Appropriations bills stalled as end of federal fiscal year nears

With the House and Senate now in their August recess, there are only twenty legislative days scheduled for the Senate and twelve for the House before the end of the fiscal year (September 30) and government funding expires. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have passed all of their FY16 spending bills, but floor action on the bills is stalled in both chambers. 

When lawmakers return to the Capitol after Labor Day, they will have only about three legislative weeks before the October 1 start to the federal fiscal year to reach a funding agreement that would stave off a partial government shutdown. Congressional leaders have already begun to talk about the possibility of a stop-gap funding measure (continuing resolution). There is no doubt that a continuing resolution (CR) will be necessary but yet there is no agreement on how long a CR will run, or whether or not the CR will continue budget caps. Congress will need to address budget caps and the debt ceiling before the FY16 budget can be resolved. 

UO priorities

Several University of Oregon priorities are under consideration in current appropriations bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee included $3.5 million, up from $3.05 million, for the Agriculture Research Service’s Forest Products Research in the Senate Ag appropriations bill. These funds are important to the Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and Design, a collaboration between Oregon State University and UO, and also represents progress on one of UO’s federal priorities.  

One UO priority under threat during the FY2016 appropriations process is the funding for the Institute of Education Science (IES) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). The House appropriations committee passed a funding bill for the US Department of Education that cuts funding for IES and hits NCSER especially hard. The Research, Development and Dissemination line is cut by $86.7 million leaving it with $93.1 million proposed for FY 2016. NCSER is cut by $18 million, leaving it with nearly $36 million proposed for FY 2016. The NCSER cut would result in continuation of existing grants but no new investments. 

Congressional appropriations committee also acted on earthquake early warning by sustaining the Administration’s funding request of $5 million. There are slight differences between the bills but the action represents progress. Over 35 members of Congress, including members of the Oregon Delegation, urged appropriators to add an additional $16.1 million to transition of the current earthquake early warning efforts from a demonstration project to an operational system. On July 30, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced $4 million in awards to support the production of an onshore earthquake early warning (EEW) system on the West Coast. The money was be awarded to four universities, including the University of Oregon. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) introduced legislation that would require FEMA to develop a plan, and identify the necessary funding for purchase and installation of an offshore earthquake early warning system for the Cascadia Subduction Zone. 

Moving forward

The higher education community along with scientific associations, business leaders, and others continue to call on Congress to repeal the sequestration budget caps. Looking to the FY2017 appropriations process, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget urging the Administration to sustain its support for federal research and higher education in its FY17 budget.