Appropriations Update: NSF, NASA, NIST

On June 14, 2005, in FY06 Appropriations, by Peter Harsha

The House today concluded its first day of debate on the FY 2006 Science, State, Justice, Commerce Appropriations Act (H.R. 2682), a bill that would grant an increase in funding for the National Science Foundation and restore some science and aeronautics funding to NASA. This is the first time the House has considered NSF and NASA funding since the two agencies were removed from the jurisdiction of the Veterans’ Affairs-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, so it’s interesting to see how science will fare under the new organization. From today’s debate, it appears that the competing agencies may have changed, but the competition for funding remains the same.
In previous years, NASA and NSF struggled for prominence in a bill that included funding for two relative behemoths in VA and HUD. We’ve detailed the disadvantage the two science agencies faced in that situation in a few posts during the debate on the appropriations reorganization last winter. In their new home, the agencies (as well as NOAA and NIST) find themselves competing with the Department of State and Department of Justice. While the science agencies did fairly well in the appropriations committee markup, given the current budget constraints — the committee approved a 3.1 percent increase over FY 2005 for NSF and $15 million more for NASA — on the House floor, both NSF and NASA find themselves at risk from amendments that would strip funding for them in favor of other priorities. This “robbing one agency to pay for an increase at another” is the result of the House rule under which appropriations bills are considered (Rule XXI, for those interested) that says that an amendment to an appropriations bill must only deal with agencies in that bill (can’t cut NIH to pay for NSF, for example — they’re in different bills) and can’t increase the level of budget authority or outlays in the bill. So it’s a zero-sum game.
In previous years, because of their location in the VA-HUD bill, NSF and NASA were often targeted for cuts to pay for increases in Section 8 housing assistance, increases in veterans benefits and AIDS hospice care. This year, the threat comes from grants to State and local law enforcement agencies, the Community Oriented Policing program (COPS), and, in the case of NOAA, the “State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.” (Rep. David Drier (R-CA) was successful in passing an amendment that would strip $50 million in funding for “operations, research and facilities at NOAA” to provide an additional $50 million for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which provides “federal payments to States and localities that incurred correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of State or local law, and incarcerated for at least 4 consecutive days.”)
Most worrisome to the science community is a draft amendment (pdf) from Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), circulated today but likely to be offered tomorrow, that would strip $147 million from NSF’s research account to increase the COPS program by an equal amount. The cut would leave just a $10 million “increase” to NSF research efforts for FY 2006, assuming no other amendments affect the funding level (and that increase is debatable, given a new obligation for NSF to reimburse the U.S. Coast Guard for icebreaking services at its polar facilities…see below for more detail). The science community has mobilized to urge Members of Congress to reject the amendment. The latest word is that Rep. Weiner is “redrafting” the amendment, but no indication whether that means he’s found another target for his offset or not. We’ll have more details as the debate continues tomorrow.
In the meantime, it’s worth looking at what’s in the bill as drafted that’s relevant to the computing research community. Here’s a summary:
Office of Science and Technology Policy: The bill would fund the White House’s science policy shop at the President’s requested level of $5.6 million for FY 2006. The appropriations committee, however, had some pointed words for the office in the committee report accompanying the bill, urging them to take seriously threats to American competitiveness that result from deprioritizing support for fundamental research:

The Committee is deeply concerned about the state of the Nation’s dedication to maintaining our position as the world leader in science, technology and innovation. Further, the Committee is convinced that bold and dramatic commitments are necessary to ensure the United States’ economic leadership in the 21st Century and a rising standard of living for all Americans. In this regard, the Committee encourages OSTP to ensure that Executive branch policy makers and budget officials understand the impact of stagnation in science and technology on all areas of national life. The Committee expects that future budget requests for science and technology programs will reflect the importance of these investments to the competitive and economic future of the nation.

NASA: The bill would provide $16.5 billion for the space and aeronautics agency for FY 2006, an increase of $14.7 million over the budget request and $275 million more than the agency received in FY 2005 (which includes $126 million from last year’s FY 05 emergency supplemental appropriation). The committee reversed cuts to the agency’s science, aeronautics and exploration account included in the President’s FY 06 request and instead would provide an increase of $265 million in FY 06, bringing total funding in the account to $9.7 billion.
NSF: NSF would increase 3.1 percent in FY 06 under the bill, to $5.6 billion — an increase of $171 million over FY 05. The Research and Related Activities account would grow 3.7 percent to $4.4 billion in FY 06 — an increase of $157 million over FY 05. However, included in that increase is funding to cover the reimbursement of icebreaking activities performed for NSF by the U.S. Coast Guard, so gauging the actual amount of increase to NSF research activities is a little tricky (it appears to me that the increase for the icebreaking expenses amount to about $75 million, but I’d appreciate some clarification from someone with better numbers…). The committee also didn’t specify funding levels for individual directorates — other than noting Polar Programs were to be provided up to $425 million, the same as the President’s request. Rather, the committee would order NSF to submit to the committee its plan for disbursing the money within 60 days of the passsage of the act. The committee report also includes language that would authorize NSF to offer “innovation inducement prizes,” an idea subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) is especially enamored with. Here’s the relevant language from the 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. In 1999, a National Academies workshop on this topic encouraged Federal agencies to make more extensive use of this mechanism to pursue particular scientific and technological objectives. 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. The Committee strongly encourages NSF to use this mechanism, particularly in programs that specifically emphasize innovation, to focus on high risk/high payoff research projects. The Committee also expects NSF to encourage private sector involvement in the effort to create a prize program.

NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would see a slight increase of $19.7 million for FY 06, but no new starts, as requested in the President’s budget.
The bill would also reverse some of the cuts to the Education and Human Resources division included in the President’s budget, but would still cut the account by more than $34 million. The bill includes “the full request” for the President’s Math and Science Partnerships: 60 million — a cut of $20 million from FY 05. Overall, the EHR account would decline to $807 million for FY 06.
NIST: NIST core research account would see an increase of 6.5 percent in the bill to $398 million in FY 06 — an increase of $24 million over FY 2005. The bill would provide zero funding for the agency’s controversial Advanced Technology Program (ATP), as requested in the President’s budget, but would provide a slight increase in funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program (MEP). The President had requested a cut to the program of more than 55 percent. The bill would provide $106 million for MEP, an increase of 1.4 percent; $59 million more than the President’s request.
Though the NIST labs appear to do well under the bill, uncertainty over the disposition of ATP, as usual, clouds the picture for them. By providing no funding for ATP in FY 06, NIST may be forced to pay the “closing costs” for the grant program out of other funding in the agency. Typically, those costs have come out of the NIST core research programs. It’s not hard to see that $24 million increase to NIST’s core research account disappear in part or completely in the scramble to come up with funding to shut ATP down.
Tomorrow the House will likely complete debate on the bill and pass it. We’ll have all the details. The Senate has yet to mark up its version of the bill, but is expected to shortly. Senate floor consideration likely won’t happen until at least July.
Update: (6/15/05 – 11:54 am) — Weiner offered his amendment this morning, slightly modified — it strips $126 million from NSF rather than $147 million. Opposing the amendment on the floor were Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Frank Wolf (R-VA), Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI). The amendment didn’t prevail on a voice vote, but Weiner asked for a recorded vote that should occur around 1 pm.
Update: (6/15/05 – 2:22 pm) — The amendment was defeated. More detail in this new post.