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Budget commentary: Status quo is a good start

May 04, 2017
By: Dan Berglund

Both before and after the new administration released its budget plan, SSTI was communicating with both parties to identify how Congress would react to significant budget reductions. The message we heard was clear and consistent: Congress would continue to fund its existing priorities. The FY 2017 Omnibus shows that legislators were true to their word. Innovation policymakers and practitioners throughout the country should take a moment to appreciate this…. and then prepare to both work with agencies on program implementation and vigorously advocate for FY 2018 and beyond. While we thank Congress for its support for innovation in the FY 2017 budget, the fight for FY 2018 funding will require even more effort because of greater involvement of the Trump Administration in the budget process and lowering of spending caps. Further, the consequences of the FY 2018 budget are likely to be greater as the budget may serve as the roadmap for the next several years.

Programs that SSTI is particularly pleased to see receive support in the budget include Regional Innovation Strategies — dozens of SSTI members contacted Congress and earned a $17 million appropriation — and SBA’s cluster program, which SSTI members successfully requested support for and received $5 million, despite the program receiving no funding in the White House or initial House budgets. Many other programs important to SSTI and its members also received significant funding through the budget.

While the FY 2017 budget is a success for science and innovation policy, there is still great urgency for our community.

Now that the agencies have their spending levels and direction, they need to implement funded programs. Spending funds is a federal requirement — a requirement that Congress reminds department secretaries of repeatedly throughout the budget act — and is also important for the policy outcomes driving the spending. Issuing and implementing program awards may be a challenge for offices operating on a shortened timeline (FY 2017 ends Sept. 30 for the federal government) and, in many cases, without political leadership. Therefore, it may become necessary for SSTI and member organizations to contact agencies to demonstrate awareness and demand for programs. Recent news indicates funding slowdowns at the Departments of Energy and the Interior, but the budget act provides the agencies with no coverage for continued delays.

Equally important, the innovation community cannot relax as Congress is already in the midst of planning for the FY 2018 spending bills. There is not yet a strong indication of how much Congressional support for FY 2017 was due to the entrance of the White House’s proposal nearly a year into budget negotiations and how much was due to existing Congressional priorities. A record number of SSTI members contacted Congress in support of FY 2018 funding last month, but as the administration’s detailed budget is released and negotiations begin in earnest, more action will certainly be needed.

A particular challenge for the FY 2018 budget is that in the absence of Congressional action, non-defense spending is required to decrease by $3 billion across the federal government. Unless Congress hears a clear case from its constituents for the importance of science, tech, innovation and entrepreneurship funding, modest gains we made in some areas in FY 2017 will be replaced with across the board cuts and potential program elimination in FY 2018.

Get connected with these efforts by contacting SSTI at 614-901-1690 or contactus@ssti.org and learn more about SSTI’s policy work at ssti.org/federal-policy.

federal budget, fy17budget