The first details from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science markup of its FY 2006 appropriations bill seem to indicate the panel has placed a significantly lower priority on the National Science Foundation than their colleagues in the House. Details are scant at the moment — we’ll know more when the committee report accompanying the Senate bill is released later today or tomorrow — but from the committee’s press release it appears NSF would receive $5.5 billion for FY 2006, an increase of just $58.1 million over the FY 2005 estimated level, but $113 million less than the House approved last week. Given that some portion of the $58 million will have to be used by NSF to cover their new obligation to reimburse the U.S. Coast Guard for icebreaking efforts in support of the Foundation’s polar programs, it’s not clear that the agency’s research programs will benefit much, if at all, from the subcommittee’s increase.
Instead of a focus on NSF within the science portion of the bill, the subcommittee parted ways with the House by including a significant increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — $551 million above the FY 2005 level and $895 million above the President’s request for FY 06 — and by funding NIST’s controversial Advanced Technology Program (ATP) at $140 million for FY 06. The House version of the bill cut NOAA funding and provided zero support for ATP.
The full appropriations committee is expected to mark up the Senate CJS bill on Thursday, so further detail should become available. There will be opportunities to address the inadequate support level for NSF apparently provided by the subcommittee. The bill will be open to amendment when it comes to the Senate floor — but as with the House process, those amendments must be zero-sum, taking funding from one agency within the bill to pay for increases elsewhere — and priorities can shift significantly during the conference process with the House. The widely differing priorities within the House and Senate versions has virtually guaranteed a contentious conference process, so the science community (including CRA) will have to continue to stay engaged to make sure NSF and the other science agencies receive as much support as possible. Watch this space for opportunities to be part of that process. If you haven’t yet signed up for CRA’s Computing Research Advocacy Network, now would be a great time….