Federal Science Budget Tracker – Methodology

Our Budget Tracker assembles data on funding provided through the annual discretionary appropriations process. Figures generally do not include mandatory or supplemental appropriations, except where noted.

Budget figures for agency programs and projects are extracted from budget request documents, appropriations legislation, and explanatory reports that accompany the legislation. If the report does not specify a figure for a program, the corresponding table cell is left blank.

Dollar figures are generally rounded to the nearest million. All percent changes are calculated relative to the prior fiscal year’s appropriation level.

The sections below describe how the appropriations process unfolds in a typical fiscal year. The federal government’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 of the following year.


President submits budget request to Congress

The annual budget process begins with the president submitting a request to Congress outlining spending proposals across all federal agencies. Each agency releases companion budget justifications that describe their programs and proposed initiatives in detail.

The president is required by law to submit the request by the first Monday in February, though it is often delayed, especially during the first year of a new administration.

FYI provides in-depth analyses of the budget process for eight agencies:

  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Defense
  • National Science Foundation
  • National Aeronautical and Space Administration
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • U.S. Geological Survey


House and Senate negotiate spending limits

The congressional appropriations process formally begins with the House and Senate Budget Committees drafting resolutions that propose overall spending limits for the upcoming fiscal year. Congress is supposed to pass a budget resolution by April 15, though it frequently moves forward without one and does not agree on spending limits until much later in the year.

In the meantime, various committees hold public hearings to discuss the president’s budget request with agency officials.

Appropriations committees develop spending proposals

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees begin drafting spending legislation in the spring. Each chamber’s committee has 12 mirror-image subcommittees that are responsible for allocating funds for a specific set of agencies.

House and Senate vote on bills and resolve differences

The subcommittees submit draft appropriations bills to their full committees for review. The bills are accompanied by committee reports that provide more detailed budget proposals and policy guidance for agencies.

FYI tracks proposals from the five appropriations subcommittees in each chamber that are responsible for most federal R&D spending:

  • Energy and Water Development
  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
  • Defense
  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

The full appropriations committees then amend the bills and send them to the floor for further consideration. Both chambers attempt to pass their versions of the 12 bills, potentially with additional amendments.

October 1: Start of the fiscal year

Differences between the House and Senate bills are often resolved in behind-the-scenes negotiations, and their agreements are summarized in a final joint explanatory statement. Before Congress takes a final vote, the bills are often bundled into one or more spending packages, referred to as an “omnibus” bill.

If the process is not completed by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, as is often the case, Congress must pass a stopgap spending measure, called a continuing resolution, or CR, to avoid a government shutdown.