Investing in Science: The 2020 CJS Appropriations Bill

House Appropriations Committee Approves 6.5% Increase for NSF and Fully Funds Census

-By Mark Vieth, Senior Vice President

On May 22, the House Appropriations Committee voted to increase funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by $561 million – 6.5 percent above current levels --  when it approved the fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act.  The measure includes a total $8.64 billion for NSF – which if enacted into law would be the highest funding level in history for the agency.  “Research and related activities” – which comprise the budget for external merit-reviewed research grants -- are funded at $7.1 billion, $586.3 million above the current level. 

 The Committee’s budget is a clear repudiation of the President’s proposed $1 billion cut (12 percent reduction) included in his budget request last April.  If enacted, the President’s proposal would reduce spending for the NSF below its fiscal year 2015 budget.

 The committee report accompanying the bill also includes strong language protecting NSF social and behavioral science research, which has come under attack in previous years.  Specifically, the report states:

Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Sciences.—The Committee supports SBE and recognizes the fundamental importance of its research for advancing our understanding of human behavior and its application to a wide range of human systems, including public health, national defense and security, education and learning, and the integration of human and machine. SBE funds over half of our nation’s university-based social and behavioral science research but remains the smallest of NSF directorates. The Committee believes this research provides an evidence-based understanding of the human condition, resulting in more-informed policymaking and better-informed spending on a full range of national issues. The recommendation includes no less than the fiscal year 2019 level for SBE.

The bill also provides $8.45 billion for the Census Bureau, which is $4,63 billion above fiscal year 2019 and $2.3 billion above the President’s budget.  The large increase is intended to provide sufficient funding to execute the 2020 decennial census.  The bill also blocks the Census Bureau from including a citizenship question in its 2020 survey.  During the full committee markup of the bill, an amendment that would have removed this provision was defeated.

The measure was approved 30-22 and will likely be considered in the full House in June.  However, none of these increases will likely become law unless Congress and the Administration agree on a comprehensive budget that lifts current law spending caps on non-defense discretionary spending.