More From the 'Minibus': USDA, NIST Research Programs Survive Rough Ride in New Spending Bill
Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives yesterday approved a package of spending bills that include money for a range of science programs and
President Barack Obama is likely to sign it into law today. The bill includes some good news for research efforts at the National Institute of Standards
and Technology (NIST), and mixed results for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Insider has been reporting on pieces of the so-called "minibus"—an appropriations bill
that consolidates $182 billion in spending by five departments (Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development) and
a number of independent agencies, including the National Science Foundation. The minibus moniker is a play on the "omnibus" tag used when Congress
consolidates all 12 annual appropriations bills into a single package.
Yesterday, the House approved the minibus bill (H.R. 2112) on a
vote of 298-121, and Senate followed suit hours later by a vote of 70-30.
Although researchers were bracing for cuts, both NIST and USDA's major competitive research initiative emerged relatively unscathed.
The bill grants NIST part of its wish for more money for core research programs, but the boost came with some strings attached. Lawmakers want nearly
one-half of the $60 million increase, to $567 million, spent on two cybersecurity programs: a$10 million Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, championed
by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and $16.5 million to implement National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, released by the White House
in early 2011.
After some ups and downs, USDA's premier competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), came out unscathed, funded at
$264.5 million, the same as in 2011. Lawmakers rejected the Administration's request to boost AFRI's funding to $325 million, but also rejected a House
plan for a 13.4% cut. "We're pleased, given this budget climate," said Karl Glasener of the Crop Science Society of America, part of a coalition that
had pushed for increasing AFRI's budget to $350 million.
Overall, however, USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will continue to shrink, taking a 3.4% cut from 2011 levels to about $1.1 billion.
Lawmakers rejected the Administration's effort to strip Congressionally-directed projects from ARS's budget, but did give it the green light to close
12 of USDA's 100+ research centers, some of which began life as Congressional earmarks. Labs on the hit list include an air quality research center in
Ames, Iowa, an acoustics laboratory in Oxford, Mississippi, and a tiny Utah center that studies "locoweeds," plants that are toxic to livestock. But
lawmakers also said USDA isn't allowed to close any more labs in 2012, although the Obama Administration is reportedly readying another closure list.
Congress also extended current spending levels for other important science agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Department of
Energy, for at least another month as part of a "continuing resolution."