It’s supposed to be simple: The federal budget year ends on September 30 each year. By that time, Congress is supposed to have passed the 12 appropriations bills that make up the federal budget so the next federal fiscal year can begin on October 1.
At least that is how it is supposed to work. According to the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress, Congress has met that deadline only four times since 1976. The other 36 years have seen one or more Continuing Resolutions (CRs), temporary measures enacted while Congress tries to complete its work. CRs can provide funding for the federal government for hours, most provide funding for a week, and some go for months. The other 36 years have also seen the occasional government shutdown. These shutdowns bring intramural research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to a stop, slowing research, limiting patient care at the NIH Clinical Center, and forcing NIH program officers to stay home, unable to remain in contact with their grantees.
For FY17 Congress passed only one appropriations bill before the October deadline and two CRs, the last of which is now funding the rest of the government, including the NIH and the National Science Foundation. The current CR was signed into law in December and provides funding until April 28, 2017.
Ever since the November election, debate about funding for the rest of FY17 has been clouded by two extraneous efforts: the removal of sequestration-imposed funding limits on the Department of Defense and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).
At the same time, the clock for FY18 will start ticking once President Trump submits his budget proposal to Congress in late January or early February.