SPECIAL UPDATE: The President's FY 2004 Budget Request: National Science Foundation

(Posted 2-13-03)

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

IN A NUTSHELL: The National Science Foundation (NSF) proposes a $5.48 billion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2004, up 9% from the previous year's request and nearly 15% above current funding. Within that total, the Geosciences Directorate would receive $688 million, down 0.5% from the FY 2003 request which included a number of large proposed transfers from other agencies, which were rejected by Congress and not sought again. Taking away those transfers in the last request, the new budget represents an 11.5% increase and would be nearly 13% above FY 2002's actual level. Within GEO, the Earth Sciences Division would receive $144 million, down 5.8% from the FY 2003 request but up 14.3% above FY 2002. Atmospheric Sciences would receive $230 million (-5% below '03 request but +13.8% over '02 actual). Ocean Sciences would receive $314 million (-1.7% below '03, +11.7% above '02). The EarthScope project would receive $45 million from NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account. If FY 2003 funding comes through ($35 million was proposed), this new request would be the second installment covering the capital costs for this major earth science initiative. NSF's Educational programs are slated for a 8.5% boost to $938 million. A previous special update covered the U.S. Geological Survey. Subsequent ones will cover the Department of Energy, other Interior agencies, EPA, NASA, NOAA, and the Smithsonian. Information on previous budget requests and appropriations can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap.


For the many researchers, educators and students who receive funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Director Rita Colwell had good news at a Monday afternoon briefing to unveil the agency's fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget request. In a year when the federal government's non-defense discretionary spending is set for a modest 4% increase over the previous year's request, NSF would receive a 9% boost to $5.48 billion. That amount is almost 15% more than the actual FY 2002 level at which the agency is currently being funded under the latest in a series of continuing resolutions. Within the total request, $4.1 billion would go to the Research and Related Activities (RRA) account that funds the disciplinary directorates (+8.5% over the FY 2003 request; +13.5% over FY 2002 actual) and $938 million would go to Education and Human Resources (+3.3%, +8.3%). The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account, which funds capital costs associated with large-scale facilities such as telescopes or networked installations, is slated to receive $202 million, a whopping +60% over the previous request and +76% over FY 2002. The request includes $45 million for the second installment for EarthScope -- $35 million was requested for the first installment in FY 2003, which has yet to be approved by Congress.

While this funding increase over last year's request is sizable, it is less than the amount authorized last year by legislation, signed by President Bush in December, that would put the agency on a budget-doubling track similar to that achieved by the National Institutes of Health over the past five years. When asked about the disparity at the budget briefing, Colwell responded that the FY 2004 budget was already formulated when the doubling legislation was signed into law. She went on the say that the $5.48 billion is still progress towards the legislation's goal.

Congress is still working out the finer details to the FY 2003 budget, but the Senate did pass an omnibus appropriations bill (H.J. Res. 2) last month that paves the way for final negotiations between the House and Senate. Although most of the comparisons in the NSF budget documents refer to last year's budget request, the Senate numbers from last year can give us an idea of how the FY 2004 request would stack up against the likely FY 2003 allocation. The Senate omnibus would provide NSF with $5.2 billion, meaning that the FY 2004 request would provide a 4% increase. For the Geosciences Directorate, this year's request would be nearly 2.5% higher than that provided in the omnibus legislation. The real winner would be the MREFC account, which was drastically reduced in the Senate bill down to $59 million, a third of what is proposed for FY 2004.

Geosciences Directorate

Interpreting numbers for the Geosciences Directorate (GEO) -- which includes Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Science Divisions -- is complicated by the administration's attempt last year to transfer several programs from other agencies into the directorate. Large apparent increases in last year's request masked nearly flat funding for actual programs. After Congress showed little interest in the transfers (from EPA, NOAA, and USGS), the administration has dropped the idea, and all the funds requested for GEO this time go toward base programs. As elsewhere in the budget, understanding the numbers is best done relative to the actual FY 2002 levels.

With that preamble, the president has requested $688 million for GEO, down 0.5% from the FY 2003 request but nearly 13% above FY 2002 actual. Taking away the transfers from the FY 2003 request, this new request would represent an 11.5% increase for GEO programs. That percentage increase is more in line with the increases being provided for the other disciplinary research directorates. For comparison, the Biological Sciences Directorate is up 7% from last year's request to $562 million, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate is up nearly 13% to $1.1 billion, the Engineering Directorate is up almost 8% to $435 million, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate is up 11% to $584 million, and the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate would grow 8% to $212 million.

Within GEO, the Earth Sciences Division (EAR) would receive $144 million, down 5.8% from the FY 2003 request but up 14.3% above FY 2002. Atmospheric Sciences would receive $230 million (-5% below '03 request but +13.8% over '02 actual). Ocean Sciences would receive $314 million (-1.7% below '03, +11.7% above '02).

One trend for GEO is a growing emphasis on Science and Technology Centers (STC), which were initiated in the late 1980s. For GEO, there is a 233% increase for STC -- the budget request specifies three centers including the Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA) center based at the University of Arizona and the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED) based at the University of Minnesota-- to total $10.7 million. It should be noted, however, that part of the increase in directorate support is due to a transfer of accounting from a general Integrated Activities account in the past to the managing directorate.

Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction Account

At several hearings last year, members of Congress voiced concern over the selection process for projects funded through the MREFC account. In the Senate appropriations process, concerns over the NSF's large-project management structure led to the threat not to release funds for the initiation of EarthScope (the only new MREFC project being funded) until a high-level oversight position was filled. The impact of this congressional scrutiny can be seen in the budget documents prepared for FY 2004, which include lengthy management and justification sections for all projects -- existing and proposed for future years -- within the MREFC account. Each project has a detailed accounting of how long it will be funded through this account, and how the research directorates will fund associated activities during the project's life span. According to the budget book, EarthScope has a life span of 15 years from its completion, which is planned for FY 2007. At that time, research funding through GEO would grow to $11 million and remain at approximately $13 million for the rest of the project's life span.

The budget documents also clearly state the priorities for MREFC funding in FY 2004. EarthScope is one of seven projects listed as "First Priority." For FY 2004, the $45 million requested for EarthScope in the MREFC account would support three of its components: the United States Seismic Array (USArray), the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), and the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO). For more on EarthScope, visit http://www.earthscope.org.

In addition to the inclusion of EarthScope, the MREFC account has a request of $26 million for the final installment of High-Performance Instrumental Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), a high-altitude aircraft used for atmospheric research. Also included in the request is a first payment of Phase I of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) that was originally proposed in the FY 2001 budget but not funded. Geoscience projects listed in the budget for future MREFC support are Scientific Ocean Drilling (beginning in FY 2005) and Ocean Observatories (beginning FY 2006).

Polar Programs

The Office of Polar Programs (OPP) funds research activities, in conjunction with other federal agencies, in the Arctic and Antarctic. OPP is requesting $330 million for FY 2004, an increase of nearly 9% from last year's request. Of this amount, $262 million will be for the Polar Research Program, with the remaining amount going towards Antarctic Logistical Support Activities. Included in the MREFC account is $96 million for modernization of the South Pole station. This last installment will build upon several years of support to replace the old station that was built nearly 30 years ago.

NSF Priority Areas

At Monday's briefing, NSF Director Colwell also talked about the agency priorities listed in the budget. Several of them are crosscutting, multidisciplinary areas such as Biocomplexity in the Environment ($100 million), Nanoscale Science and Engineering ($249 million), and Information Technology Research ($303 million). Funding for these priority areas come from the directorates. For these three initiatives, GEO would provide a combined $60 million. The GEO request includes $37 million (+67.5%) to support the Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative with projects at the interface between living and non-living Earth systems.

Besides priority areas, Colwell also highlighted NSF's request of $200 million for the Math and Science Partnership program, marking the third installment of a proposed five year, $1 billion investment as part of the president's No Child Left Behind Act signed into law in January 2002.

As part of the administration's Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI), NSF has requested $25 million to support "research to reduce uncertainty in critical areas of climate change knowledge and provide timely information to facilitate policy decision." Some of these funds will be provided to "advance understanding of abrupt and rapid climate change." Within GEO, $20 million (+50%) would support CCRI, focusing on Earth's carbon cycle and complex system modeling.

Additional Budget Information

The NSF budget documents provide a wealth of information regarding the research and education funded by the foundation, including multi-year trends in funding and descriptions of successful past research that is benefiting the nation. The budget documents are available on the web at http://www.nsf.gov/home/budget/.

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

Sources: National Science Foundation budget materials.

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

Posted February 13, 2003

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