Tonight the House narrowly passed an omnibus FY15 appropriations measure that would fund 11 of 12 annual appropriations bills and provide stop-gap funding for the 12th (the Homeland Security bill), a move that would provide increases for the National Science Foundation and for key computing programs at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The Senate must still approve the bill. The Federal government continues to operate under a “continuing resolution” that expires at midnight tonight (Thursday, Dec. 11th). Because it’s likely the Senate won’t complete their work by then, the House is prepared to pass a two-day extension of the CR to give the Senate additional time.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill faced opposition from Democrats and conservative Republicans (for different reasons) and almost failed to pass a procedural vote in the House earlier in the afternoon after a group of conservative Republicans voted against the rule that would allow the bill to be considered on the House floor. The group was concerned that spending cuts in the bill didn’t go far enough and did nothing to block the President’s recent actions on immigration. Some arm-twisting of Democrats by President Obama secured enough votes for the measure to pass it 219-206.

Here are a few items of interest to the computing research community in the 1600 page bill:

  • The National Science Foundation would receive an increase of $172 million, or about 2.4 percent over its FY14 budget. The House had approved a slightly larger increase (3.3 percent) in its version of the Commerce Justice, Science Appropriations Act passed earlier this year and the Senate appropriations committee had approved a slightly lower increase (1.2 percent) in its version. The final bill doesn’t quite split the difference. The bill would bring the agency’s total budget to $7.3 billion, $89 million more than the President requested for FY15. From the additional funding the committee wants more work targeted at “advanced manufacturing, and for research in cybersecurity and cyber-infrastructure” and $21 million in new funding for the NSF’s activities in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, including work in computational models, visualization techniques, innovative technologies and “the underlying data and data infrastructure needed to transform our understanding of these areas.”

    While not as big as win as outgoing House CJS Chair Frank Wolf had hoped for the agency, the $172 million increase still represents a win given the flat or declining funding many other important programs received in the bill.

  • The bill holds Dept. of Energy’s Office of Science flat — it would receive the same funding as in FY14. Despite the flat funding for the office, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program would receive a $62 million increase, matching the agency request for FY15. In fact, ASCR joins the Fusion Research program as the only two Office of Science programs called out for increases in the bill. Included in the ASCR funding is $91 million for the Department’s Exascale computing efforts; $104 million for Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility; $80 million for Argonne LCF; $75 million for NERSC; and $3 million for the Computational Sciences Graduate Fellowship program, a program CRA joined with the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) in both 2013 and 2014 to urge Congress to continue. (And they have.)

  • ARPA-E would remain flat-funded.

  • NIST would receive a slight bump. NIST’s Science and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account would increase to $675.5 million in FY15. Included in that is $15 million for the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, up to $60.7 million for cybersecurity R&D; $4 million for cybersecurity education; and $16.5 million for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.

  • Defense Department Basic Research (6.1) would increase $112 million over FY14 to $2.28 billion; Applied Research (6.2) would dip $38 million below FY14 to $4.61 billion; and Advanced Technology Development (6.3) would increase $155 million to $5.53 billion. DARPA would increase $136 million to $2.91 billion in FY15.

For those interested in perusing what is being called the “Cromnibus” (continuing resolution (CR) + omnibus…sigh) here’s a link to the legislative language and all the agreed upon explanatory statements. With the House passage, it’s likely the Senate will follow suit — if not by the midnight Thursday deadline, then by midnight Saturday under an extended CR. If Senate passage isn’t possible, it’s thought the GOP leadership might opt for a 3 month CR extension. But I think the expectation at this point is for passage in the Senate and a quick signature from the President.

Whatever happens, we’ll bring you the details!

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House and Senate negotiators have actually succeeded in reaching agreement on final numbers for all 12 outstanding FY 14 appropriations bills packaged into one omnibus bill (HR 3547) and, at first glance — considering the current budget environment and how bad things could have been — it’s not awful.

Here’s a quick summary:

NSF — The omnibus would fund NSF overall at $7.17 billion in FY 14. That’s well below the $7.6 billion requested by the President (and $82 million below the FY13 pre-sequester “enacted” number), but $290 million more than the FY13 post-sequester level, or an increase in real dollars for the agency of about 4.2 percent. Research and Related Activities would receive a similar increase – 4.1 percent to $5.8 billion. In both cases, appropriators appear to have split the difference in recommended funding levels between the more frugal House-approved plan and the more generous Senate Appropriations Committee approved plan.

DOD — Defense basic research (6.1) would see a 10 percent increase versus FY13 post-sequester; applied research (6.2) would increase 6.7 percent; and advanced technology development (6.3) would increase 3.7 percent — which suggests that the appropriators are heeding the message that basic and applied research should see some priority in the budget after short-term thinking cost them in previous budgets. I haven’t parsed all the line-by-line numbers in the bill yet to see how specific computing accounts fared, however.

DOE — DOE’s Office of Science would see an increase of about 9.7 percent to $5.07 billion in the bill. ARPA-E would remain unchanged at $280 million. The Advanced Scientific Computing Research program would see an increase to $478.6 million from $419 million in FY13 post-sequester (an increase of 14.2 percent).

NIST — NIST’s “core research” would see an increase of $41 million vs. FY13.

NIH — NIH’s budget would increase to $29.9 billion, from $28.4 billion in FY13 post-sequester.

So, in most cases, the omnibus would roll back the impacts of last year’s sequester, and in many cases provide increases beyond the roll back. Maybe just as importantly, this omnibus signals that FY14 appropriations are actually completed — there will be no continuing resolution for agencies for which there was too much controversy to reach a deal. House and Senate negotiators actually agreed to drop provisions the other side found contentious in the spirit of getting these bills done.

The House passed the bill today (359-67). Passage should also be swift in the Senate. Congress yesterday passed a short continuing resolution through Saturday to give themselves enough time to get this done.

Next up is the President’s budget for FY15 released in early Feb, then another shot at the debt limit (though the expectation is it will pass without as much of a fight this time around), and then appropriators will set to work on FY 15 appropriations, which they hope to finish in regular order — something that hasn’t happened in nearly two decades. We’ll keep you updated!

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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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