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Many Science Agencies Cut in Final FY24 Budget

MAR 05, 2024
Most non-defense science agencies will see cuts or flat budgets under the fiscal year 2024 appropriations that Congress is finalizing.
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of FYI
U.S. Capitol at night shot

The U.S. Capitol at night.

(Architect of the Capitol)

Many science agencies will see topline budget cuts under the final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2024, with some parts of the Department of Energy a notable exception to the trend. Since Congress agreed to hold the federal government’s overall discretionary budget to about the same level as last fiscal year, science programs often lost out to other priorities in a mostly zero-sum budget.

Over the weekend, Congress posted six of the 12 appropriations bills that together fund the federal government, as well as reports that detail spending allocations for agency programs. Among them, the Energy-Water report covers DOE, the Interior-Environment report covers the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Commerce-Justice-Science report covers the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA.

Congress anticipates passing the legislation in the coming days and releasing the remaining bills later this month. Details on program-level spending outcomes are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

fy24-final-approps-overview.png

Chart of FY24 appropriations.

Assuming the legislation is enacted, NSF’s budget will drop about 8% to just over $9 billion, partially undoing the 12% boost the agency received in the previous budget cycle. That increase relied on a special supplemental appropriation that Congress did not sustain this year. If the supplement is not counted, NSF’s budget for fiscal year 2024 will be 2.5% higher than its base budget for the previous year.

Congress framed the supplement as a down payment on the vision of the CHIPS and Science Act, which sets ambitious budget targets for NSF, NIST, and the DOE Office of Science. So far, Congress has not come close to these targets, which will be very difficult to achieve in the current tight budget environment without further supplemental appropriations.

This year’s appropriation does increase NSF’s construction budget by 25%, a portion of which will go toward launching a supercomputer acquisition project, though the total is well below the requested amount.

The DOE Office of Science budget will increase about 2% to $8.24 billion, within which its Isotope R&D and Production program will jump nearly 20%. The Biden administration’s hope for a budget surge for the Fusion Energy Sciences program was not realized, with the final legislation only providing a 3.5% increase, similar in size to the increase provided for the High Energy Physics and Basic Energy Sciences programs. The legislation does, however, boost the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Inertial Confinement Fusion budget by 10%, reversing the requested cut.

Some DOE science programs are still in line for flat budgets or cuts. The Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program will drop 5%, though an analogous program in NNSA will increase 5%. The Nuclear Physics program and the Biological and Environmental Research programs are held about flat.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will drop about 6% to $7.33 billion, with the cut falling entirely on the Planetary Science Division, which will drop 15% to $2.72 billion. The cut is driven by concerns over the rising cost of the Mars Sample Return mission, which the Senate had proposed potentially canceling.

The legislation defers decisions about the mission’s future, anticipating the results of an internal NASA review, while directing NASA to spend at least $300 million on the mission and up to the president’s requested level of $949 million. However, the reduced Planetary Science topline will likely force the budget toward the lower end of that range, consistent with a recent, NASA-ordered slowdown of work on the mission. The directorate’s Heliophysics, Earth Science, and Astrophysics Divisions will all have flat or nearly flat budgets.

NIST’s base budget will drop 8% to $1.16 billion. This figure excludes about $300 million in earmarks for research and construction projects external to NIST. Since Congress resumed earmarks in 2021, it has used NIST’s budget as the vehicle for funding many of those related to science. Meanwhile, the legislation will cut NIST’s budget for construction and facilities repair by a third, even though the agency faces a huge backlog of infrastructure modernization projects and made that work a top priority in its budget request.

Among agencies focused on environmental research, USGS is cut about 3% to $1.46 billion and NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research is cut about 5% to $726 million.

Congress has yet to release final appropriations legislation for the Department of Defense or the National Institutes of Health, the largest non-defense science agency.

This news brief originally appeared in FYI’s newsletter for the week of March 4.

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