FY2006 National Science Foundation Appropriations (11-8-05)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense " NSF serves as the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by Americas colleges and universities. Key programs of interest to the Earth sciences include NSF's Geosciences Directorate within the Research and Related Activities and Math and Science Partnerships program within the Education and Human Resources.
NSF fulfills its mission chiefly by issuing limited-term grants -- currently about 10,000 new awards per year, with an average duration of three years -- to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit-review system. Most of these awards go to individuals or small groups of investigators. Others provide funding for research centers, instruments and facilities that allow scientists, engineers and students to work at the frontiers of knowledge. NSF's goal is to support the people, ideas and tools that together make discovery possible.
Equipment that is needed by scientists and engineers but is often too expensive for any individual or group to afford is also funded by NSF. Examples of such major research equipment include EarthScope, giant optical and radio telescopes, Antarctic research sites, high-end computer facilities and ultra-high-speed connections, ships for ocean research, sensitive detectors of very subtle physical phenomena, and gravitational wave observatories.
Another essential element in NSF's mission is support for science and engineering education, from pre-school through graduate school and beyond. The educational programs supported by the Education and Human Resources division is integrated with basic research to help ensure that there will always be plenty of skilled people available to work in new and emerging scientific, engineering and technological fields, and plenty of capable teachers to educate the next generation.
For analysis of hearings held by Congress on NSF appropriations, click here.
National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement described the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget request as follows: "For FY 2006, the National Science Foundation is requesting $5.605 billion. That's $132 million, or 2.4 percent, more than in FY 2005. This modest increase allows us to assume new responsibilities, meet our ongoing commitments, and employ more staff - with little room for growth in research and education programs. This means we'll all have to keep working to leverage resources and work more productively."
NSF was one of the few science and technology agencies that would see a budget increase in FY06 under the request that the Bush Administration submitted on February 7, 2005. This comes on the heels of Congress' decision to cut NSF's budget for 2005. In FY04 the NSF budget was $5.652 billion. Congress appropriated $5.47 billion for 2005. The Administration's request would restore some, but not all of the agency's budget to its former level. The request for next year is $5.605 billion.
The $132 million increase proposed for FY06 includes the transfer of $48 million from the Coast Guard to NSF for operation and maintenance costs associated with three polar icebreakers used in Antarctic and Arctic research. Allowing for this transfer results in a requested increase of $84.0 million for NSF.
Under the request, the NSF Research and Related Activities budget would increase by 2.7% or $113 million, from $4,220.6 million to $4,333.5 million. The Administration requested a cut of 12.4% or $104.4 million in the budget for Education and Human Resources, from $841.4 million to $737.0 million. The request for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction rose significantly: by 44.0% or $73.4 million, from $173.7 million to $250.0 million.
For the Geosciences Directorate, the Administration recommended an overall increase of 2.2% or $14.9 million from $694.2 million to $709.1 million. Within this directorate the Earth Sciences Division's budget would increase 3.4% or $5.1 million from $149.0 million to $154.1 million. The budget document states: "Increased support focuses on operational and scientific support of the EarthScope facility, which is being constructed through the MREFC Account, and improving the cyberinfrastructure available to earth scientists." Earthscope's Operations and Maintenance budget will increase from $4.69 million to $7.32 million if Congress approves the Administration's budget proposal.
The Ocean Sciences Division's budget would increase 1.1% or $3.5 million from $311.8 million to $315.2 million. The budget document states: "Areas receiving increased funding support include developmental activities related to the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), operation of the academic research fleet, and development of advanced ocean research cyberinfrastructure."
In the Office of Polar Programs the Administration recommended an increase of 12.4% or $42.6 million, from $344.4 million to $386.9 million. Within this account, the U.S. Polar Research Programs budget would increase 15.4% or $42.6 million, from $276.8 million to $319.4 million. The U.S. Antarctic Logistical Support budget would be unchanged at $67.5 million. It is important to note that $48 million is being provided so that "NSF will assume the responsibility, from the U.S. Coast Guard, for funding the costs of icebreakers that support scientific research in polar regions."
The Administration requested an increase of 44.0% or $76.4 million, from $173.7 million to $250.0 million for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC). The budget document states:
"NSF believes that the highest priority within the MREFC Account must be the current projects. To that end, highest priority in FY 2006 is to continue to request funding for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array ($49.24 million); EarthScope ($50.62 million); the IceCube Neutrino Observatory ($50.45 million); the Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel ($57.92 million); and Rare Symmetry Violating Processes ($41.78 million).
"NSF is requesting no new starts in FY 2006.
"Two new starts are requested in FY 2007, and one new start is requested in FY 2008. In priority order, these are: Ocean Observatories in FY 2007; the Alaska Region Research Vessel in FY 2007; and Advanced LIGO in FY 2008."
The Education and Human Resources Directorate overall will suffer a 12.4% or $104 million cut with the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) taking a 24 percent cut. In FY04 the program was funded at $138.71 million. If the Administration's proposed budget is approved, MSP funding at NSF will have suffered a 57 percent cut in just two years.
NSF also requests almost $336 million for organizational excellence,
about 16% over the 2005 budgeted amount, to further integrate sound
business practices into NSF's already productive investments. An added
25 full-time staff positions are being requested to help carry out
further improvements and efficiencies.
On June 16, 2005, the House passed the "Science, State, Justice, Commerce, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006", which includes funding for the National Science Foundation. If the House version of the bill is enacted, the NSF will receive an overall total of $5.643 billion, which is an increase of $171 million, or 3.1%, over FY2005 enacted levels and an increase of $38 million, or 0.7%, over the President's request. Overall funding would be almost fully restored to FY2004 levels of $5.652 billion.
Research and Related Activities
In the House bill, only a general research allocation was made. Of the Research and Related Activities allocation, the committee report states: "The recommendation does not include specific funding allocations for each directorate or for individual programs and activities. The Foundation is directed to submit a proposed spending plan to the Committee for its consideration within 30 days of enactment of this Act that addresses the Foundation's highest priority research requirements." NSF is typically given significant leeway as to how basic research funding will be spent, with fewer specific earmarks made for NSF than for other agencies.
Although funding for the Geosciences Directorate has not been set under the House bill, overall research funding would be set at $4,377.5 million, an increase of $156.9 million, or 3.7%, over FY2005 levels and an increase of $44 million, or 1%, over the President's request. This increase would put funding above FY2004 levels, which were $4,251 million.
The bill does include specific support for the Office of Polar Programs, nor does it recommend additional funding to offset future or unexpected costs associated with maintaining polar icebreaking vessels that are being transfered to NSF from the Coast Guard. The committee states: "Language is included that provides up to $425,000,000 for Polar research and operations support, as requested. The recommended funding level in this account acknowledges the decision of the Administration to shift funding for polar icebreaking from the budget of the Coast Guard to that of the NSF.... The Committee believes that burdening the NSF with the responsibility for maintenance and long-term modernization costs of the Coast Guard icebreaking fleet would irresponsibly jeaopardize the nation's primary source of funding for critical basic scientific research. ...the Committee expects NSF to immediately begin a concurrent pursuit of alternative, more economical, icebreaking solutions for 2006 and beyond."
Under another provision in the House bill, NSF would develop an awards program to encourage research into specific scientific problems. According to the committee report, "The concept of inducement awards to encourage broad involvement in solving a specifically stated scientific problem has been a catalyst for scientific advancement since at least the early 18th century The Committee expects NSF to engage the National Academies to craft a prize or categories of prizes that would be of an appropriate scale and to develop the rules and conditions for awarding prizes, and to report back to the Committee on plans to initiate a prize program in fiscal year 2006."
Major Research Equipment and Facilities
The committee report recommends that EarthScope and the IODP's Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel be funded at the President's recommended levels of $50.62 million and $57.92 million, respectively. Major Research Equipment and Facilities would be funded at $193.4 million under the House bill. This level would be $19.7 million, or 10.2%, more than FY2005 levels and $56.6 million, or 22.6%, less than the President's request. Additionally, at least $15 million of unspent FY2005 allocations will be carried over to fund the major projects in FY2006. The recommendation does not include funding for the Rare Symmetry Violating Processes project, accounting for the decrease from the President's request.
Education and Human Resources
Under the House budget bill, overall Education and Human Resources
funding would be cut less severely than the President had requested,
but the Math and Science Partnerships program would not have any additional
money restored. Funding for the Math and Science Partnerships would
be set at $60 million, equal to the President's request but almost
$20 million, or 25%, less than FY2005 levels. If the House's plan
is approved, the Math and Science Partnerships program will have suffered
a 57 % funding cut in just two years. Overall Education and Human
Resources funding would be set at $807 million, which is $70 million,
or 9.5%, more than the President's request but $104.4 million, or
12.4%, less than FY2005 levels.
Full text of the appropriations bill (H.R. 2862) and the committee report (H. Rept. 109-118) can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov.
The House Science, State, Justice and Commerce Subcommittee of the
House Appropriations Committee
is chaired by Representative Wolf
(R-VA). Other members include Reps. Taylor
(R-NC), Kirk (R-IL), Weldon
(R-FL), Goode (R-VA),
LaHood (R-IL), Culberson
(R-TX), Alexander (R-LA),
Mollohan (D-WV), Serrano
(D-NY), Cramer (D-AL),
Kennedy (D-RI) and Fattah
On September 15, 2005, the Senate passed the FY 2006 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill by a vote of 91 - 4. The $48.9 billion bill includes $5.5 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This recommendation is $58 million above the current funding level, but falls well below the President's request and the $112.5 million increase recommended by the House. Although the House bill includes funding for the Justice Department whereas the Senate bill does not, the greatest discrepancy between the Senate and House versions lies in science funding. While the Senate provides about $1 billion more for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) than the House, the Senate bill offers $100 million less than the House bill for NASA and the NSF.
During floor debates (Congressional Record: S.10076), Senator Ken
Salazar (D-CO) expressed "deep concern about the status of science
funding" in the Senate bill. "I find it especially troubling
that the National Science Foundation's Education and Human Resources
Directorate has seen significant setbacks in the fiscal year 2006
proposed budget," he said. Science Subcommittee Chairman Richard
Shelby (R-AL) and ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) supported
Salazar's remarks and said they would "work toward finding opportunities
for science education funding during conference."
The bill had been approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee over two months ago, on June 23rd. During a week-long debate in mid September, the full Senate tacked on $4.3 billion worth of hurricane Katrina-related emergency spending measures, which may compound already uncertain conference negotiations. While these funds don't affect the total as they are not subject to budget resolution caps, conferees must still contend with the new amendments. According to reports in Congressional Quarterly, until Congress can reach agreements on this and other spending bills, a continuing resolution to fund government agencies into the next fiscal year will temporarily appropriate the lowest amount recommended by the House or Senate.
Research and Related Activities
For research and related activities, NSF would receive $4.3 billion, exceeding the budget request by $11.7 million and FY2005 funding by $125 million. The Senate matched the Administration's request of $387 million for polar research activities, with no additional support beyond the $48 million requested to account for the transfer of icebreaking vessels from the Coast Guard. The committee does, however, acknowledge the Coast Guard's leading role in icebreaking and instructs the director to procure ice breaking services from the Coast Guard or from "alternative sources" should the Coast Guard be unable to provide the necessary resources. The committee further "expects the Director of NSF, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to work jointly to ensure that the Coast Guard ice breaking fleet is capable of meeting NSF's future polar ice breaking needs."
The Plant Genome Research Program would receive $100 million in funding with hopes that in the future, crop improvements could combat hunger in developing nations. Due to human health and environmental concerns, the Senate Appropriations Committee encouraged NSF to clear public misconceptions of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Funding for this project would meet the budget request.
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction
The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $193 million for major research equipment and facilities construction. This recommendation exceeds current funding levels by $19.7 million but falls short of the budget request by $56.65 million. Funding was cut for the Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP) project due to "unacceptable increases" in budget needs. The committee recommended $50.62 for Earthscope and $57.92 for the Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel as requested by the President.
Education and Human Resources
The education and human resources programs would receive $747 million, exceeding the budget request by $10 million. The recommendation is $94.4 below the FY2005 appropriations. However, the Senate report states that:
The committee recommended an increase of $4 million for the NSF Math and Science Partnerships. According to the committee report, the additional funds would go towards activities that "are not being addressed by the companion program at the Department of Education." Additionally, the Committee,
Full text of the appropriations bill (H.R. 2862) and the committee
report (S. Rept. 109-88) can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov.
The Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee is chaired by Senator Bond (R-MO). Other members include Senators Burns (R-MT), Shelby (R-AL), Craig (R-ID), Domenici (R-NM), DeWine (R-OH), Hutchison (R-TX), Mikulski (D-MD), Leahy (D-VT), Harkin (D-IA), Byrd (D-WV), Johnson (D-SD) and Reid (D-NV).
House and Senate conferees reached an agreement on the Science, State, Justice and Commerce Appropriations Bill (HR 2862) on November 4, 2005. The overall bill contains $51.8 billion in budget authority and appropriates $48.4 billion in discretionary funds. According to a Senate Appropriations Committee press release, the $48.4 billion is equivalent to a $600 million increase above FY 2005 appropriations and $1.5 billion above the budget request, excluding the Strengthening Americas Communities Initiative.
For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the agreement exceeds both the House and Senate funding proposals, allotting $5.65 billion overall. This is $10 million over the House recommendation, $120 million over the Senate level, and $50 million above the President's budget request. Compared to fiscal year (FY) 2005, NSF would receive an increase of 3.3% barring any additional across-the-board rescissions imposed by the committee or by Congress. It is likely that the conferees will impose a small rescission of 0.3% before final approval in order to keep the bill's total spending below the target funding levels set out in the budget resolution. Later this year, Congress may also vote to cut all federal discretionary programs by 1% to 5% to help offset the costs of emergency hurricane relief. For now, the proposed increases agreed to by the House and Senate conferees indicates strong congressional support for NSF-funded research, which is good news for NSF and scientists.
Research and Related Activities
The conference agreement includes just under $4.4 billion for NSF's Research and Related Activities account, 4% above FY 2005 levels and a 1.2% increase over the President's request. It adds roughly $10 million to the Senate mark, which was the highest among the two proposals.
The agreement adds $42 million to the President's request for Polar Programs, the same amount proposed in the House bill. According to the House recommendation, this amount involves no new funds above the $48 million transferred to NSF to operate and maintain polar icebreaking vessels. However, the conference report instructs NSF to submit a report on alternatives for long-term icebreaking needs, and it allows NSF to reimburse the Coast Guard for operational services agreed to under a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense.
Two proposals to encourage innovative, high-risk investments and accelerate research on crop genetics survived into the final bill. As specified in the House proposal, the final bill directs NSF to work with the National Academies to initiate an "innovation inducement prizes" program in FY 2006 that would award innovative scientific research aimed at solving a specific scientific problem. The final bill also provides the $100 million recommended by the Senate for the Plant Genome Research Program, a large program authorized in 2002 to improve economically significant crops and combat world hunger.
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction
The final bill includes $193.4 million as proposed by the House and Senate to fund the construction and maintenance of NSF's major research equipment and facilities. Earthscope and IODP's Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel are two of four funding priorities that will be funded at the President's requested levels of $50.62 million and $57.92 million, respectively. For Earthscope, this represents a 9% increase from FY 2005 funding, while the budget for the Ocean Drilling Vessel would more than triple. As proposed by both houses of Congress, funding for the Rare Symmetry Violating Processes (RSVP) project will be suspended until the project can be reexamined and properly budgeted. This cut in spending accounts for most of the $56.6 million decrease from the President's request. Also compensating for this difference are roughly $15 million of unspent FY2005 allocations that will carry over into 2006, bringing total funding for equipment and facilities to $208 million.
Education and Human Resources
The conferees chose the higher House proposal of $807 million for NSF's education programs, a 9.5% increase above the President's request, but still $34 million under the FY05 funding level. The conference report includes language emphasizing the importance of attracting minority students into math and science, but gives no specific directives. The report states:
The Math and Science Partnership Program (MSP) fared relatively well in committee after conferees, particularly in the Senate, fought to restore some of the President's requested $19 million transfer from NSF to the MSP within the Department of Education. Of the proposed cut, the conference committee restored $4 million, bringing total funding for the program to $64 million. Although the earlier House bill had adhered to the President's request, the final conference agreement includes, by reference, the following language in the Senate report:
The conference report goes on to direct the NSF "to initiate a demonstration program to provide seed money for new projects...that catalyze and maintain interest of K-8 students in math and science." The report specifies that each project should involve the participation of business, academic and public sectors, and projects would be reviewed by a merit-based peer review process before being selected for funding.
At the outset of this hearing, Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced his determination to bring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) together with the Department of Education in a coordinated effort to shift more resources into science and math education. "I would like to do something very dramatic in this subcommittee," he said, noting a new opportunity to emphasize science education through the appropriations process. "Regardless of what anybody says, we're falling behind," Wolf declared regarding U.S. leadership in the physical sciences.
As perhaps intended, Wolf's statement set a tone that kept Administration representatives on the defensive throughout the hearing. Dr. John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, clashed with members' assertions that the FY06 budget proposal undervalues education efforts at NSF and NOAA. "U.S. science and technology is currently the envy of the world I believe the President's budget maintains science and technology leadership," Marburger said. Specifically, he highlighted the Administration's continuing commitment to nanotechnology, information technology, and space programs.
The FY06 budget request would allocate a total of $5.6 billion to NSF. Although this represents a 2.4% increase, total NSF funding would be down from the 2004 enacted level for the second year in a row. Within the increase is a transfer of $48 million from the U.S. Coast Guard to NSF for the operation and maintenance of Arctic icebreaking vessels. Dr. Ray Bowen of the National Science Board suggested that "if additional funds were found," members should direct their attention to the fact that the true, long-term-costs for maintatining icebreaking activities would far exceed the one-time transfer of $48 million and further drain NSF resources. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) cited the February 4, 2005 issue of Science, which reported that NSF could expect to spend an additional $600 million on retrofitting costs.
Culberson provided additional evidence from Science against
the Administration's science education priorities. According to the
February 11, 2005 issue, NSF would see a 12.4% cut to its Education
and Human Resources directorate, causing the agency to reach 64,000
fewer elementary and secondary school students in 2006 than in 2004.
When asked to defend such cuts, Marburger explained that many of NSF's
educational programs would simply be transferred to the Department
of Education. "I strenuously disagree," Culberson replied,
"the Department of Education does not have a good record on this
that support ought to be coming from the science community."
Marburger insisted that the Department of Education would be in a
position to reach far more students. Arden Bement, Director of NSF,
affirmed that the percentage of K-12 students being introduced to
the science and engineering workforce was "very inadequate,"
and said NSF should start to involve the Department of Education to
broaden the reach of science and technology education.
At his first hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Research, Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) highlighted the importance of basic research to the nation and expressed concern about the President's proposed funding levels for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. In his opening statement Chairman Inglis said, "Basic research is the lifeblood of innovation. It used to be that our large companies did the basic research -- companies like Bell Labs, IBM, and Xerox. They were supplemented by the work of the DOE, DOD, and NSF. Now, market pressures and shifting government priorities have pushed the burden almost entirely to the federal government, and, increasingly, NSF. Without NSF supporting basic research, our edge in science will slip away and an innovation gap will grow.
"That's why I'm so concerned about the current NSF budget. Although there is a slight increase this year, it doesn't make up for last year's cuts, and is still below the FY 2004 level. It is also now far from the Congress' promise to double the NSF budget over five years. On my previous stint in Congress, I was on the Budget Committee and I was quite concerned about our budget deficit. I learned during those years that getting it balanced requires spending restraint and economic growth. We've got to stop spending and start investing. Investing in basic and applied science research makes sense. If we invest wisely, we can find economic growth through innovation."
Chairman Inglis added that he was concerned about proposed funding reductions in NSF's educational activities. "I wonder about the cuts in math and science education, and indications that some NSF activities may be 'migrating' to the Department of Education. The NSF has a passion for excellence, while the Department of Education is arguably focused on proficiency. Passion isn't easily transferred."
Following oral testimony from Bement, Wrighton and Boesz, members of the subcommittee questioned the panel about the proposed funding levels for FY 2006, including requested cuts to math and science education. Members also highlighted ongoing concerns regarding the proposed transfer to NSF of funding responsibility for icebreaking activities in the Antarctic Ocean. Also discussed during the hearing were management challenges facing NSF, including workforce planning and post-award management.
Dr. Bement testified that the proposed funding increase for NSF is reflective of the Administration's confidence in the agency and the importance to the U.S. economy of NSF's investments in research and development. "At a time when many agencies are looking at budget cuts, an increase in our budget underscores the Administration's support of NSF's science and engineering programs, and reflects the agency's excellent management and program results."
"For us to sustain our preeminence in important areas of science and technology, I believe that we are going to have to make an even greater investment in finding not only the best science and engineering to support, but also the highest impact science and engineering," said Dr. Wrighton. "Overall I think our competitiveness as a nation will hinge on ramping up our investment in science and engineering in ways that allow us to remain preeminent. These investments are a source of innovation for America and nothing will be more important than securing our economic well-being."
Dr. Boesz told the Committee that her office conducts an annual assessment of the greatest management and performance challenges facing NSF. In her testimony, she outlined her office's concerns about NSF's post-award monitoring of research grants, oversight of large facilities construction, and workforce planning. She testified, "I realize that resources are needed for NSF to fully address these challenges. However, I also believe that realignment of NSF's management priorities should ease the resource burden."
Sources: National Science Foundation website, American Institute of Physics, NSF FY06 budget briefing, House of Representatives website, United States Senate website, Earthscope, IRIS and STEM Working Group documents, AAAS website, Hearing testimony, CNSF Coalition, STEM Education Coalition.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program; Katie Ackerly, AGI Government Affairs Program; John Vermylen, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Anne Smart, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
Last Update November 8, 2005