now, NIH researchers will be forced to wait until January for any budget increases beyond 2017 spending levels. And the problem goes beyond just a delay. It also means continued uncertainty for researchers, since Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year suggested cuts to the NIH totaling $8 billion, equivalent to 22 percent of the total budget for the agency. Legislators in both parties have said they would block this legislation, but the matter remains unsettled until a budget passes.
The National Science Foundation is also facing the prospect of funding cuts. Trump proposed cutting the NSF budget by $820 million dollars, equivalent to 11 percent of its current budget. Legislators have suggested smaller cuts, between $135 and $160 million. Yet NSF researchers also have reason for optimism. Portions of domestic and military spending increases, promoted by Democrats, could go towards NSF.
Again, the spending freeze leaves researchers unsure of how to proceed with the possibility of both cuts and increased funding.
The Office of Science of the Department of Energy is also hoping congress will reject large funding cuts proposed by Trump when a budget is finally adopted.
NASA’s budget will either remain the same, as proposed by the Trump administration, or enjoy increases, as suggested by the House of Representatives.
The Census bureau is waiting on funding boosts, requested by the Trump administration, to start gearing up for the 2020 census. Congress has expressed some reluctance towards the $187 million requested by the administration.
If legislators are unable to negotiate compromises to pass the budget, on hot button issues such as disaster relief funding and a plan to stabilize the health insurance market, these research agencies could be in for even further uncertainty and more time restricted to 2017 budget levels. In that case, the current freeze could be extended even further to avoid a government shutdown.