Appropriations 2005: Where's "The Scream" When You Really Need It?

Most political insiders would agree that the federal appropriations process is more art than science. But when Congress delivered the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 catch-all spending bill, much of the artwork was missing.

Most political insiders would agree that the federal appropriations process is more art than science. But when Congress delivered the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 catch-all spending bill, much of the artwork was missing. Funding for many domestic discretionary programs ended up as flat as the wall on which Edvard Munch's most famous painting once hung.

Although FY 2005 officially started on October 1, 2004, delays in congressional action on all but 2 of the 14 government spending bills left much of the work undone until well after the November 2nd election. Such delays are not uncommon in election years, as campaign schedules tend to drive the congressional calendar. Additionally, delaying the appropriations process can also provide cover for candidates from either party who would prefer not to be viewed as spendthrifts. However, the outcome of this election, which enhanced the Republican majority in both the House and Senate, heralds an era of increased fiscal conservancy that is likely to dominate funding with dramatic ramifications for psychologists in research, education and the public interest.

So while it's good news that the $388 billion omnibus spending bill was finally signed into law on December 8th, the finished product will leave many wanting. A record budget deficit, the unknowable costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the price of a planned social security overhaul have placed enormous pressures on the Bush administration to reign in domestic spending. As such, federal agency heads receiving funding at or around inflationary levels were the lucky ones in what appears to be a bleak forecast of future spending.

Funding for Psychological Science in 2005

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), provided by one of the two bills passed on schedule, reflects the nation's current priorities and the anticipation of future domestic terrorist attacks. However, despite recognition that humans perpetrate terrorism, the bill appears to focus mostly on microbes and molecules, as most of the funding is oriented toward countermeasures for weapons of mass destruction (i.e., chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents). Countering that apparent slight, will be the establishment of a University Based Center of Excellence in Behavioral and Social Aspects of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. Many APA members had submitted center proposals but the award had not yet been announced as this went to press. Additionally, threats to gut the DHS Scholars and Fellows program, where psychologists continue to compete well, were averted with a final appropriation of $70 million.

The Department of Defense (DoD) also received its FY 2005 funding via a freestanding, individual agency appropriations bill signed into law this summer. The good news is that the Science and Technology account, which funds basic and applied research, is up 10.3% over FY04 funding for a total of $12.77 billion. The bad news is that the increase does not "trickle down" proportionately to benefit DoD behavioral science programs. The FY 2005 bill contained more cuts to human-centered research, with basic behavioral research remaining essentially flat and both the Air Force and Army sustaining deep, detrimental cuts to their applied behavioral research programs. APA science policy staff worked with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) to insert language into the final defense appropriations conference report urging DoD to fully support and fund its behavioral research programs. But in the same report, the committee singled out Air Force basic human performance research for a $3 million cut.

NASA, which actually fared well compared to many of its sister agencies, benefited from an across the board 0.8% cut to all domestic programs. And while long-term, NASA R&D will have to address a range of psychology issues involved in trying to send humans to Mars, FY 2005 funding will focus on returning the space shuttle to flight, a Hubble telescope repair mission and continued construction of the International Space Station.

After accounting for the across-the-board cut, the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) total budget for FY 2005 will shrink by $105 million (1.9%) from the FY 2004 funding level to $5.47 billion. Although the majority of the cut will be absorbed by the Education and Human Resources Directorate, the research account was essentially frozen for the first time in almost 20 years, and the across-the-board cut puts it $30.8 million below FY 2004 funding.

In the final omnibus bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical and Prosthetics Research program (which includes support for most psychological research) received the Senate's funding mark of almost $406 million for FY05, which translates to a total of $402.3 million with the across-the-board cut. This represents a decrease of $3.24 million or 0.8% over FY04 funding for a program that has remained essentially flat in recent years.

Congressional supporters managed a small increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but its appropriation will be whittled down by several across-the-board cuts. The agency's appropriation for FY 2005 is $28.5 billion, just short of a 3% increase. However, after the 0.8% across-the-board cut to domestic programs, plus a 0.25% tap to fund other Public Health Service programs (e.g., the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality), NIH is left with $27.9 billion. NIH must also find money for a federal employee pay raise of 3.5%, which was not part of the initial budget.

Total funding for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) increased to $527 million. However, the research, development and dissemination portion of IES remains stagnant at $165 million, $20 million less than the president's budget.