On May 20th the full House Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce, Justice, Science funding bill; this is important to our community because it is the bill that contains the funding for the National Science Foundation, which funds 89 percent of all university-led fundamental computer science research in the U.S. First, the not-so-bad news: NSF doesn’t exactly get a budget cut in actual dollars; it in fact gets a small bump (though when inflation is considered, that bump may go away completely). The worse news: NSF gets some onerous language on how to spend the tax-dollars it’s allocated. Let’s get into the details.

NSF received $7.34 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the present budget we are working under. For FY16, the President requested $7.72 billion, or an increase of $379.3 million (or 5.2 percent) over FY15 levels. In the House Appropriations bill, the agency would receive $7.39 billion in FY16, an increase of $50 million (or 0.7 percent). Again, it’s an increase in actual dollars – so things could have been worse. But the bill contains some disheartening language restricting the agency’s activities.

The most significant section concerns restricting how money in NSF’s Research and Related Activities account, where most of the money for research resides, can be spent. The relevant section reads:

The Committee directs NSF to ensure that Mathematical and Physical Sciences; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Engineering; and Biological Sciences comprise no less than 70 percent of the funding within Research and Related Activities. Further, the Committee directs that NSF allocate no less than the fiscal year 2015 levels for the Office of International Science and Engineering; Integrative Activities; and the U.S. Arctic Commission.

This language would force Geosciences (funded at $1.3 billion in FY15) and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (funded at $272 million in FY15) to share roughly $1.32 billion in funding. The combined budget of the two directorates in FY15 was $1.58 billion, so this language translates into a cut of about $257 million to the two directorates, or 16.3 percent. This is in line with the authorization levels passed by the House Science Committee in their bill H.R. 1806 the America COMPETES Act of 2015, which CRA has stated it opposes.

Of almost equal concern, the Appropriations Committee included the following section concerning, “Transparency and accountability:”

The Committee supports section 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, H.R. 1806, as reported, that enhances transparency and accountability of NSF grants by requiring that public award abstracts articulate how the projects serve the national interest. The Committee understands that NSF has already taken steps to implement these transparency processes. NSF is directed to comply with section 106 and provide periodic updates to the Committee on its transparency activities.

As our readers will recall from last year, a similar section to Section 106 is one of the areas that CRA has had significant concerns over, as it puts unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on the agency and is already covered in legislation which founded NSF. While the original language in the section was much worse than what the committee ended up with in COMPETES, we believe it still creates an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and provides a “fix” to a process that isn’t truly broken.

The only other issue of note to our community is a short section on high-performance computing. The committee’s language urges NSF to continue its commitment to the field by modernizing its facilities. Here is the relevant text:

The Committee urges NSF to continue its commitment to modernizing its world-class big data and high-performance computing, which support all areas of scientific research and education, including the most demanding scientific challenges.

So, where do things go from here? The bill now moves to the House floor for consideration; it is likely to pass along a party-line vote, just as it did in committee. It is expected on the House floor as early as today but probably take a day or two to get to a final vote. On the other side of Congress, the Senate Appropriations Committee still needs to complete its own CJS bill. When that will happen also isn’t yet known; the Senate has been the bottleneck in the Appropriations process for the last number of years. But with a new Republican majority, there is a chance that the chamber will move more quickly. Even if that happens, we would not expect a Senate CJS bill until the end of June, at the earliest. We can hope for a better outcome there, but that is not guaranteed. Assuming the Senate gets their bill together, the two chambers will then have to come up with an agreed upon bill in conference, which would then have to be passed by both chambers, before being sent to the President’s desk. That’s still a long way away, so we will have to wait to see how events unfold over the coming summer.

Be sure to check back for more updates on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

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The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science today released its draft of the FY12 CJS appropriations bill, containing funding for the National Science Foundation at the same level the agency received in FY11. The bill totals over $50 billion for FY12 spending in programs at the Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, NASA, NSF, and other agencies — down $3 billion from FY11 levels, and down more than $7.4 billion from levels requested by the President for FY12. Though NSF holds ground compared to FY11, the committee’s plan for FY12 is well below the President’s requested levels for the agency ($907 million less). While not a good result for NSF — a “flat” budget is essentially a cut when inflation is factored in — it’s also not nearly as bad as it could have been given the current climate and cuts elsewhere within the bill. NASA, for example, would absorb a $1.6 billion cut vs. FY11, if the House appropriators plan is approved.

Though they flat-funded the agency overall, House appropriators included an increase to NSF’s core research account (R&RA) of $43 million compared to FY12 to “enhance basic research that is critical to innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness,” according to a statement released by the committee today. At the same time, the bill calls for cuts to both the Education and Human Resources directorate ($26 million vs. FY11) and Major Research Equipment and Facilities account ($17 million vs. FY11).

The subcommittee is set to mark up the bill tomorrow, where it may undergo further changes. We’ll have the details here as soon as we learn them.

In the meantime, the committee has prepared a summary chart featuring the funding levels contained in the bill for all the major programs, as well as a comparison to FY11 and the President’s FY12 Budget Request.

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Update: (Feb 11, 2011) – They’ve released version 2.0 of the proposal…

Update: Um, nevermind. After conservative Republicans savaged the proposed $32 billion in cuts as inadequate, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers pledged to come back with a proposal that would cut $100 billion, potentially putting NSF right back under the crosshairs. Here’s Roger’s statement:

My Committee has been working diligently to go line-by-line in every agency budget to find and cut unnecessary spending to reduce our deficit and help our economy thrive.
After meeting with my subcommittee Chairs, we have determined that the CR can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the President’s request immediately – fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican ‘Pledge to America’ in one fell swoop. Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred. I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation.
We’ll have more when we learn more.

Original Post: As readers of this blog are no doubt aware, Congress has not yet finished the FY 11 appropriations process, leaving federal agencies in funding limbo, despite being five months into FY 11 fiscal year. Starting Monday, House appropriators hope to start the process of resolving the FY 11 budget by passing a “continuing resolution” for the remainder of the fiscal year that will make significant cuts to the budgets of a lot of key agencies. The GOP leadership of the House Appropriations Committee today released a list of some key cuts they plan to make and science agencies aren’t spared — with two notable exceptions.

The list of cuts is available here.

It’s important to keep in mind that the cuts are to the President’s requested budget for FY 11, not to the agency’s FY 10 budgets. In many cases, the President requested substantial increases for these programs, so the “cuts” listed here are actually just reductions to the level of increase requested. The agency might still fare better than it did in FY 10.

The National Science Foundation is targeted for $139 million in “cuts” in the proposal. However, the President requested an increase of $479 million for the agency in FY 11, so in real terms, NSF would see an *increase* of $340 million in FY 11 vs FY 10, or about 6.0 percent. That’s pretty astonishing, given the circumstances. (more on that below)

DOE Office of Science is the other side of the coin, though. They’re slated for $1.1 billion in cuts in the proposal. The President requested an increase of only $226 million for the agency in FY 11, so the proposed cuts are a real cut of $874 million (or 18 percent) to the Science budget compared to FY 10. DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy account would get hit even harder, suffering a $786 million real cut, or 35 percent.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is another loser, receiving almost 15 percent in real cuts in the proposal, though as always, it’s difficult to assess where the cuts will fall (will they hit the controversial TIP or MEP programs, or NIST’s core research?).

NASA is a big winner in the proposal. The GOP leadership wants a “cut” of $379 million for the agency, but the President requested an increase of $1.7 billion for the agency. So, the agency still would clear $1.3 billion in new funding in FY 11 vs. FY 10 (14 percent increase).

NIH would be flat funded in real terms by the proposal.

So, encouraging news for NSF, but very bad news for DOE. Also, these numbers aren’t final. There are a many proposed cuts that hit very politically charged accounts, like the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program (which, among other things, funds the purchase of bulletproof vests for police officers) and the food assistance program for low-income women, infants and children. If appropriators are forced to back off cuts to those accounts (and others), they may look for other places to achieve the same savings, which could put NSF back in the crosshairs.

But, looking on the bright side, the fact that even in this fiscally harsh environment — this huge laundry list of belt-tightening — NSF was still singled out for special treatment (and increases) is a pretty important symbol. It perhaps means that the GOP leadership  still understands that there’s value in the investment in NSF — that an investment in NSF probably provides more real return to the country than it costs. So there’s a little reason for optimism amongst the carnage. But apparently they haven’t gotten that message about DOE….

On Monday we’ll also get our first look at the President’s budget proposal for FY 12. Given the high prominence he gave research and education issues in his State of the Union address last month, and the degree to which he’s been touring the country the last two weeks talking up the importance of innovation to America’s future, it’s likely that we’ll see some healthy requests for science funding. But achieving those increases in this Congress and this fiscal environment is likely to be an extremely steep climb. But stay tuned because we’ll have all the details here.