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SPECIAL UPDATE: President's FY 2005 Budget Request
National Science Foundation

(Posted 3-15-04)

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

IN A NUTSHELL: In the FY 2005 proposed budget NSF would receive only a 3% boost to $5.75 billion. Within the total request, $4.3 billion would go to the Research and Related Activities (RRA) account that funds the disciplinary directorates, an increase of just under 5% from last year's allocation. Of this total request, $778 million would go to Education and Human Resources, a cut of 17.9% from last year's funding level. 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 $213 million, an impressive 36% increase from what this account received last year.

This funding increase is less than the amount authorized last year by legislation, signed by President Bush in December 2002, which would put the agency on a budget-doubling track similar to that achieved by the National Institutes of Health over the past five years. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Ranking Minority Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) both support the NSF and are deeply disappointed by the 3% increase. At a hearing of the subcommittee in late February, Senator Mikulski stated: "Senator Bond and I are committed to doubling the NSF's budget. It's bipartisan and bicameral. But we cannot do it alone."

National Science Foundation (NSF):

The Bush Administration has requested a 3.0% increase for the National Science Foundation for the fiscal year starting on October 1. This represents an increase of $167.2 million over the current year budget of $5,577.8 million, to $5,745.0 million.

In describing the FY 2005 request, NSF Director Rita Colwell stated, "This year, we have had to make informed choices in a sea of mixed opportunity and constraint." Components of the budget request vary greatly in percentage changes over the current year. Research and Related Activities spending would increase 4.7%, while funding for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would climb by 37.6%. In contrast, the Education and Human Resources budget would be cut by 17.9%.

In its budget submission to Congress, NSF identifies three priorities:

  • "Strengthen NSF management to maximize effectiveness and performance." The foundation is requesting $70 million to "strengthen the NSF workforce" and for the enhancement of information technology infrastructure and related activities.

  • "Improve the productivity of researchers and expand opportunities for students." Emphasis will be placed on increasing grant size to an annual average of $142,000, as well as efforts to increase grant duration.

  • "Strengthen the nation's performance with world-class instruments and facilities." The budget document explains that "investment of all types
    (Tools) rises to $1.47 billion, representing 26% of the FY 2005 Budget Request."

The foundation intends to "continue to support five priority areas with promising research horizons." Only one of these areas, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, would see an increase, in this instance by 20.3% or $51.6 million. Biocomplexity in the Environment and Mathematical Sciences would each receive flat funding. Human and Social Dynamics would fall by 4.1%. A new priority, Workforce for the 21st Century, would receive $20.00 million

In describing the FY 2005 budget request, Director Colwell commented, "This year the National Science Foundation is requesting $5.745 billion dollars, an increase of $167 million, or 3 percent above the FY 2004 budget estimate. In light of the significant challenges that face the nation-in security, defense, and the economy-this increase is a tribute to the extraordinary performance of the 200,000-plus students, teachers and researchers who are directly supported by NSF each year, and a vote of confidence for the National Science Foundation's performance. Thanks to strong support for NSF's vision and mission in the Administration and Congress, the NSF budget has grown steadily-by 62 percent between FY 1998 and FY 2004."

A different view was offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), a senior Democrat on the House Science Committee who stated, "Two years ago, the Congress sent the President a bill authorizing a doubling of NSF's programs over 5 years. Despite signing that bill to glowing reviews, the President has sent us two successive budgets that fall far short of reaching that goal. With this budget submission we stand $3 billion below the doubling path. This marks a fundamental breach of trust with our institutions of higher education and with our children, who depend on NSF to fund the best and brightest to pursue the most promising scientific insights. The only thing more surprising is the 18% cut to the education and human resources budget account from an Administration that has claimed education of our youth as one of its rhetorical hallmarks."

*** Geosciences Directorate ***
The request for the Geosciences Directorate, 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. Congress rejected this proposed transfer. Funding for the Geoscience Directorate (GEO) would increase from the FY2004 appropriation, with a budget request of $728.5 million. Within GEO, the Earth Sciences Division (EAR) would receive $155.6 million, Atmospheric Sciences would receive $243.6 million, and Ocean Sciences would receive $329.3 million all increases from the FY 2004 budget.

In FY 2005 GEO will emphasize research on the key physical, chemical and geologic cycles with in the Earth system. Both the Earthscope and Ocean Drilling Programs operations budgets were doubled in the FY 2005 budget request. The Climate Change Research Initiative funding would stay flat with the 2004 funds.

*** Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction Account ***
The total MREFC amount requested for 2005 is $213.3 million, up 37.6% from 2004. New starts requested in the 2005 MREFC budget include: National Ecological Observatory Network ($12 million), Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel ($40.9 million) and Rare Symmetry Violating Processes ($30 million). On a long-term outlook, other new starts budgeted to start in 2006 are Ocean Observatories Initiative, Alaska Region Research Vessel.

The budget documents also clearly state the priorities for MREFC funding in FY 2005. EarthScope is one of seven projects highlighted. Others include continued support of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), and continued construction of the Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMSIR). For FY 2005, the $47.4 million requested for EarthScope in the MREFC account would support three of its components: the United States Seismic Array (US Array), the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), and the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO).

*** 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 $349.7 million for FY 2005, an increase of 2.2% from last year's funding level. Of this amount, $281 million will be for the Polar Research Program, with the remaining amount going towards Antarctic Logistical Support Activities. Science facilities; operations at McMurdo, South Pole and Palmer stations; engineering construction and facilities maintenance; and data handling and communications all have budget request increases for 2005.

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

To keep up-to-date with the latest information about how Congress plans to fund these programs within the National Science Foundation, click on

Special update prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program and Gayle Levy, AGI/AAPG 2004 Spring Semester Intern.

Sources: American Institute of Physics, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, The Washington Post, the National Science Foundation website

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

Posted March 15, 2004

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