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FY17 Federal Budget Resolved; Trump’s FY18 Budget Request Released

1 July 2017 125 views No Comment
This column is written to inform ASA members about what the ASA is doing to promote the inclusion of statistics in policymaking and the funding of statistics research. To suggest science policy topics for the ASA to address, contact ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson at pierson@amstat.org.

Column EditorPierson-color copy Steve Pierson earned his PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota. He spent eight years in the physics department of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and later became head of government relations at the American Physical Society before joining the ASA as director of science policy.

 
 

With only five months remaining in fiscal year 2017 (FY17), Congress and the administration agreed in early May to a final budget for the federal government. Save for the U.S. Census Bureau and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the final FY17 levels are generally good for the National Institutes for Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and federal statistical agencies. The FY18 budget requested by President Trump, on the other hand, contains sharp cuts for the research funding agencies and cuts or underfunds the federal statistical agencies.

Table 1—FY15–FY17 Budgets and FY18 Requests for NIH, NSF, AHRQ, FDA, and Primary Federal Statistical Agencies

Table 1—FY15–FY17 Budgets and FY18 Requests for NIH, NSF, AHRQ, FDA, and Primary Federal Statistical Agencies

 

FY17 Final Budget

NIH did extremely well in FY17 with its second consecutive annual increase of $2 billion, having once again achieved strong bipartisan support after more than a decade of declining purchasing power as a result of inflation and budget cuts. The increase includes an additional $400 million for research on Alzheimer’s disease, $120 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, $110 million for the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, $50 million for antibiotic resistance research, $300 million for cancer research, $152 million for research on the Zika virus infection and countermeasures, and $352 million to implement the 21st-Century Cures Act.

The FY16 increase of $2 billion allowed NIH to fund its research-related (i.e., R01) grants at a proposal success rate of 20%—its highest since FY10, but still far below the FY03 rate of 30%.

The NSF is held to essentially the same level as FY16. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) was cut by $10 million, but this is the third consecutive budget cut and its budget is down substantially from its FY12 level of $381 million. If there is a silver lining for AHRQ, it is that the House had approved a budget of a steeper cut to $280 million in FY17.

The FY17 budget for the U.S. Census Bureau was increased 7% over FY16, but this is only one-third the increase requested in the ramp-up to the decennial census, greatly raising concerns about the preparedness for the decennial with three years to go. Also complicating preparations is that the Census Bureau was essentially held at its FY16 spending levels for the first seven months of the fiscal year, causing it to forestall or cancel many plans. Because the 2018 fiscal year will also begin under a continuing resolution—holding agencies to their FY17 funding levels unless anomalies are granted—decennial census preparation will be further complicated.

Among the immediate consequences of the weak budgets are conducting only one of the three planned end-to-end readiness tests, a delay in the start of the advertising for the decennial budget, and a delay in the opening of decennial census field offices. Elsewhere in the bureau, for example, publications from the quinquennial economic census will be delayed.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and Economic Research Service (ERS) each received modest increases of 1.6–1.7%, welcome news considering they are each at or below their FY10 funding levels. The increase for NASS included $1.6 million to expand its current feed cost component surveys nationally and recognized the importance of the pecan survey. The increase for ERS specified “increases for cooperative agreements on groundwater modeling, drought resilience, and pay costs as requested in the budget.” ERS and NASS are still until intense budget pressure because the 14% reduction in purchasing power due to inflation (as reflected in figures 1 and 2), putting many of their programs at risk.

Figure 1: The budgets of the seven mid-sized statistical agencies normalized to their FY03 levels, along with the GDP deflator to account for inflation. The Social Security Administration Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics’ budget is normalized (and adjusted for inflation) to its FY08 level, when the current accounting scheme was implemented. Similarly, the Statistics of Income budget is normalized to its FY12 level.

Figure 1: The budgets of the seven mid-sized statistical agencies normalized to their FY03 levels, along with the GDP deflator to account for inflation. The Social Security Administration Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics’ budget is normalized (and adjusted for inflation) to its FY08 level, when the current accounting scheme was implemented. Similarly, the Statistics of Income budget is normalized to its FY12 level.

 

Figure 2: The budgets of the six larger statistical agencies normalized to their FY03 levels, along with the GDP deflator to account for inflation. The NCHS annual budgets are normalized (and adjusted for inflation) to the FY05 level, when the current accounting scheme was implemented. The U.S. Census Bureau line peaks at 12.65 in FY10.

Figure 2: The budgets of the six larger statistical agencies normalized to their FY03 levels, along with the GDP deflator to account for inflation. The NCHS annual budgets are normalized (and adjusted for inflation) to the FY05 level, when the current accounting scheme was implemented. The U.S. Census Bureau line peaks at 12.65 in FY10.

 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) received an increase of $4.5 million, with $5 million of its overall budget directed to the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X) “to improve the collection and reporting into the National Incident-Based Reporting System.”

The budget for the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) was cut 1.7% to $103.3 million, forcing it to delay two popular programs—county-level GDP estimates and a regional economic dashboard.

The final FY17 Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income Division (SOI) budget represents a 10 percent cut relative to FY16 and reflects ongoing hiring restrictions related to more than 5 years of overall IRS budget reductions. Indeed, as seen in Figure 1, the current SOI budget is off more 20% in purchasing power since FY12, resulting in delayed release of some products, reductions the content of other products, and hampered efforts to modernize data dissemination practices.

The budgets for the remaining agencies—National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Energy Information Administration (EIA), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—either held flat or are within a percent of their FY16 funding level.

Details are not yet available for the FY17 budgets of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) and Social Security Administration Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES).

Figures 1 and 2 show the normalized budget of the 13 agencies to their FY03 levels, where one can see many agencies lagging inflation and thereby resulting in cuts in purchasing power. At the June 2 meeting of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS), many agency heads described the effects of flat or declining budgets, including hiring freezes, cutbacks in periodicity or geographical scale of data, travel cuts, and delays to program improvements. NCHS, for example, is down nearly 50 positions from roughly 450. Besides lacking a deputy director, the cuts strain important functions like the cataloging of deaths from opioid death or suicides. Several other agencies also reported such personnel gaps. Another agency described finally being approved for three hires after a conservative 2015 request for six hires.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) is not funded through the normal appropriations process—but by the Highway Trust Fund—and so is not influenced by either the FY17 budget deal or the FY18 request.

President’s FY18 Requested Budget

The president’s FY18 full budget request was released May 23 and provides details of the cuts to nondefense discretionary budgets outlined in their March document. We already knew of a 24% cut requested for NIH, a grossly insufficient increase for the U.S. Census Bureau, and likely cuts for the ERS and NASS. With the full budget now out, we learned of requested cuts of 11% for NSF, 16% for AHRQ, 32% for FDA, and more modest cuts or insufficient funding for the federal statistical agencies. One could say the smaller requested cuts for the federal statistical agencies are good news, but any cuts are concerning because of the years of generally flat funding discussed above.

The mantra from Capitol Hill around the president’s request, which is continued from previous administrations, is that Congress takes the request as a suggestion and is responsible for the final appropriated level. The current reiteration of Congress’s authority around the budget means they are unlikely to accept the sharp cuts in nondefense discretionary accounts. However, flat-funding or more modest cuts remain a distinct likelihood, partly because of the overall decrease in federal discretionary funding of 0.5% from FY17 to FY18. As a result, it remains critical for the statistical and broader community to communicate to their members of congress the importance of robust budgets for the agencies discussed here.

The NIH FY18 request, according to its overview document, consolidates the AHRQ within NIH as the National Institute for Research on Safety and Quality, funding it at $272 million. Further, in keeping with the recent passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, the request includes $496 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, All of Us, Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, BRAIN Initiative, and a new regenerative medicine project ($30 million) to support clinical research using adult stem cells in coordination with the FDA. To maintain its level of support research, or at least minimize a reduced level of research support due to the proposed cut, NIH will cap the indirect cost rate at 10%.

The cut for NSF is generally spread evenly across its research, facilities, and education budgets and, if enacted, would mean a 10% cut for the Division of Mathematical Sciences. The budget requests documents maintain an emphasis on the 10 big ideas they highlighted in 2016, and that includes harnessing Big Data. The FY18 request also proposes to continue a number of initiatives established under the Obama administration, albeit at a reduced level.

For the FDA, the Alliance for a Stronger FDA points out some confusion around the FY18 request, namely that the president proposed a 9% ($452 million) increase in aggregate funding for the agency while it would also cut $871 million from the agency’s budget authority (BA) appropriations, which is a 31% decrease.

The Census Bureau budget proposal is an increase of 1.6% over FY17, which would further hamper planning efforts for the decennial census after the small increase for FY17. Besides the reduced testing mentioned above, delayed and insufficient funding in FY18 could imperil the critical work to build community partnerships, begin advertising, and perform address canvassing.

For NASS, the quinquennial Census of Agriculture is fully funded, with an increase of $22 million, signaling strong support for this program. However, the NASS agricultural estimates programs are proposed to be cut $7.5 million.

The FY18 SOI budget reflects further staff reductions, through attrition, and may necessitate the elimination of a core data series. The rest of the federal statistical agencies generally do much better than other nondefense discretionary programs. For example, the ERS budget is proposed to be cut 12%, while the overall U.S. Department of Agriculture budget is proposed for a 22% cut. Similarly for NCHS, which is slated for a 3% cut, its parent agency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has a proposed cut of 17%. Indeed, looking at Table 1, the cuts are otherwise more modest than that of ERS. This is not to minimize the effects such cuts would have for the federal statistical agencies if enacted. As discussed in the final FY17 section above, nearly all the federal statistical agencies are facing critical staffing, program, and other budget challenges, so I again urge readers to ask their members of Congress to adequately fund these programs, the cornerstones of evidence-based policymaking.

To see how statistical agencies would cut their programs to realize their proposed budget cuts, visit the ASA Community and follow the links therein.

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