FY2018 Budget May Be Topic A, but FY2017 Still not Settled

FY2018 Budget May Be Topic A, but FY2017 Still not Settled

President Trump’s release of his FY2018 budget blueprint may be the budget topic of the day, but it is important to remember that FY2017 funding is not yet settled.  NASA, NOAA, DOD and other federal agencies are funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on April 28.  Before then, Congress must pass new appropriations to keep the government operating.  Along with proposing his FY2018 budget, Trump requested $33 billion in FY2017 supplemental funding for DOD and the Department of Homeland Security that assumes $18 billion in cuts for non-defense programs, including at NASA and NOAA.

FY2017 is almost half over.  It began on October 1, 2016.   Only one of the 12 regular FY2017 appropriations measures has cleared Congress (Military Construction-VA, which is contained within the first CR that Congress passed in September 2016), but the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have pretty much completed work on the others and a revised FY2017 defense appropriations bill passed the House on March 8.  Trying to make changes at this late date will be quite a challenge.  Politico quoted senior appropriators as calling the FY2017 cuts unlikely.

Nonetheless, the proposal is now before Congress.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) submitted a list of where the White House wants to make the reductions.  The American Institute of Physics reports that $3 billion would come from research and development accounts.

Among the proposed cuts are $50 million from NASA’s science program and $90 million from NOAA’s weather satellite programs.

For NASA, the OMB proposal says the reductions would be distributed across the science program, “including cuts to unused reserves and missions that are cancelled in the 2018 budget,  It is possible missions would be delayed and/or grants reduced.”   The President’s FY2018 NASA budget request proposes terminating four NASA earth science programs: PACE, CLARREO Pathfinder, Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR, and OCO-3.

At NOAA, the $90 million in cuts “reflects the planned ramp down of JPSS and GOES weather satellites, and the ramp-up of the PFO program.  This level also delays the EON contingency mission which is not funded in the Congressional marks. This estimate also includes NOAA”s Office of Satellite and Produce Operations.”  The budgets for JPSS and GOES do, in fact, begin ramping down in FY2017 so the fact that they continue to be funded at their FY2016 levels in the CR means there is excess money in those accounts.

PFO is the Polar Follow On program — the third and fourth JPSS polar orbiting weather satellites. The Trump FY2018 budget request already plans to reduce PFO funding.  It says annual savings will be achieved  “by better reflecting the actual risk of a gap in polar satellite coverage.”  The amount is not specified.  For FY2017, the PFO request was $383 million, or $393 million if the EON-MW nanosatellite is included. (Sometimes NOAA lists EON-MW separately and sometimes as part of the PFO budget).  EON-MW is the Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave.  As its name implies, it is a tiny satellite that would carry a microwave sounder to ensure that data is available if difficulties arise with the JPSS satellites.   Congress denied the $10 million requested for EON-MW in FY2016.  The same amount was requested for FY2017.  In action so far, the Senate Appropriations Committee denied it while the House Appropriations Committee approved $370 million for PFO and said it included money for EON-MW, but not how much.

The CR expires in four weeks, but the path forward remains murky.  Many appropriators reportedly are hoping to combine the remaining 11 regular appropriations bills into an omnibus bill that would provide “full year” appropriations to each department and agency.   It may be, however, that the CR will simply be extended through the rest of FY2017, keeping agencies at their FY2016 spending levels unless exceptions are made.  Congress has much less control over funding for specific government programs and projects in a CR, but sometimes a CR is the only way to reach agreement.  

As has become typical, there also is talk about a government shutdown, although this time it is the Democrats threatening such action instead of the Republicans.   Many Democrats oppose the increases in defense spending in the FY2017 supplemental and FY2018 budget requests while domestic programs would suffer significant cuts.  Meanwhile, some conservative Republicans object to the overall level of spending for FY2017, which exceeds budget caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.  They may oppose the FY2017 bills for that reason.  The failure of the House Republican leadership last week to win over the majority of the conservative Freedom Caucus members for a vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) could foreshadow troubled times ahead on other issues, including appropriations.

Note:  This article was corrected to indicate that the FY2017 MilCon/VA appropriations bill cleared Congress as part of the first FY2017 CR passed in September.


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