SPECIAL UPDATE: The President's FY2009 National Science Foundation Budget Request

(Posted 2-6-08)

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies. More details about NSF's budget for fiscal year 2009 are available from AGI's appropriation page for NSF.

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 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.

Special update prepared by Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs

Sources: National Science Foundation

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

Posted February 6, 2008