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How science fares in the U.S. budget deal

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By Science News StaffMay. 1, 2017 , 11:15 AM

Congress has finally reached a deal on spending bills for the 2017 fiscal year, which ends on 30 September. House and Senate leaders announced last night that they expect lawmakers to vote this week on an agreement that wraps together all 12 appropriations bills that fund federal operations. For the past 7 months, the government has been operating under a continuing resolution which froze 2017 spending at most agencies at 2016 levels and generally prevented them from starting new programs. The new deal allows agencies to operate normally within the constraints of the spending plans, assuming that President Donald Trump signs the legislation (as is expected). It also averts a shutdown of the government that would have occurred next weekend if Congress failed to act in time.

Overall, the deal staves off major cuts for federal science agencies that Trump had requested last month. A few, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NASA science programs, actually receive substantial increases.

Below, the Science News staff provides some details:

Defying Trump, Congress gives NIH $2 billion boost

Flouting the wishes of the Trump administration, Congress last night approved a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health for fiscal year 2017—the second year in a row that the agency has grown by that amount after more than a decade of stagnant budgets. The Trump administration had proposed cutting NIH’s budget by $1.2 billion this year, as part of a proposal to pay for defense spending increases by cutting domestic programs.

The 6.2% bump to $34 billion includes $352 million provided under the 21st Century Cures Act, a measure to boost biomedical innovation that became law in December. It  created a 10-year pot of money – to be used for specific initiatives at NIH – that has a mandated funding stream that is not subject to the annual appropriations process. The inclusion of the 21st Century Cures funds means NIH’s base budget is only growing by $1.6 billion.

All the same, advocates for biomedical research, who have been deeply worried by Trump’s budget plans for NIH, were thrilled. “It was worth the 7 month wait! We’re extremely grateful” to the leaders of the House and Senate committees that oversee NIH’s budget, says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. A bill approved last summer in the Senate would have boosted NIH by $2 billion and a House bill would have raised the agency’s budget by $1.25 billion.

The final omnibus bill, which funds NIH through September 30, raises Alzheimer’s disease research by $400 million to $1.4 billion. Research on antibiotic resistance goes up $50 million. The brain-mapping initiative called Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, launched by President Barack Obama, receives $120 million, including $10 million from the Cures act. Another $160 million in new funding goes to the Precision Medicine Initiative (including $40 million from Cures for its 1-million person cohort study). And $300 million from Cures tagged for the National Cancer Institute is expected to fund former Vice President Joe Biden’s moonshot initiative.

Biomedical research advocates are now girding for what could be a struggle over NIH’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. The Trump administration wants to slash NIH spending by 18%, or $5.8 billion, in large part by cutting overhead payments to universities. — Jocelyn Kaiser

NASA gets 1.9% boost as appropriators ignore Trump’s requested cuts

NASA fares relatively well in the spending deal, with a budget of $19.653 billion, up 1.9% from $19.285 billion last year. The agency’s Office of Science receives $5.764 billion, up 3.1% from $5.589 billion in 2016.

Defying Trump administration proposals for 2017, the deal continues funding for earth science at 2016 levels: $1.921 billion. That includes $90 million for the Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite, which the White House has proposed eliminating in 2018; none of the three other missions singled out by the administration for cancellation next year are mentioned in the deal. The law also maintains financing for NASA’s Office of Education, which the administration has also sought to close in 2018, at its existing level of $100 million.

Bolstered by the support of Rep. John Culberson (R–TX), who oversees House science appropriations, planetary science saw its budget balloon by 13%, from $1.519 billion to $1.846 billion. NASA’s planned missions to Europa, Jupiter’s icy ocean moon, including a flyby and eventual lander, get fully into swing with $275 million. The deal also includes $408 million for the Mars 2020 rover, which will collect samples on the planet for eventual return to Earth for analysis, including support for a prototype helicopter to hitch along on the rover — provided adding that craft doesn’t delay launch. — Paul Voosen

Source: Science Mag