The bill reflects the efforts of concerned geoscientists to explain the value of their research to Congress.

Federal Appropriations Give a Big Boost to U.S. Scientific Research

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Since the start of the fiscal year (FY) on October 1, the government has been operating on a Continuing Resolution (CR), which continues the appropriation levels and activities from last year. On December 18, Congress passed the FY 2016 Omnibus spending bill—twelve appropriation bills rolled into one. It will boost funding for essentially all science agencies and offices.

Especially noteworthy is the removal of cuts to the Geoscience Directorate of the National Science Foundation, which had been adopted by House appropriators in May. The AAPG policy office, AAPG members and other geoscience associations contacted dozens of legislators to explain the benefits of geoscience research to the nation and advocate against the cuts. It clearly made a difference.

The bill will also allow changes to the highly restrictive rules on travel by federal scientists. In addition, the tax package passed in parallel with the omnibus makes permanent the industry R&D tax credit.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) leads the way among U.S. science agencies getting increases in the final 2016 spending bill released today. NIH gets a bump of $2 billion, or 6.6%, from its current budget of $30.1 billion.

Other science agencies will get increases ranging from a 1.6 percent increase for the National Science Foundation to an 11.6 percent increase for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The American Institute of Physics Government Relations Division provided the chart below.


FY14 actual

FY15 enacted

FY16 President's request

FY16 spending bill

Change between FY15 and FY16

National Science Foundation












National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration






National Institute of Standards and Technology






Department of Energy Office of Science






Dept. of Defense Science & Technology






*Figures are in millions of U.S. dollars

For the National Science Foundation (NSF) the House and Senate appropriation conferees conference report, which accompanies the FY 2016 omnibus, eliminates language proposed earlier this year by the House that would have reduced funding for the geosciences directorate to levels far below the FY 2015 level. The adopted conference report will allow the geosciences to share in some portion of the nearly $100 million increase the NSF research and related account received in the bill. Once the bill is signed into law, NSF will develop a spending plan in which it will make allocations to each directorate, division, and program consistent with the resources provided and the congressional guidance received.

If you would like more detail, click here to go to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, analysis.

Science Travel

In April, Representatives Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) sent a letter to appropriators asking that the restrictions on science-conference travel be moderated because of the negative impact of the restrictions on federal scientific research. The language was accepted into the final omnibus appropriations bill. This means that OMB will be able to revise its travel rules, allowing a more sensible, less restrictive policy for scientists at agencies and national labs to attend scientific conferences.

By way of background, in response to congressional outrage about excesses at a General Services Administration conference OMB issued a 2012 travel rule that limited travel to conferences and set onerous—and expensive—rules for getting permission to travel. Each appropriation bill since then has required these rules remain. This year OMB will have the authority, and has stated their intention, to revise the rules.

R&D Tax Credit Made Permanent

The R&D tax credit started in 1981 and has regularly been reauthorized, often retroactively. The tax bill agreed to in parallel with the omnibus appropriations bill not only makes the R&D tax credit permanent but also includes two key changes to the R&D tax credit, which will benefit small businesses and especially startups. Without the changes, Alternative Minimum Tax limitations effectively barred small businesses from utilizing the credit. Now businesses with less than $50 million in gross receipts can take advantage of the R&D tax credit. In another change, startups with no income tax liability can take the credit against payroll taxes. 

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