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.

Today the House voted to pass a revised version of the America COMPETES Act, a bill that would reauthorize several key science agencies and STEM Education programs, completing an unlikely resurrection of a bill most in the science advocacy community (including this correspondent) figured was dead in this session.

COMPETES has been through quite a legislative rollercoaster on its trip through Congress and has emerged at the end significantly leaner. The version the House granted final approval of today has been trimmed significantly since its original passage — the Senate having shed the bill of a number of controversial tech-transfer and tech-innovation programs, cut the authorization amounts for NSF, NIST and DOE Office of Science, and removed the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) Program reauthorization and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) from the package. The resulting “clean” package was far more palatable to Senate Republicans who had opposed the House version of the bill, and the Senate was able to find time on its calendar late on Sunday  to pass the bill by unanimous consent.

Unfortunately, the Senate managed to find time on its calendar because the Democratic leadership wasn’t able to strike a deal on passage of a Omnibus Appropriations bill that would have contained — along with funding for all the operations of government — real funding increases for NSF and NIST in FY 11. Instead, the Senate leadership pulled the omnibus legislation and has passed a so-called “Continuing Resolution” (CR) that would keep the government running at the FY 10 budget levels through March 4, 2011. The House is expected to agree to the March 4th CR this evening.

But despite actual appropriations being left up in the air for science agencies, it is still  symbolic that both chambers decided to use precious closing-session floor time to debate and ultimately authorize increases for science funding. Advocates for science can now at least point to these authorized levels as a target for appropriators as the new Congress convenes in January.

And what did legislators ultimately approve? The Alliance for Science and Technology Research in America (ASTRA) has put together a handy comparison chart (pdf) showing the various authorization levels approved along COMPETES bumpy path. In short, here’s where NSF and NIST finished up:

  • National Science Foundation: Authorized for three years with a total increase of nearly 20 percent over the three years, compared to the agency’s FY 10 budget. Under the plan, NSF would grow by 7.2 percent in FY 11.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: Authorized for three years with a total increase of 21.4 percent over FY 10. Under the plan NIST would grow 7.3 percent in FY 11.
  • DOE Office of Science: Authorizes a 14 percent increase in DOE’s R&D programs over three years. Includes $900 million in authorization for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) over three years.

The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 130, on an essentially party-line vote. Sixteen Republicans did cross the aisle to vote for the measure, though.

We’ll have more on what’s actually in the revised COMPETES Act in a future post. For now, the bill’s passage is about the only cause for celebration we’re likely to get as this Congress comes to a close. And given the changing tenor in Washington, it may be the only thing we celebrate for much of the next one, too…

Update: (12/22/2010) — The White House has weighed in. A snippet:

Passage of the Act comes at a crucial time in our Nation’s economic and technological trajectory—a time that President Obama characterized last month as a “Sputnik moment.” Just as Americans in 1957 quickly grasped the significance of the Soviet Union’s historic launch of the world’s first artificial satellite—responding aggressively with new investments in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education—Americans today are recognizing that we are once again on the brink of a new world. The decisions we make today about how we invest in R&D, education, innovation, and competitiveness will profoundly influence our Nation’s economic vitality, global stature, and national security tomorrow.

Here’s the whole post.

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