Congress has finally agreed on something — sort of.
With the threat of a government shutdown just before the November elections and compromise being anathema, congressional members decided to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to deal with government spending. The CR will fund the government until March 27, 2013, at $1.047T, the level agreed to in the Budget Control Act.
The question, of course, is what does this mean for science?
The CR provides an across-the-board 0.6% increase over fiscal year 2012 spending levels. For example, the National Science Foundation’s budget of $5.72B for Research & Related Activities (R&RA) will receive a $55M bump, well below the expected inflation rate of 1.7%.
A few accounts in the spending bill will see additional increases. The CR provides for increases in spending to atomic weapons research and development (R&D), domestic uranium enrichment and the Joint Polar Satellite System project, good news for defense workers.
Overall, federal R&D spending will increase to $141.7B under the CR. But any sort of increase must be tempered by the threat of sequestration. Without further congressional action, mandated, across-the-board budget cuts will occur on Jan 2, 2013. The recently released Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) analysis details nondefense discretionary program and defense discretionary program cuts of 8.2% and 9.4%, respectively.
For our example, the NSF R&RA budget, which receives a $55M increase in the CR, will suffer a cut of $469M (with considered exemptions) from FY2012 levels. Estimates from OMB predict that between 600-1,600 fewer research grants would be funded.
A further issue agencies face is the inability to plan in the face of uncertainty. Will the sequester happen or will Congress compromise to find a responsible path forward? What will happen to spending on March 28 after the CR expires? Will Congress issue another CR or pass new appropriations bills with different spending levels? This uncertainty means federal agencies will have difficulty making spending decisions in the near term.
The biggest impact of the CR is that it gives lawmakers a little more time to reach a spending compromise after the elections.