This week, the House passed six of its 12 Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) funding bills, with the other six reported out of committee and ready to be considered. The appropriations process, by which Congress allocates federal spending each fiscal year, can be tricky to follow. We’ve prepared an update on what’s going on with government funding right now, what may come next, and how this year’s appropriations bills could affect ocean, environment, and science priorities.
Graphic by Cat Elia, ESP Advisors Art Director
Before we dive into the details on this year’s House appropriations bills, it may be helpful to review a (very simplified) synopsis of how government funding is supposed to work:
Step 1: After working with the agencies on their needs and considering the administration’s priorities, the White House submits the President’s Budget to Congress early in the calendar year to coincide with the State of the Union Address. This triggers the start of the appropriations process for the upcoming fiscal year.
In addition to the topline President’s Budget, each federal agency releases a Congressional Justification report that provides further detail as to how the proposed funds would be used to address current needs.
Congress uses the President’s Budget and the associated justification reports as a template (or not, depending on Congressional priorities) to draft appropriations, with jurisdiction over federal government resources divided into 12 bills.
Step 2: House and Senate appropriations committees collect requests from their colleagues in Congress in the spring and, based on those requests and their own priorities, write, amend, and mark up the bills in late spring/early summer. The House writes their bills first, followed by the Senate, and then the two chambers agree on a compromise “consolidated” version which is then agreed to by both chambers.
Step 3: Congress passes the consolidated 12 appropriations bills and the President signs them into law, funding the government before the previous year’s funding expires at midnight on September 30.
Where are we now?
In practice, the appropriations process is never quite so simple or timely. This year, the President’s Budget wasn’t released until the end of March, and some of the Congressional Justifications weren’t released until May. Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on topline spending caps for the FY23 bills, with major disagreements remaining on defense versus nondefense spending, and the inclusion of earmarks (funding directed to specific projects or nongovernment organizations). Despite this, the House Appropriations Committee released all 12 appropriations bills at the end of June and reported each bill favorably out of committee, the last step before a vote on the House floor.
The full House of Representatives just passed a legislative package that includes six of the 12 FY23 appropriations bills. The vote was 220-207. This package includes Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies; the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. The House is likely to consider the six remaining bills, including Commerce, Justice, Science, which funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), before the start of August recess.
FY23 President’s Budget: Ocean Highlights
FY23 was a rocky year for federal ocean budgets, particularly at NOAA. The FY23 President’s Budget request for NOAA included significant decreases for some line offices compared to last year’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) request; the National Ocean Service (NOS) request is 24 percent lower than the FY22 request and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) is 45 percent lower. These decreases represent a dramatic shift in priorities for many ocean programs at the agency. While the President’s Budget is a request to Congress and does not represent any real impact on dollars to programs, it is meant to demonstrate the administration’s priorities.
FY23 House Appropriations Bills: Ocean Highlights
As we have seen in recent years, the FY23 House appropriations bills focus on addressing climate change, building resilience to the impacts of climate change, and furthering the data and technology needed to support these goals. Addressing harmful algal blooms (HABs) continues to be a major theme across programs, agencies, and departments including NOAA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the State Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The House Appropriations Committee included a total of $6.786 billion in discretionary funds for NOAA, which is $908.5 million above the amount Congress provided in FY22 and about $100 million below the President’s FY23 request. The bill also includes $55.8 million in community project funding which acts as an earmark for specific projects and institutions.
National Ocean Service (NOS)
The bill provides $689.2 million for NOS, an increase of $51.5 million above the FY22 level and $6 million below the request. It includes an increase in funding for ocean observing, blue carbon, marine debris, harmful algal blooms (HABs), and sea level rise monitoring and coastal resilience. Highlights include:
$10 million increase in funding for Coastal Zone Management Grants
$7 million increase for Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas; $1.5 million increase for National Estuarine Research Reserve System with directive to establish additional protected areas
$5.241 million in coral reef related Community Project Funding (earmarks)
$3 million increase for the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) Regional Associations
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
The bill includes $1.1 billion for NOAA Fisheries, which is $84 million above the FY22 enacted level. It includes a focus on climate-ready fisheries, fisheries and marine mammal data, and offshore wind. Some highlights include:
$39.15 million increase to support offshore wind energy
$26.3 million increase for fisheries data collections, surveys, and assessments, partially to support the Climate-Ready Fisheries Initiative
$1 million increase each for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing enforcement and Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP)
Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)
The bill includes $699.1 million for OAR, which represents an increase of $99.7 million over FY22. The main focus is on additional research to support understanding of and adaptation to climate change. Highlights include:
$7 million increase for the National Sea Grant College Program, including:
$3 million to launch a pilot Sea Grant Resilient Coasts Initiative to support up to three coastal resilience projects with partners
$1 million to launch the Young Fisherman’s Development Grant Program (P.L. 116-289)
$4.9 million increase for Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes with a focus on HABs forecasting and remote observing systems
$4 million increase to accelerate America’s Ocean Exploration Program and a directive to investigate the use of wave-powered buoys and autonomous uncrewed systems (UxS) to support ocean data for the new blue economy
Support for a new office within OAR, the Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (UxSR2O), for research into expanded use of uncrewed systems and a directive to work aggressively with the private sector
The National Environmental Satellite, Data, andInformation Service (NESDIS) and OMAO would also play a role in supporting the growth of UxS and data management/assimilation at NOAA
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The FY23 House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill and its related report include $11.5 billion for the EPA, $1.9 billion above the enacted level, and $386,718,000 below the President’s request. This includes:
$16 million increase for National Estuary Program and Coastal Waterways, which includes $50 thousand increase for each of the 28 National Estuary Programs (NEP) and a $2 million increase for NEP competitive grants
$20 million increase for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
The bill includes $228.8 million for BOEM, including a $4.6 million increase for Environmental Assessment. This includes:
$1 million to support extramural research at public higher education institutions to advance the larger goals of the Center for Marine Acoustics and a recognition of the important role BOEM plays in understanding the impacts of anthropogenic noises in the marine environment
US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
The bill includes $1.9 billion, $230 million above FY 2022 enacted. This includes:
$77 million increase for Ecological Services
$55 million increase for the National Wildlife Refuge System
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
The FY23 House State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill and its related report includes $2.01 billion for USAID, which represents an increase of $113.2 million above the FY22 enacted level, excluding emergency funding. This includes:
$60 million for programs to address ocean plastic and other marine debris and waste management infrastructure with encouragement to engage the private sector in eliminating plastic waste and marine debris
Department of Energy (DOE)
The FY23 House Energy, Water Development, and Related Agencies bill and its related report provide $48.2 billion for the Department of Energy, $3.3 billion above the FY22 enacted level. This includes:
$125 million for offshore wind, including
$5 million for university-led research projects for floating offshore wind technologies to support sustainable, scalable aquaculture production
$6 million for advanced technology demonstration of offshore wind projects
$6 million for Centers of Excellence focused on engineering, infrastructure, supply chain, and transmission to support offshore wind
$50 million for floating offshore research, development, and demonstration, including activities to facilitate interconnection between offshore generation facilities and the grid
$130 million for marine energy, including $50 million for industry-led competitive solicitations to increase energy capture, improve reliability, and to assess and monitor environmental effects of marine energy systems
$40 million for utilizing the ocean for emissions reductions through multiple areas of ocean- and water-based energy technologies, in coordination with NOAA and other federal agencies
The Senate is actively drafting its versions of the FY23 bills. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released a statement on July 12 saying that the committee is working towards releasing draft bills to the public at the end of July, despite the lack of agreement with Republicans on topline numbers.
Given that both chambers are in recess for most of August, the clock is ticking on a consolidated appropriations package that the President could sign ahead of the September 30 government funding deadline. It is very likely that we’ll see a continuing resolution (CR), which will extend current funding levels for an agreed-upon period of time, while Congress continues negotiating.