SPECIAL UPDATE: The President's FY 2003 Budget Request: NSF

(Posted 2-6-02; Updated 4-12-02)

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: For Fiscal Year (FY) 2003, President Bush has requested $5.1 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 5 percent increase over the current year. But nearly half of the increase is due to program transfers from other agencies rather than new funds for existing NSF programs. For the Geosciences Directorate, an apparent 13.4% increase drops to only 1.2% without the transfers, which Congress is not likely to approve. The biggest boost for the geosciences is the requested $35 million funding of the EarthScope project in the Major Research Equipment (MRE) account. In FY 2001, a previous attempt to fund the project was derailed when Congress earmarked funding for other projects not in the request. That is likely to occur again without strong intervention by the geoscience community.  This update is the first in a series on the president's request. The next update will cover the U.S. Geological Survey, and following ones will address the Department of Energy, EPA, NASA, and NOAA.


On February 4th, the president released his FY 2003 budget request to Congress. As outlined in Bush's State of the Union address the previous week, defense spending would receive the biggest boost. Overall, science and technology funding would increase 9% from $52.3 billion in FY 2002 to $57.0 billion in FY 2003. The bulk of the increase, however, goes to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is in the fourth year of a five-year doubling trajectory. NIH is slated to receive a 17 percent increase to $27.3 billion.

Back in December, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) lavished praise on the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its efficient management. That praise translated into a requested 5% increase to total $5.1 billion -- favored status compared to the cuts or flat funding faced by many other science agencies.  NSF Director Rita Colwell said in her statement at the public budget release that the strength of the agency relies on two conditions: aiming research at the "leading edge of technology" and awarding grants based on "competitive, merit-reviewed, and time-limited" proposals "with clear criteria for success."

NSF's approach of awarding grants rather than hiring its own researchers was a major selling point for OMB, and the budget proposes to transfer several programs from mission-oriented agencies to NSF. The transfers include $10 million from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for its Hydrology of Toxic Substances program, $57 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for its Sea Grant program, and $9 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its environmental education programs.  According to NSF budget documents, $74 million of that will be awarded as grants through the Geoscience Directorate, with the remaining $2 million used for management and administration of the transfer. Without the transferred funds, the increase for NSF's own programs drops down to 3.4% above last year's allocation, just ahead of inflation. For more on the proposed transfer of USGS programs, see the Geotimes Web Extra at http://www.geotimes.org/feb02/WebExtra0205.html.

Transfers Impact on Geosciences Directorate
The congressional reception to the transfers has been tepid in part because they would require shifting funds between appropriations subcommittees and moving directed, mission-oriented programs into a fundamental science agency. Thus, it seems unlikely that the transfers will take place. That poses a significant problem for the Geosciences Directorate (GEO) since virtually all of its requested 13.4% increase, to $691 million, is due to transferred funds. Within that total, the Earth Sciences Division (EAR) would receive a 21.2% increase to $153.1 million (including $2.5 million of EPA money, $10 million of NOAA money, and $9.7 million of USGS money); Atmospheric Sciences Division (ATM) would receive an 8.4% increase to $218.9 million (including $3.6 million from EPA and $5 million from NOAA); and Ocean Sciences Division (OCE) would receive a 13.5% increase to $319 million (including $2.5 million from EPA and $40.8 million from NOAA).

Behind that facade of a healthy increase provided by the transfers, existing GEO programs would receive a 1.2% increase, providing a decrease in funding in real dollars. EAR would increase by 3.6%, ATM's increase would be 4%, and OCE would receive a decrease of nearly 2%.  When NSF Director Colwell was asked how GEO would fare if the transfers do not go through, she responded that there was a contingency plan but did not provide any more details.  At the GEO budget briefing, Assistant Director for Geosciences Margaret Leinen seemed much more optimistic that the transfers would occur, stating that GEO has been talking with people at the affected programs in order to work out a smooth transition. More details on the GEO divisions can be found below.

EarthScope Included in MRE Request
In contrast to the mixed news for the GEO directorate, earth scientists will find very good news in the Major Research Equipment (MRE) account request: $35 million for EarthScope. Long the exclusive domain of physicists and astronomers, the MRE account funds large-scale facilities. EarthScope, which comprises four separate projects, is unique in that it is not a single facility (like an atom smasher or telescope) but rather four separate, broadly distributed projects: the United States Seismic Array (USArray), the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), and the Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite (InSAR).

The $35 million of first-year funding would be divided between USArray, SAFOD, and PBO. Although funding for the MRE account is entirely separate from funding that goes to the directorates, the fourth component of EarthScope -- InSAR -- is listed as a priority within EAR (more below). EarthScope is expected to last five years at a total cost of $187 million.

This budget marks the second time that EarthScope has been included in the president's request. In FY 2001, it was part of a whopping 17.5% increase for NSF requested by President Clinton. Although Congress ultimately provided NSF with a healthy 13% increase, EarthScope did not make it into the appropriation. Instead, Congress funded the High-Performance Instrumental Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), a high-altitude aircraft used for atmospheric research that had been put in NSF's budget the previous year. The FY2001 House-Senate Conference Committee report (H.Rpt. 106-998) made clear that the lack of funding for EarthScope "does not reflect on the quality of research proposed" and was done "without prejudice," leaving the door open for its inclusion in future budgets. President Bush's FY 2002 request contained no new starts in the MRE account.

Now awaiting its final year of funding, HIAPER again is not in the president's request. Since it is almost certain that Congress will provide the money needed to complete HIAPER, EarthScope faces a tough road to stay in the budget. Without a strong effort from the geoscience community, EarthScope is in danger of being frozen out for the second time. It is not likely that there would be a third chance.

EarthScope is one of three new starts proposed for the MRE account along with the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON) -- also in the FY 2001 request but not funded -- and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA II), a follow-up to a previous MRE project.

More information on EarthScope is available at http://www.earthscope.org. A new National Research Council study on the science plan for EarthScope is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10271.html.

Geosciences Directorate Specifics
Returning to the Geosciences Directorate for a closer look at line items, the Earth Sciences Division is slated to receive $116.9 million for Earth Science Project Support, which funds researchers in the Earth Sciences, in multidisciplinary groups, and in outreach activities related to the geosciences.  Also under EAR is funding for Instrumentation and Facilities at $36.2 million.  One of the listed priorities for this area is the "development of a dedicated InSAR satellite mission, carried out jointly with NASA and USGS, to provide spatially-continuous strain measurements over wide geographic areas."

The Atmospheric Sciences Division funding for the Research Support account would come to $145.3 million, a 15.9% increase.  Funding for the National Center for Atmospheric Research would decrease to $73.6 million, a change of nearly 4% below last year's allocation.  Leinen noted that a part of this decrease is due to the fact that some projects are concluding.  In the Ocean Sciences Division, funding for Research Support activities would increase by 15.4% to $120 million, the Integrative Programs account would increase by 11.1% to $104 million, and the Marine Geoscience account would increase by 13.8% to $95 million. As noted above, all of these increases dominantly reflect transfers, not new money for existing programs.

NSF Priority Initiatives
At the budget rollout, in addition to highlighting several of the agency's priorities, NSF Director Colwell also noted that the FY 2003 budget will increase graduate stipends from $21,500 to $25,000 at a cost of close to $37 million.  Graduate research fellowships, graduate teaching fellowship in K-12 education, and integrative graduate education and research traineeships (IGERT) programs will also benefit from this stipend increase.  She also noted that the agency's administrative and management account will receive one the largest increases in several years to total $268 million.  Staffing at NSF has remained essentially the same since 1990, and the $41 million increase will be used to recruit more employees and to help the agency continue its work on E-Government.

A major winner in the president's budget is the Math and Science Partnership program, which is marked to receive an increase of 25% over the FY 2002 budget.  The $200 million request for the partnership program is the second installment of a planned five-year, $1.0 billion initiative to improve math and science education at the primary and secondary levels.  It also was a keystone of the president's education reform proposal.  According to Colwell, NSF is working closely with the Department of Education to develop a connection between the two agencies.

NSF identified a number of priority areas, all of which would receive healthy increases in the budget request.  A new priority area of the agency is social, behavioral and economic sciences, which would receive $10 million in seed money.  Other NSF priority areas by the numbers: biocomplexity in the environment would receive $79.2 million (a 36% increase), information technology research would receive $285.8 million (a 3% increase), nanoscale research would receive $221.3 million (an 11% increase), Learning for the 21st Century Workforce would receive $184.7 million (a 27.5% increase), and mathematical sciences would double to $60 million.

Now that the budget request is out, it moves on to Congress and the appropriations process, where legislators get a chance to rewrite it at will. A concerted effort by the geoscience community will be required to keep EarthScope in the final budget and ensure that GEO receives real increases. The House Appropriations Committee has scheduled its hearing for NSF on April 11th, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet announced its schedule for hearings on the FY2003 budget.

More information on the NSF budget is available at http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/bud/fy2003/start.htm.  More information on the Geosciences Directorate budget is available at http://www.geo.nsf.gov/geo/about/directhome.htm#budget.

Special update prepared by Margaret A. Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Library of Congress, National Science Foundation.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted February 6, 2002; Updated April 12, 2002

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