Lawmakers now have until Friday evening to approve the “minibus” package.

Lawmakers now have until Friday evening to approve the “minibus” package. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

These are the 8 biggest agency and program reforms in the first FY24 spending bill

Lawmakers include budget cuts, hiring initiatives and new priorities in first of two appropriations packages.

Lawmakers on Sunday evening released the first of two spending packages that will set funding levels for the remainder of fiscal 2024, with many agencies throughout government in line to absorb modest cuts. 

The much delayed package, which includes funding for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, Interior, Commerce and Justice, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and a few other agencies, came together after Congress last week agreed to its fourth stopgap bill of the fiscal year. Lawmakers now have until Friday evening to approve the “minibus” package. After they do so, they will turn their attention to funding the rest of government by March 22. 

Democrats involved in the negotiations cheered that the final package was largely free of the conservative policy riders Republicans had initially demanded, while Republicans celebrated that many non-defense agencies will endure discretionary spending cuts compared to fiscal 2023. House Republicans, for example, noted they did not include increased spending for federal employee salaries for the current fiscal year, despite President Biden authorizing a 5.2% pay bump that went into effect Jan. 1. That will require agencies to absorb those personnel costs elsewhere in their budgets, they said. 

Congressional leaders previously agreed to a top-line spending level of $1.66 trillion for fiscal 2024. Defense spending is set to jump 3% to $886 billion and non-defense spending will stay essentially flat relative to fiscal 2023 at nearly $773 billion.

The first of two expected minibuses is expected to have enough support to get to Biden’s desk before the Friday night deadline. Here is a look at some the bill’s most significant impact on federal agencies:

  • Federal law enforcement cuts: In the fiscal 2023 omnibus, the Justice Department saw a 10% funding boost that went largely to boosting federal law enforcement efforts. The FBI is in line for a 6% funding reduction, though most of that traces back to a one-time infusion last year for construction in Alabama. Its salaries and expense account will see only a modest decrease. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would see a 7% cut, though its operations would only shrink by 3%. President Biden sought a 7% increase for the U.S. Attorneys Office, but the minibus would decrease its funding slightly. The Drug Enforcement Administration was an outlier in the bill, as it would receive a modest funding bump. Grants for local law enforcement are set to support the hiring of 2,000 new officers. 
  • Federal prisons staffing: Appropriators in Congress said they continue “to be concerned about the significant number of vacancies in [Bureau of Prisons] institutions, creating an extremely dangerous environment for both staff and incarcerated persons.” Still, lawmakers left the agency’s funding flat for salaries, while slashing funding for facilities by 38%. They required a staffing report on the officer-to-inmate ratio at federal prisons and said the bureau should use any expedited hiring mechanisms and pay incentives available. The appropriators also said the agency should engage with the Office of Personnel Management to come up with new hiring authorities at facilities with a large number of vacancies and implement retention incentives. The committee instructed the bureau not to eliminate any positions. As it has for many years, Congress told the bureau to reduce its practice of reassigning non-correctional officer staff into correctional officer duties. 

After a recent report criticized the bureau's use of "restrictive housing" measures and suggested it contributed to inmate deaths, lawmakers instructed BOP to "significantly reduce the number of federal inmates in restricted housing." 

  • Mixed bag for science: After seeing the largest increase in two decades in fiscal 2023, the National Science Foundation is now facing a 5% cut. Overall, the science part of the annual budget as spread across several agencies would see a 3% reduction and include a small decrease for NASA. Funding for the Energy Department’s Office of Science, however, is set to grow by 2% and its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would maintain its funding level after seeing an 8% boost in fiscal 2023. Senate Democrats boasted they maintained climate research efforts despite House Republicans' effort to strip that funding. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration would see a slight funding boost, including to increase its use of weather satellites. 
  • EPA softens the blow: At first glance, the Environmental Protection Agency is faring worse than just about any other in the minibus package: its top-line funding level is set to decrease by 7%. EPA, however, is receiving billions of dollars as part of an Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act tax that will pay for Superfund cleanup. Congress opted to make cuts to discretionary spending to offset that cash influx, leading to the top-line cut. The spending reduction compared to the agency’s base operations will be a more modest trim of around 4%. Senate Democrats maintained EPA would be able to keep its current workforce.

“The bill maintains current staffing levels across all EPA programs—including in the clean water, clean air, climate, and toxic programs—by keeping all biologists, chemists, researchers, engineers, and other specialists on the job,” they said. 

The agency launched a major hiring initiative earlier this year, saying it would lean on the billions of dollars it received through the recent bipartisan infrastructure law and the Democrats signature climate, tax and health care bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act to bring on 1,000 new staffers. The agency cautioned, however, its exact hiring targets would depend on its fiscal 2024 appropriation. 

  • Cuts, but supplemented: EPA’s treatment in the spending packaged mirrored that of several agencies and offices across government. House Republicans noted they won $3.2 billion in cuts to grant programs within the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, for example, but much of that was more than made up for by forthcoming cash infusions from the infrastructure law and the IRA. The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, which funds state and local transportation projects, will see its annual appropriation shrink by a whopping 57%, but the IIJA will more than supplement that by adding $1.5 billion. Capital investment grants at Transportation are set to see a $5 million funding cut, but with infrastructure funds they will see an overall jump of $1.6 billion. Several inspectors general would also see their funding supplemented by redirected IIJA and IRA funds. 
  • Air traffic controllers: As Congress remains divided over renewing the authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration, appropriators are looking to boost the agency’s funding by 5%. The additional $1 billion will help the agency add 1,800 air traffic controllers, which the agency, lawmakers in both parties and the White House have stressed is vital to national airspace operations. FAA would also be able to hire 125 new aircraft certification officials, which lawmakers called necessary in light of the recent grounding of certain Boeing planes. 
  • Veterans health care: As agreed to in previous bipartisan deals setting overall funding levels, the Veterans Affairs Department is in line for a funding boost. Much of that would go toward mental health care and homelessness prevention, which would see 17% and 15% increases, respectively. VA officials have promised to increase its hiring of mental health care staff, even as it has restricted hiring elsewhere. Despite the hiring pauses at some facilities, Congress instructed VA to explore all positional options for recruiting and retention. 
  • Federal firefighting: The spending package would continue the extra pay authority federal firefighters first received in 2022, which officials have called critical for recruiting and retention efforts. Lawmakers said they hope to authorize it on a more permanent basis going forward. Congress provided about $4 billion in federal firefighting spending, which would represent a roughly 20% cut but for carryover funds and more than $2 billion set aside for agencies to tap into if the fire season requires it. 

“As wildfire season grows longer and more severe by the year, our federal firefighters are bravely responding, and this bill honors their sacrifices and vital work by maintaining pay increases they have earned—and by investing in our wildfire prevention and suppression efforts nationwide,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Other parts of federal land management did not fare so well. The National Park Service is set to receive a 5% overall cut, the Bureau of Land Management a 6% reduction and the non-wildfire part of the Forest Service a 4% decrease.