Update (11/17/11): The minibus was approved in both the House and Senate and will head to the President for his signature!

Original Post: Congressional appropriators tonight filed the final conference report for the so-called “minibus” FY12 appropriations bill, representing the final agreed-upon spending numbers for FY12 for the Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, Science; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bills — and NSF fared much better than expected in the final negotiation. You’ll recall we were somewhat pleased when the House appropriators approved their version of the Commerce, Justice, Science bill and managed to hold NSF’s funding flat for FY12. In a bill where essentially every other account got cut, this was seen as a win. We were also disappointed when the Senate released its version of the CJS bill, which included a cut of 2.4 percent to the agency, a reduction of $162 million vs. FY11. Those figured to be the MAX and MIN case for NSF in the negotiations.

But, in a bit of a surprise, NSF actually received an increase in the conference agreement of $172 million in FY 12, compared to FY11. Of that $172 million increase, $155 million is slated for the agency’s Research and Related Activities directorate “to enhance basic research critical innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness.”

Also faring well is NIST, which would receive an additional $33 million over FY11 “to support core NIST scientific research programs that help advance U.S. competitiveness, innovation, and economic growth.”

NASA would see a decrease of about $648 million, which is not quite as bad as first thought. NASA will also be able to continue work on the James Webb Space Telescope, but funding for cost overruns in the program will have to come out of other existing programs at the agency, which may make a lot of non-telescope people unhappy.

So, this is a very good thing, especially when considering the alternatives we thought were on the table. It’s clear the basic research -> competitiveness argument still has legs in Congress, and that’s very important in this overall atmosphere of belt-tightening. There’s still a recognition among both parties that federal support for basic research is an investment with real payoff for the country’s future.

Both chambers still have to approve the conference report, but it’s unlikely much will change in it as that would restart the negotiation process in both the House and Senate. The bill also contains a needed extension of the stop-gap continuing resolution currently required to keep government operating, but set to expire on November 18th. Without the extension, much of government would be forced to shut down midnight Friday. The minibus includes an extension of the CR through December 16th. By then, congressional leaders will have to figure out the remaining nine funding bills and square those with spending caps put in place by the debt limit agreement last August, or pass another CR. My money is on another CR.

We’ll have more detail as we actually get in and take a look at the 400 page report.  Until then, the House Appropriations Committee has posted a summary.

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