On November 10th, the Senate Appropriations Committee released the text for all 12 of its appropriations bills for the Fiscal Year 2021, which started on October 1. The release of these bills signals that lawmakers are working through negotiations to pass a final spending bill in the lame-duck session. It is unlikely that these bills will be taken up on the Senate floor, but will serve as a jumping-off point for negotiating with the House, which passed 10 out of the 12 spending bills in July.
The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution, which holds spending level steady at the previous year’s spending levels, until December 11th.
A few bright spots in a lackluster package:
- The Senate provided General Services Administration $5 million for GSA to make progress on the government-wide implementation of title II (the OPEN Government Data Act) of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Public Law 115–435)
- The bill continues funding for Public Health Data Surveillance/IT Systems Modernization at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an initiative that was established in FY 2020 with $50 million in appropriations. (This same initiative also received $500 million in multi-year funding through the CARES Act.)
- There is also $1 million in new funding to develop a database on suicide incidences among public safety officers, which encourages CDC to prioritize data collection on domestic and sexual violence.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning receive research funds through the spending bills, including $120 million at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science Programs and $25 million to begin a new initiative at the National Institutes of Health to bridge the gap between the biomedical and computer science communities to “maximize the promise of AI.”
Some additional things to note:
- The Bureau of Fiscal Service at the Treasury Department is directed to report to the Committee on the feasibility of shifting responsibility for the collection and dissemination of death data from the Social Security Administration to the Treasury’s Do Not Pay portal. The report should include projected implementation costs and recurring annual costs, including which costs would need to be funded by direct appropriations.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is directed to conduct a comprehensive internal assessment measuring the agency’s current efforts related to data privacy and security while separately identifying all resource-based needs of the FTC to improve in these areas and provide a report describing the assessment’s findings to Congress.
- The bill does not contain any provisions that would extend statutory deadlines for submitting reapportionment and redistricting data, which are currently being produced in a compressed time frame raising concerns about the accuracy of the resulting data.
Though there are fewer explicit data provisions in the Senate package, it is not too surprising. The Senate assumed lower overall spending levels than the House of Representatives. In addition to the negotiations on regular appropriations, the two chambers will be discussing potential pandemic stimulus packages as well. With these complicated, large legislative vehicles, there are plenty of opportunities for Congress to incorporate common-sense data provisions.
As Congress heads into these negotiations, the Data Coalition urges them to consider appropriations that support the implementation of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and other data priorities in government.