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HFES Bulletin

November 2013
Volume 56, Number 11

Public Policy Matters

Short-Term Bipartisan Budget Agreement Reached; Federal Agencies Reopen

By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC

On October 16, with only one day until the U.S. Government faced default on its debt and a potential downgrading of its credit rating, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, a bipartisan agreement to reopen the federal government, increase the debt limit, and put in place a process to consider a broader budget deal by mid-December.

The key elements of the bipartisan budget agreement include the following:

  • Extend the limit on the public debt through February 7, 2014.
  • Reopen the federal government by extending funding through January 15, 2014, at about the fiscal year (FY) 2013 post-sequester level of $986 billion.
  • Establish a process to negotiate a broader deficit reduction package by December 13, 2013.

Although the federal government is back in operation, the larger budgetary issues that have paralyzed Washington and the nation throughout the summer and into the fall are far from resolved. House and Senate conferees have been appointed to negotiate a broader budget deal by December 13. Part of these discussions will be to agree on an overall top-line spending level that would allow the Appropriations Committees to work toward final resolution of the FY 2014 spending bills and to revisit the sequester.

In accepting the deal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reiterated that it is a "top priority" to preserve the spending reductions through the sequester enacted in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), given that it actually did cut federal spending. Were the sequester to take effect in mid-January 2014, an additional $20 billion would have to be cut from the appropriations bills. Under the sequester, half the reductions would come from defense and half would come from nondefense programs, meaning some modest additional reductions below the FY 2013 level.

The stage is set for another challenging few months. FY 2014 officially began October 1, but the FY 2014 appropriations process is not expected to be complete until early next year, further delaying federal agencies' abilities to spend and invest in new research programs.

Despite the work that still needs to be done, federal agencies reopened on October 17. Since then, funding agencies have issued guidance to the research community regarding the process for addressing upcoming grant proposal deadlines and/or deadlines that may have occurred while the government was shut down. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued guidance asking researchers not to contact NSF staff until further notice, cancelling all NSF advisory committee meetings until 2014, delaying all review panels until November, and delaying site visits or NSF staff travel. An October 18 NSF policy announcement addressed a range of issues, including NSF plans to revise due dates for funding opportunities with deadlines from October 1 through 25, 2013. In a letter to university presidents and heads of research organizations released shortly after NSF reopened, Acting NSF Director Cora Marrett noted that during the shutdown, NSF was not able to receive proposals or send them for peer review, convene review panels, make new awards, or make payments to existing awardees. She also highlighted the impact of the shutdown on major facilities and PhD students. Marrett asked the community to be patient while NSF staff catches up on the resulting backlog of work.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its own guidance in the NIH Guide, stating that NIH will reschedule all October grant submission deadlines to new dates in November, and these revised dates will be published as soon as possible. The guidance also stated that missed review meetings will be rescheduled, and review meetings scheduled for the imminent future may also be postponed to enable reviewers extra time to have access to the applications and to complete their review.

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, a leading Washington, D.C.–based government relations and consulting firm, represents the public policy interests of scientific societies and institutions of higher education. Lewis-Burke's staff of about 20 government relations professionals work to promote the federal research and policy goals of HFES and the HF/E community.


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