FY2008 National Science Foundation Appropriations (12-29-07)

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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 about 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s 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.

FY08 NSF Appropriations Process


FY07 Enacted

House Action

Senate Action
National Science Foundation (total)
Research & Related Activities
-- Geosciences Directorate
not specified
not specified
not specified
--- Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology
not specified
not specified
not specified
--- EarthScope operations

not specified


not specified
not specified
-- Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP)
not specified
not specified
-- Office of Polar Programs
-- International Polar Year
not specified
not specified
Major Research Equipment & Facilities
-- EarthScope
not specified
not specified
--Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV)
not specified
not specified
--Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI)
not specified
not specified
-- Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP)
not specified
not specified
Education & Human Resources
-- Math and Science Partnerships
not specified
not specified

* Includes a transfer of $98.7 million for EPSCoR from Education and Human Resources to Research and Related Activities. ** Includes up to $57 million for polar icebreaking services.

President's Request

The National Science Foundation (NSF) held a press conference on February 5, 2007 to present the President's budget request for fiscal year 2008 (FY08). Arden Bement, Director of NSF, began by stating that "investments in fundamental research and education will improve the quality of people's lives and keep the nation safe and growing." The request of $6.429 billion for FY08 represents a nearly $409 million or 6.8 percent increase over fiscal year 2007 (FY07) and is consistent with the objectives of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, of doubling physical science research at NSF, Office of Science within the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology over the next decade. Among Earth science related initiatives, Bement mentioned an NSF investment of $59 million for International Polar Year (IPY) activities, which will include environmental and climate change observations in the polar regions. NSF will also invest $17 million for the Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP) of the administration in four research areas: 1. the complex dynamics that control and regulate marine ecosystem processes, 2. variability of the Meridional Overturning Circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, 3. the response of coastal systems to a variety of natural events and human influenced processes and 4. the development of new sensors for marine ecosystems. ORPP involves three other federal agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey, that would receive funds targeted for research to carry-out the plan. Margaret Leinen, the former Director of the Geoscience Directorate at NSF, was quoted in Science magazine as expressing surprise and delight that the ORPP was mentioned in the FY08 request because there was concern that no new initiatives would be proposed in the FY08 budget because of fiscal constraints.

NSF would also receive an increase of about 11 percent for international partnerships across all of the agencies activities, giving the Office of International Science and Engineering a total budget of $45 million in FY08. The science agency would also increase support for jurisdictions and states that have historically received less federal research and development (R&D) funding, by providing an additional $7 million for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). In the FY08 request, the EPSCoR funding of $107 million, which resided in the Education and Human Resources Directorate in all previous years was moved into the Research and Related Activities Directorate (R&RA). If these requests are approved by Congress, these programs might represent additional opportunities for Earth scientists who meet the requirements.

Compared to the FY07 enacted budget and excluding the $98.7 million EPSCoR transfer from the R&RA budget, the R&RA would increase by $367 million (about 7 percent) in FY08 for a total of $5,132 million. The Geosciences Directorate would likely see about a 6 percent increase from FY07 to FY08, but because Congress did not specify how much of the R&RA budget should be given to Geosciences in FY07, exact comparisions cannot be provided at this time. The FY08 request asks for $240.84 million for Atmospheric Sciences, $163.3 million for Earth Sciences, $329.29 million for Ocean Sciences and $58.57 million for Innovative and Collaborative Education and Research (ICER). Within Atmospheric Sciences, the almost $14 million increase will augment the Climate Change Science Program, the Weather Research Program, the Space Weather Program, atmospheric observing facilities and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The FY07 budget for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) was not specified by Congress, however, the President's FY08 request of $11.4 million represents a slight decrease from the FY06 enacted budget of $12 million. EarthScope would receive about $21.6 million to support research directly related to these projects.

EarthScope and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) would receive no funding from the Major Research Equipment & Facilities account because the projects are considered to be completed in terms of their construction. Further funding for operations and maintainence would need to be derived from other accounts. The Alaska Region Research Vessel would receive $42 million and the Ocean Observatories Initiative would receive $31 million to continue their construction.

Education & Human Resources would receive a nearly 7 percent increase for a total budget of $750 million and $46 million would be for the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program. About $30 million in new awards from MSP should be available in fiscal 2008 according to NSF budget documents.

Full NSF budget details can be found online.

House Action


The House of Representatives considers funding for the National Science Foundation in the subcommitte for Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Representative Mollohan (D-WV), other members include Representatives Kennedy (D-RI), Fattah (D-PA), Ruppersberger (D-MD), Schiff (D-CA), Honda (D-CA), DeLauro (D-CT), Price (D-NC), Obey (D-WI), Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Culberson (R-TX), Rogers (R-KY), Latham (R-IA), Aderholt (R-AL), and Lewis (R-CA).

Senate Action


The Senate considers funding for the National Science Foundation in the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Senator Mikulski (D-MD), other members include Senators Inouye (D-HI), Leahy (D-VT), Kohl (D-WI), Harkin (D-IA), Dorgan (D-ND), Feinstein (D-CA), Reed (D-RI), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Shelby (R-AL), Gregg (R-NH), Stevens (R-AK), Domenici (R-NM), McConnell (R-KY), Hutchison (R-TX), Brownback (R-KS), and Alexander (R-TN).

Emergency Supplemental Includes Science Funding

With a vote of 96-2 by the Senate on June 26th the emergency supplemental bill (H.R. 2642) was passed by Congress and now heads to the White House for the President’s signature.  Although the majority of the $165 billion bill is geared toward funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, four science agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science within the Department of Energy, (DOE Science) would receive much needed boosts to their FY 2008 funding levels. 

NASA, NSF and DOE Science would receive an additional $62.5 million for FY 2008, while NIH would receive an additional $150 million in funding.  The supplemental funding for NSF was targeted to specific accounts while the other agencies received overall budget increases.  Within NSF, $22.5 million would be allocated to the Research and Related Activities account with $5 million of that funding available solely for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and $40 million would be allocated to the Education and Human Resources Directorate, with $20 million of those funds going to the Robert Noyce scholarship program.

FY08 Omnibus

The omnibus for fiscal year 2008 included significant cuts to science and engineering compared to the House and Senate approved bills. The competitiveness initiatives of legislators and the Administration were unable to compete with other fiscal priorities and perhaps some partisanship at the end. Although President Bush has allowed past Republican-led congresses to send him budgets that were significantly over the Administration's total spending limit requests, this year he demanded that legislators meet his spending limits and would not compromise on any details. Congress attempted and failed to override the President's veto of a mini-omnibus and then spent a few days rapidly cutting the extra spending of about $22 billion across 11 appropriation bills.

The outcome is a squeeze on funding of geosciences research across the federal agencies. The National Science Foundation, one of the largest sources of basic geosciences research, will receive a disappointing 2.5 percent increase in total funding after being slated for a 10 percent increase in House and Senate proposals. The Geosciences Directorate will have to cut research support because less funding will be available overall, the Directorate faces significant rising costs for operation, maintenance and infrastructure and any small increases distributed to the Directorate will not keep pace with the cost of inflation, meaning a decrease in funding in real dollars.

The Department of Energy's Office of Science, where additional basic geosciences research is funded also received a last minute reduction of about $500 million compared to funding levels in the House and Senate proposals. Again the geosciences will see real cuts to basic research support, continuing a trend in the Office of Science of decreasing funding for geosciences.

On a more positive note, NASA's Earth science division, Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey will receive small, sustaining increases for geosciences research to keep a wide variety of programs and projects afloat. Over the longer term, these programs and projects will need real increases above the costs of inflation and basic operations and maintenance to ensure that these agencies meet their objectives. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) provides a useful summary of federal investments in research and development (R&D) on an annual basis. According to AAAS, total R&D would increase about 1.2 percent to $142.7 billion for fiscal year 2008 and would be the fourth straight year of decline in real terms in federal R&D. The omnibus bill contains $927 million in non-defense R&D earmarks in 2008, down from $1.5 billion in non-defense R&D earmarks in 2006. The Defense Department budget includes $77.8 billion for R&D and $3.5 billion is specified for earmarks.

Among the major agencies of interest to the geosciences, NASA would receive $12.5 billion for R&D (a 5.7 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2007), the Energy Department would receive $9.376 billion for R&D (a 7.4 percent increase), the National Science Foundation would receive $4.53 billion for R&D (a 1.1 percent increase), USGS would receive $583 million for R&D (a 3.4 percent increase), NOAA would receive $573 million for R&D (a 7.6 percent increase), NIST would receive $514 million (a 4.7 percent increase) and the Smithsonian would receive $175 million for R&D ( the same as their budget for 2007). These numbers from AAAS are focused solely on R&D funding within these agencies and do not consider expenditures that might indirectly affect R&D.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
NSF would receive $6.065 billion, a small increase of $147.8 million or 2.5 percent over the fiscal year 2007 budget. NSF was slated to receive a 10 percent increase in earlier House and Senate bills and the last minute cuts are a major disappointment to the science and engineering communities as well as the public and private sector groups that have repeatedly called for a doubling of the NSF budget over the next 5 to 10 years. The total funding was distributed to the following accounts: $4.821 billion for Research and Related Activity and of those funds at most $510 million is for polar research and operations support and $57 million for polar icebreaking services; $220.7 million for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction; and $725.6 million for Education and Human Resources.

In the joint report, Congress expressed support for research funding at NSF, writing: "The Appropriations Committees strongly support increases for the math and physical
sciences, computer sciences, and engineering directorates in fiscal year 2008 for research and related activities (R&RA). However, the Committees also believe the Foundation should maintain comparable growth in fiscal year 2008, to the extent possible, for the biological sciences and social, behavioral and economic sciences directorates." The Geosciences Directorate is not specifically called out in this language, which would suggest that Congress considers it part of the physical sciences and thus strongly supports a doubling of the Geosciences Directorate at NSF. The geosciences community should not assume this is the case however and should continue to communicate the importance of the geosciences at NSF and its value for the nation's competitiveness initiatives in the 21st century.

The joint report expressed concerned about whether NSF is truly funding "transformative research" and asked for a report from NSF that includes a definition of transformative research. Congress also expressed concern about the academic research fleet and aging infrastructure and how NSF could allocate additional funds to these problems.

Finally, Congress noted the toll of indirect and increasing costs on the geosciences writing "The loss of buying power resulting from the decline of the dollar and other commodity related impacts such as the recent dramatic increase in the cost of oil and steel is of concern to the Committees. Taken together these two factors seriously affect many of the international programs operated by the NSF. These include the Arctic and Antarctic programs, earth, ocean, and atmospheric programs, and both radio and optical telescope facilities operated at various locations worldwide. The NSF should provide a report to the Committees within 90 days after the enactment of this Act on current actions and future plans, including an analysis of establishment of a currency and commodity internal reserve fund, to address this issue."

For more details on federal R&D funding from AAAS, please visit their R&D Policy Web page.

For the full text of the omnibus and the related reports please visit Thomas and link to their extensive appropriations section.

Appropriations Hearings

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Fiscal 2008 Appropriations: NOAA and NSF
March 8, 2007

Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, NOAA Administrator
Dr. Arden Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation

Climate change was once again in the spotlight as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science reviewed the Administration's fiscal 2008 budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). "We're holding this hearing in the midst of an awakening in this country - an acknowledgement that global climate change is a crisis," said Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). "This hearing is about the future of our country and our planet."

Like NASA, NOAA is not included in the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, an omission Mikulski called "absolutely stunning." The fiscal year (FY) 2008 request for NOAA is $3.8 billion, a 3.4 percent increase over the FY 2007 level but a $96 million decrease from the FY 2006 enacted level. The 2008 request is even, as Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) lamented, lower than the President's FY 2005 request. Priority projects for 2008 include the Ocean Action Plan, the U.S. Tsunami Warning Program, and climate monitoring and research, particularly the development of an integrated drought early warning and forecast system.

Concerns about whether NOAA can complete troubled climate satellite programs without drawing money from other key areas dominated the hearing. Massive budget overruns and schedule delays for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) have dogged NOAA and NASA administrators for months and have jeopardized Congress' faith in the agencies' Earth-observing capabilities. An increasingly tight budget, driven by the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and disaster relief for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hasn't helped matters. Under the Administration's 2008 budget request, the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, which includes the NPOESS project, would receive $978 million, a small increase of $26 million over the fiscal 2006 level.

Since problems with NPOESS have come to light, NOAA has worked hard to ensure its future success and that of similar missions. "We have overhauled [the NPOESS] management team inside NOAA from top to bottom," said Lautenbacher. NOAA has also instituted an internal Inspector General and is rewriting the contract to reflect "more realistic, less risky" goals.

On a lighter note, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) inquired about NOAA's involvement in weather modification research. Weather modification research is a rather embryonic field that explores humans' ability to modify weather patterns, such as inducing rain or lessening the severity of a hurricane. Noting that in previous inquiries "NOAA blew me off," she asked "Am I missing something?" In a cautious response, Lautenbacher replied that weather warning research "takes precedence" and that NOAA does not fund basic research, but perhaps NSF would be able to work with her to explore the issue.

The President's request for NSF is $6.43 billion for FY 2008, an 8.7 percent increase over the continuing resolution for FY 2007. "Funding on this level will keep NSF on the course set by the President's American Competitiveness Initiative to drive innovation and sharpen America's competitive edge," said NSF Director Arden Bement. Key NSF programs for 2008 include the International Polar Year and the Ocean Research Priorities Plan.

Although NSF would receive a healthy increase in funding in very tight fiscal times, the committee was concerned about cost overruns for major facilities and how these cost overruns might affect funding for research.. The replacement of the arctic research vessel Alpha Helix is $25 million over budget and could "run aground with budget overruns," commented Chairwoman Mikulski. However, cost overruns for the ship and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), currently $16 million over budget, are largely unavoidable according to Dr. Bement. Changes in regulations, escalating metals prices, and the difficulty of commissioning a shipyard's time amidst demands by oil companies for ships have all contributed to higher than expected costs for infrastructure for both projects.

Nevertheless, warned Chairwoman Mikulski, "the committee is going to have to be very stern on accountability in these budget times." She warned that the committee would move to initiate a "moratorium on projects" in order to stem the "rising fiscal morass" and budget overruns on big-ticket projects.


Sources: National Science Foundation website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Linda Rowan, AGI Government Affairs Staff, and Erin Gleeson, AGI/AAPG Spring 2007 Intern.

Last Update November 26, 2007.