Geotimes Logo POLITICAL SCENE May 1996

Fiscal Year 1997 Budget Plan Unveiled

The release of the President's budget plan marks the start of the congressional budget process each year. The fiscal year (FY) 1997 process is off to a late start this spring, but then Congress and President Clinton were still wrangling over FY 1996 six months into it. The President is required to submit his budget proposal to Congress at the beginning of February, a requirement that was fulfilled with a skeletal 21-page document. The proposal was not fleshed out until March 19 when all of the agencies released their budget numbers along with a forest's worth of explanatory documents.

Since the President's last budget proposal, a sea change has occurred on balancing the budget, and all sides now agree on a seven-year goal. Although the path is hotly debated, Washington's inability to tackle big-ticket entitlement programs dictates that any path chosen will produce powerful downward pressure for nondefense discretionary spending, which includes funding for science and technology.

In recent speeches, President Clinton and Vice-President Gore have pledged to protect science and technology programs. Taken as a whole, the President's budget proposal reflects that pledge, although the prospect remains for sharp reductions in the future.

The accompanying table presents the budget numbers for geoscience-related programs. In many cases, the numbers for FY 1996 are estimates, because full-year appropriations had not been enacted when this column was written. The American Geological Institute (AGI) will supply a more detailed analysis of the President's proposal for geoscience-related programs in the 21st annual AAAS Report on Research and Development due out in late May.

On March 7, AGI Executive Director Marcus Milling testified before the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Department of Energy (DOE) Fossil Energy program. AGI also plans to submit testimony on behalf of geoscience research funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF). In his testimony, Milling emphasized the need for continuing geoscientific input into critical problems involving natural hazards, the environment, and our nation's resources.

U.S. Geological Survey
Although the USGS finds itself in the enviable position of requesting a substantial increase over last year's request, the reality of the situation is quite different. A great deal has happened to the Survey in the past year, most notably the addition of functions transferred from the National Biological Service (NBS) and Bureau of Mines (USBM), sister agencies within the Department of the Interior that were eliminated by Congress. The Survey's FY 1996 appropriations include $137 million from the NBS and $16 million from the USBM for a total of $730.5 million. The USGS is requesting a $16 million increase. Half of the new funds would go to NBS programs now referred to as "Natural Resources Research". Other increases include funding for new initiatives in urban hazards, drinking water and public health, a digital national atlas, and for a geospatial data framework. Programs in the geologic division received flat funding except for geothermal assessment activities, which were eliminated. Also, the bud get request fails to restore $4 million for external grants in the earthquake program, which Congress removed in FY 1996. In the water resources division's request, grants for the state Water Resource Institutes would be eliminated and the funds plugged into the Federal/State Cooperative Program.

Department of Energy
Geoscience research funding within the DOE Office of Energy Research basic energy sciences program would receive a small increase for FY1997 to $25 million. The increase covers activities in geophysical analysis and fluid flow in subsurface reservoirs. Applied R&D in the Office of Fossil Energy did not fare so well -- it is slated for a 10% cut. Petroleum R&D has been particularly hard hit, losing 30% of its budget since FY 1995. The President's budget request does include $1 million for the National Geoscience Data Repository System project being spearheaded by AGI. Health and safety research functions transferred from the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) will be transferred again, this time to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). USBM materials research will remain in DOE, funded at $5 million.

National Science Foundation
NSF Director Neal Lane put it succinctly: "Given the times, we are doing quite well." The President's proposal provides a 4 percent increase over estimated FY 1996 levels. The budget for research and related activities would rise by nearly 9 percent, including an 8.6 percent increase in research funding for the geosciences directorate. The largest increases would go to the earth sciences instrumentation and facilities account (30.7 percent) and continental dynamics program (22.7 percent). Basic research continues to enjoy broad (if shallow) support on Capitol Hill, brightening the possibility that these increases could be enacted into law.

The fate of the President Clinton's budget rests with a Congress led by his challenger in the November elections. The potential for stalemate is great, but Congress will be eager to wrap the process up early in order to go home and campaign in the fall. Compromise may yet return to the Washington vocabulary as these foes realize that they will all be thrown out if they do not get the job done.

				  FY1995	  FY1996	  FY1997
	Agency/Program		  enacted	estimated(1)	  request
				($millions)	($millions)	($millions)
Department of Energy
   Basic Energy Sciences		589		641		654
	Geosciences Research		 20		 22		 25
   Fossil Energy R&D			421		421		349
	Natural Gas Program		110		112		104
	Petroleum Program		 75		 56		 53

Environmental Protection Agency
   Science and Technology		600		515		579

   Mission to Planet Earth		1340		1289		1402

National Science Foundation
   Earth Science Program		 82		 85		 96

Department of the Interior
   U.S. Geological Survey		571		731		746
	Geologic Division		213		228		227
	Water Resources Division	186		191		192
	National Mapping Division	125		126		132
Source: Agency budget materials, Office of Management and Budget
(1)As of late March, FY 1996 appropriations bills had not been signed for 
USGS, DOE Fossil Energy, NSF, NASA, or EPA.  In those cases, FY1996 
numbers are estimates based on levels provided in continuing resolutions. 

David Applegate
Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program

May Geotimes | Geotimes Home Page | Gov. Affairs | AGI Home Page | Education | GeoRef | Members