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FY2009 National Science Foundation Appropriations
(02-27-09)

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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.

FY09 NSF Appropriations Process

Account

FY08 Enacted
($million)
*
House Action
($million)
*
Senate Action
($million)
National Science Foundation (total)
6,127.5
6,854.1
6,854.1
6,854.1
6490.4
Research & Related Activities
4,843.9
5,594.0
5,544.1
5,594.0
5183.1
-- Geosciences Directorate
752.7
848.7
not specified
not specified
not specified
Atmoshperic Sciences
229.3
260.6
not specified
not specified
not specified
Earth Sciences
156.1
177.7
not specified
not specified
not specified
Innovation & Collaborative Education & Research
56.8
56.8
not specified
not specified
not specified
Ocean Sciences
310.5
353.5
not specified
not specified
not specified
-- Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology
11.8
12.2
not specified
not specified
not specified
-- EarthScope operations

17.6

26.3
not specified
not specified
not specified
--- Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP)
--
17.0
not specified
not specified
not specified
--- Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP)
39.3
47.7
not specified
not specified
not specified
-- Office of Polar Programs
442.5
491.0
not specified
not specified
not specified
-- International Polar Year
5.0
--
not specified
not specified
not specified
Major Research Equipment & Facilities
220.7
147.5
147.5
152.0
152.0
--Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV)
 
--
not specified
not specified
not specified
--Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI)
 
--
10.5
not specified
not specified
Education & Human Resources
725.6
790.4
840.3
790.4
845.3
-- Math and Science Partnerships
49.5
51.0
61.0
not specified
not specified

*Numbers reflect funding levels recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committees in the 110th Congress in 2008 and do not represent action taken by the full body of either chamber.

**Numbers represent the approved Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105) in the 111th Congress from February 25, 2009. The full House has approved the bill and now the full Senate is now considering the omnibus.

President's Request

National Science Foundation Budget Request: Falling Off a Flat Earth
The National Science Foundation (NSF) held a press conference on February 4, 2008 to discuss President George W. Bush's last budget request for the nation's basic research agency for fiscal year 2009. Arden Bement, the director of NSF started his comments with a quote from Norman Augustine from his recent National Academies report "Falling Off a Flat Earth". The director called science and technology investments imperative to sustain U.S. competitiveness in a flattening world. Bement described the budget for fiscal year 2008 (FY08) as "substantially short" such that the NSF has "fallen off the rails". NSF is still analyzing the FY08 budget and compared the new budget requests to estimates for FY08.

Bement was more positive about the President's request for FY09 saying the NSF was "determined and optimistic" about next year's budget. He suggested that the President's determination to support his American Competitiveness Initiative, which calls for a doubling of physical science and engineering research at NSF, the Energy Department's Office of Science and the National Institute of Science and Technology, has helped NSF.

Indeed, the NSF would receive a 13 percent increase for a total budget of $6,854 million compared to the estimated budget for FY08. The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account would receive a 16 percent increase (about $773 million more) for a budget of $5,594 million. Education and Human Resources would receive an increase of almost 9 percent (about $65 million more) for a budget of $790 million.

The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account would receive a cut of 33 percent (about $73 less) for a budget of $147.5 million. Bement indicated that the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) and the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) would be deferred and would receive no funding from the MREFC account. Additional funds to complete design plans would come from the R& RA account within the Geosciences Directorate (about $2.5 million for ARRV and $5 million for OOI). There is a possibility that the scope of each project may be reduced in further planning.

While the MREFC would receive a cut, Integrative Activities (IA) which supports Major Research Instrumentation and Science and Technology Centers would receive a large increase of $44 million (about 19 percent more than FY08 estimates). Some of this increase would be for five to six new Science and Technology Centers.

The Geosciences Directorate (GEO) is the lead partner in the U.S. Global Change Research Program and is critical for mitigating environmental consequences while maintaining a growing economy. Funding for the Climate Change Science Program would increase about 4.4 percent (about $7 million) over the estimated FY08 budget for a total of $164.7 million in the request. In his remarks about NSF-wide initiatives, Bement also focused on NSF's new Dynamics of Water Processes in the Environment program which would receive $5.3 million in new funds in the President's request. Bement quipped that "while humans can survive without petroleum, they cannot survive without water". NSF would work with the U.S. Geological Survey on the water initiative.

Bement also focused on the Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) initiative, which received $48 million in FY08 and would receive a large increase to $100 million in FY09. The initiative would emphasize advancing science and engineering through new fundamental pathways in computing. Investments in CDI would emphasize From Data to Knowledge, Understanding System Complexity and Virtual Organizations. Geoscientists are encouraged to team up with engineers and computer scientists to apply for grants from CDI to tackle such areas of development as they apply to the geosciences.

Geosciences Directorate
The Geosciences Directorate (GEO) would receive $848.67 million, an increase of 12.8 percent or about $96 million more than the estimated FY08 budget. GEO would receive a much smaller percentage increase than physics, mathematics, engineering and computing because GEO is not considered a physical science that is directly part of the President's ACI. This is puzzling to many as GEO includes strong components of physics, mathematics, computing and engineering and GEO is a key directorate for essential basic research to help mitigate the nation's problems with climate change, energy resources, water resources and natural hazards as well as providing the innovative stimulus for future economic growth and security.

Within GEO, Atmospheric Sciences would receive $260.58 million, an increase of 13.6 percent, Earth Sciences would receive $177.73 million, an increase of 13.9 percent and Ocean Sciences would receive $353.5 million, an increase of 13.9 percent. Jarvis Moyers, the acting director of GEO, in a break-out session after Bement's speech, noted modest growth for GEO of about one percent in the FY08 omnibus appropriations, the continuing support of Congress for NSF and the consistent request for a doubling track for NSF from the Administration.

A significant concern for NSF and GEO is the rising costs of materials, infrastructure, operations and maintenance. Costs for drilling, ships, instrumentation and raw materials are sky-rocketing as the supply and demand for these has increased in the public and private sector. Unexpected shortages, increasing competition and growing demand is significantly increasing the cost of basic research in GEO. This is one reason for NSF's decision to defer ARRV and OOI and not provide any funding for these facilities within MREFC.

Research infrastructure within GEO received the following budget requests: Academic Research Fleet would receive $87.96 million, EarthScope Operation would receive $26.29 million, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) would receive $12.2 million, Ocean Drilling Activities would receive $47.4 million, Ocean Observatories would receive $10.5 million and the National Center for Atmospheric Research would receive $95.42 million.

GEO also provided information about the number of people involved in their activities and the number of awards given. About 4,200 senior researchers, 3,000 other professionals, 600 postdoctorates, 2,400 graduate students and 1,700 undergraduate students are estimated to benefit from GEO activities in fiscal year 2008. Those estimates would jump substantially if the increases for FY09 are realized. An estimated 1,500 additional people would benefit directly in FY09.

New Web Portal: Research.Gov
Last but not least, Bement announced the start of a new web site at NSF called research.gov. The portal provides information about research spending, federal policies related to research, grant application status and information about grants user rights and privileges.

House Action

Omnibus Appropriations Considered by the 111th Congress
The House quickly approved of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105), which would provide appropriations for most federal agencies for fiscal year 2009 (FY09). Currently most agencies are operating under a continuing resolution (CR) from the 110th Congress, which essentially sets budgets at FY08 levels. The CR expires on March 6, 2009, so Congress must either pass the omnibus or propose a new continuing resolution in order to avoid a shut down of the federal government. The quick action on the omnibus in the House means that the 111th Congress plans to pass an omnibus providing new appropriations for most federal agencies.

The House has sent the measure to the Senate, which will consider it during the first week of March. Significant changes are not expected as the House and Senate Appropriation Committees appear to have worked out differences left by the committees of the 110th Congress from 2008 before introducing H.R. 1105. The 111th Congress must work fast to compromise any remaining differences in order to get the bill to the President by March 6.

House of Representatives of 110th Congress Do Not Complete Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2009
The House was unable to complete deliberations within the appropriation subcommittees for nine appropriation bills. Instead Congress approved a continuing resolution to keep much of the federal government running at fiscal year 2008 funding levels. See the summary of the continuing resolution below for more details.

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

Senate of the 110th Congress Does Not Complete Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2009
The Senate was unable to complete deliberations within the appropriation subcommittees for nine appropriation bills. Instead Congress approved a continuing resolution to keep much of the federal government running at fiscal year 2008 funding levels. See the summary of the continuing resolution below for more details.

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).

Conference Committee Action


Science Agencies Left Deflated as Congress Passes Continuing Resolution

On September 27th by a vote of 78-12, the Senate passed a continuing resolution, funding the majority of the government at fiscal year (FY) 2008 levels until March 6, 2009.  Senate action followed after the House passed the measure (H.R. 2638) on September 24th by a vote of 231-198. The continuing resolution package contains three FY 2009 spending bills – Defense funded at $488 billion, Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs funded at $73 billion and Homeland Security funded at $40 billion - plus $23 billion in disaster relief funding.  The spending package also includes funding of $2.5 billion for the Pell Grant program, $75 billion for a domestic automakers and battery makers new technology loan program, and $5.1 billion for the low-income heating assistance program.

The continuation of FY 2008 spending levels for federal agencies which support the geosciences, means a significant decrease in real dollars for research relative to rising costs. There will be increasing competition for decreasing research funds, delays for some programs, deferments of new initiatives, uncertainties in budget planning, uncertainties in workforce levels (with potential layoffs) and fewer resources for education and training. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE-Office of Science), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were slated to receive healthy increases to their bottom-line research budgets in FY 2009 thanks to the passage of the America COMPETES Act in 2007. COMPETES authorizes a doubling of these budgets over 7 to 10 years. Unfortunately the lack of follow through in the appropriations process and the snowballing economic crisis of the past month make these increases untenable.

Additionally, the CR eliminates increases of tens of millions of dollars each for NSF, DOE-Office of Science and NASA that was provided in an emergency supplemental act approved in July. The flat budgets and the loss of the small emergency supplemental increases leaves federal science agencies extremely deflated, with small percentage cuts to their research portfolios and the need to re-organize their spending priorities. There is also a possibility of an across-the-board rescission to federal programs, if Congress needs to find funds to offset any emergency spending.

President Bush has indicated that he will sign the stopgap measure, funding the government past the end of his administration.  It is unclear how the next Congress will address spending for the remainder of FY 2009. While the next Congress and the next administration have the option to consider a different budget for FY 2009, the recent economic storm leaves any prediction on future appropriations very murky.

More details about the research budgets of specific science agencies in the CR is available from AAAS.

Appropriations Hearings

 

line

Sources: NSF Budget Information website

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

Prepared by Linda Rowan and Marcy Gallo, AGI Government Affairs Staff.

Last Update February 27, 2009

 


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