U.S. Climate Change Science Program has been undermined by budget cutbacks


Examining U.S. federal climate change expenditures, Part 2: the Climate Change Science Program—Even with upwardly-adjusted numbers obtained by bringing additional programs into the CCSP budget crosscut for 2007-2008 that serve to partially mask dramatic budget cuttting by the administration, the inflation-adjusted CCSP budget in the President’s FY 2008 request is 23% below the peak FY 1995 level, 15% below the FY 2004 level, and 1.5% below the FY 2007 level.

This posting was prepared by the Climate Science Watch research team.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has been undermined by major budget cutting

The administration’s response to criticism on climate change has typically been to point to how much it is spending on scientific research, and to claim it is waiting on greater scientific certainty and information to guide policy decisions on measures to combat the problem.  For example, President Bush made the following statement in a speech delivered in May of 2005:

“I’ve asked my advisors to consider approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including those that tap the power of markets, help realize the promise of technology and ensure the widest possible global participation….Our actions should be measured as we learn more from science and build on it. Our approach must be flexible to adjust to new information and take advantage of new technology. We must always act to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity for our citizens and for citizens throughout the world.”

Yet, while purporting to place a high priority on climate science research and observations, the Administration has been engaged in steady annual budget slashing, sending an already under-funded budget in exactly the wrong direction. 

To the casual observer, this will not be readily apparent. The climate change science programs span 13 different agencies and departments, each of which has varying number of elements (programs and activities) that are constantly morphing and moving around the accounting spreadsheets.  Moreover, the programs are almost as diverse and interconnected as the set of Earth’s ecological systems they are designed to study. Tracking the climate science budget could be likened to piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle for which the overall picture keeps changing and pieces keep sliding off and being added to the table; even an expert in 3-D chess would be challenged by the task.  In 2005, the GAO issued a report commissioned by Senators McCain and Kerry, Federal Reports on Climate Change Funding Should Be Clearer and More Complete, that supports this assertion; some direct quotes from the executive summary allude to the thorniness of the problem:

“… it is unclear whether funding changed as much as reported because modifications in the format and content of OMB reports limit the comparability of funding data over time…..  while OMB’s totals for science funding were generally comparable to CCSP’s totals, the more detailed data in CCSP reports were difficult to compare over time because CCSP introduced new categorization methods without explaining how they related to the previous methods… OMB officials stated that changes in their reports were due, in part, to the short timeline for completing them, and that it has not been required to follow a consistent reporting format from one year to the next…The Director of CCSP said that its reports changed as the program evolved… GAO was unable to compare climate-related tax expenditures over time because OMB reported data on proposed, but not on existing tax expenditures… unexplained changes in the reports’ contents limit the comparability of data on funding by agency… GAO found that OMB reported funding for certain agencies in some years but not in others, without explanation… OMB told GAO that it relied on agency budget offices to submit accurate data…”

You get the idea.  The good news is that, to a large extent, the OMB and Congress have recently achieved some success in adjusting and standardizing the historical CCSP accounting records, at least for the past five years going back to FY 2003, to create a situation in which we are looking at apples and apples, or at least, Fujis and MacIntoshes. 

This budget table“U.S. Global Change Research Program / Climate Change Science Program: Scientific Research and Global Observing System—Funding History, FY 1989 – FY 2008 request” paints a fuller picture of the history of the federal investment in climate change research than does the one in OMB’s Federal Expenditures Report to Congress.  It is based on the Climate Change Science Program web site as of February 2007 and the President’s original FY 2008 budget request released in February 2007, before the FY 2006 through FY 2008 numbers were adjusted upward in the May 2007 OMB report (see below for explanation).

Adjusted for inflation, the President’s original FY 2008 request for the climate change scientific research and observing system budget represented a 35% cut from the FY 1995 level. 

Under the President’s original FY 2008 budget, the funding for the Climate Change Science Program had been cut by 23% since 2001, and by 28% since 2004.

Note that all budget numbers in the last column are adjusted to constant FY 2005 dollars, so they are not directly comparable with the budget levels presented in the OMB expenditures report or with other current budget tables in the public record.  However, this table provides reliable documentation of the historical budget trend for the climate change science programs, originally under the US Global Change Research Program and then under the Climate Change Science Program. 

An overview of the funding history for U.S. climate and global change research reveals some significant trends.

In real, inflation-adjusted terms, the CCSP budget peaked in 1995—the last fiscal year that the Democrats controlled both the White House and majorities in both House and Senate. The research program had ramped up steadily from its inception until that time. Over the course of President Clinton’s second term in office, the real budget for the research program was cut steadily and significantly as Congress systematically appropriated levels less than the President’s request.  In FY 2002, the first year the Bush Administration put its own mark on the federal budget, the interagency climate science research budgets were cut back to 1993 levels. 

After an artificial boost in 2003-2004 in the total climate change research budget due to the addition of several programs not previously included (see paragraph below), an even steeper decline resumed.  However, after the 2006 election cycle that returned a Democratic majority to both the House and Senate, the funding dynamic flipped:  Congress is now working to restore funding for starved climate programs and moreover, to create new climate change research and assessment endeavors in reaction to inadequate levels in the President’s request to Congress.  This dynamic is relatively new and evolving:  most federal programs ran on a “continuing resolution” (CR) last year, and the Senate has yet to act on every one of the 12 appropriations bills for FY 2008 reported out by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The artificial boost mentioned above requires some explanation.  After the release of the President’s FY 2008 Budget Request, the administration revised the CCSP budget numbers upward for FY 2007 and FY 2008 in order to make it appear that they were actually increasing the CCSP budget rather than cutting it.  The May 2007 OMB expenditures report shows that the CCSP FY 2007 budget and the FY 2008 request were revised upward, by $155 million and $282 million, respectively, to reflect the addition of certain NASA programs under the CCSP umbrella that had not previously been included:  1) the NPOESS Preparatory Project, 2) portions of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM),  3) the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), and 4) portions of the High-End Computing and Scientific Computing projects. 

This budget tableFunding for Global Change Research under the CCSP and USGCRP, Fiscal Years 1989 – 2008—now appears on the CCSP web site (the numbers are either identical or very similar to the CCSP budget history table above except for 2007 and 2008).

The attempt to beef up the programs was weak, however, and does not make a dent in the overall downward trend.  Note that, even with these upward-adjusted numbers obtained by bringing additional programs into the budget crosscut for 2007-2008, the inflation-adjusted CCSP budget in the President’s FY 2008 request is:
o 23% below the peak FY 1995 level
o 15% below the FY 2004 level
o 1.5% below the FY 2007 level

NASA has always had the largest share of the CCSP budget, primarily because it has primary responsibility (along with NOAA) for operating our climate observing systems, in particular, NASA’s space-based remote-sensing observing systems. The cut in the overall research budget total can be accounted for primarily by a dramatic cut in funding for NASA’s Earth Science program, which includes both the space-based Earth-environmental observing system and associated research.  Funds have been systematically diverted to other space-program priorities at great cost to NASA Earth Science.

This extraordinary scaling back of the commitment to a strong Earth Science research and observations program at NASA has very serious implications for the strength of the nation’s climate change science capability. The administration must be held accountable for this indirect method of undermining the ability to understand, assess, and communicate what is happening with climate and associated global change — especially if we also take into consideration the extraordinary and disturbing developments with de-manifesting of key climate sensors from the NPOESS next-generation weather-climate satellite system that has occurred on the watch of administration officials at DoD, NOAA, and NASA.

Funding levels for programs at the US EPA and the USGS have also suffered major reductions:  each now receives about half the funding levels of the early- to mid-90s.

Looking forward, what does the future hold for the US Climate Change Science Program?

When all of the various relevant Appropriations bills for FY 2008 are ultimately signed into law—which could be months from now, forcing another Continuing Resolution as we rapidly approach the new fiscal year October 1— the Congress will likely have beefed up the climate programs by significant margins.  Bills reported by the House and by the Senate Appropriations Committee to date are peppered with many different climate change directives and earmarked funding to carry them out, a new phenomenon in Congress.  The added funding is needed, but the downside is that these programs are not being folded into the Climate Change Science Program’s OMB crosscut, reflecting the fact that there is no interagency coordinating mechanism in Congress that mirrors the coordinating entity begun in 1989 and codified by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.  In parallel with new appropriations line items, Congress is in the process of authorizing a variety of new climate programs as well, and providing new funding authority for programs that may or may not end up being coordinated by the CCSP.

The upshot is that this set of wavering dynamics over time is creating a real mess – a set of disparate, non-integrated programs that could take a while to sort out and get back on the orderly growth trajectory of the early 1990s. 

The Damage Done

A reasonable argument can be made that the steady decline in the climate science budget has damaged the nation:  we are now much less prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change than we would be if our climate science programs were not chronically compromised.  The budget problems of the Climate Change Science Program have had chronic impacts in undermining the nation’s scientific capability to provide a compass for the broad-scale policymaking this issue demands if we are to meet the challenges that climate change is imposing on us. Many of the symptoms of this damage were covered in a recently-released critical analysis of the CCSP and its priorities by the National Academy of Sciences / National Research Council. The Academy report raises serious concerns about the failure to direct sufficient resources to research on the potential ecological and societal consequences of climate change, and about the emerging crisis in the deterioration of global climate observation capabilities.

The report is unequivocal and clear in its warning to us that a failure to invest in these programs and fundamental dysfunctions within the CCSP have potentially dire consequences:  “U.S. capability to monitor trends, document the impacts of future climate change and further improve prediction and assimilation models…will decline even as the urgency of addressing climate change increases.”

In a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune reporting on the NRC study, Bill Brennan, acting director of the climate science program, said he welcomed the latest review, and is quoted as responding: “I…don’t disagree with its findings,” he said. “We will take what they have provided and use it to help us steer the program.”

We don’t question Bill Brennan’s good intentions, and appreciate his straightforward acknowledgement of the Academy’s serious critique of the CCSP. But there is a problem above his level in the power structure. Given the ticking clock on this Administration – Bush has only one more budget proposal to submit to Congress that will be implemented under a new President – we don’t expect to see any significant change in direction, in terms of either budget or program priorities, under the current leadership.


This entry was posted in U.S. Global Change Research Program. Bookmark the permalink.