Washington Policy Updates
The August Congressional recess is in full swing in the nation’s capital, and while we’re hard at work at the AAG, President Trump and lawmakers have left Washington for most of this month. Here are a few updates on key policy issues:
As AAG members may recall, we led scientific community efforts in developing a sign-on letter to the Trump Administration urging appointment of a presidential science advisor and other top officials in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The letter was endorsed by 58 organizations and universities, including AAAS and AAU. As of this writing, the president still has not filled the top jobs in OSTP and there are no signs of pending appointments. There has been speculation in Washington that the lack of nominations to key positions across the government is part of an effort by the Administration to downsize the government.
Census Bureau Director
Meanwhile, there also continues to be a vacancy in the leadership of the U.S. Census Bureau. Former Director John Thompson left the Agency in June to take a job as Executive Director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics. Ron Jarmin, a career staffer serving as Associate Director for Economic Programs, has been appointed as the Bureau’s acting head, but the Administration has yet to nominate a permanent director as we head into the critical ramp up for the 2020 Census.
Science Agency Appropriations
The fall will be a critical time for government funding issues. Administration officials have signaled that the government is approaching the statutory debt ceiling and that an increase will be needed to prevent a catastrophic default. Congressional leaders will seek to pass a “clean bill” without any policy riders or related budget cuts, but it is likely that House and Senate conservatives will oppose these efforts. Accordingly, the final bill will probably have to be bipartisan, as happened towards the end of the Obama Administration.
Congressional appropriators have also been hard at work on the bills that will fund federal agencies for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins October 1. The House Appropriations Committee has approved legislation funding the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and both agencies fared significantly better than they did in the Trump Administration’s budget request.
The Foundation would receive $7.3 billion under the House bill, which is a decrease of 1.8 percent from last year’s enacted level, but 10.3 percent above the President’s request. Meanwhile, NIH would be funded at $35.2 billion as part of the House proposal, an increase of 3 percent over last year and a whopping 32 percent above the Administration’s budget. We will continue to keep you up to date on key developments related to federal science funding.