This article is published in the January 2005 issue.

NSF Budget Takes Hit in Final Appropriations Bill

While NASA Sees Increase for Moon/Mars, NSF Suffers Across-the-Board Cut

Putting an end to a year-long budget debate that began with the President’s proposal for an “austere” federal budget and ended with funding levels below the President’s requests for many non-defense agencies, Congress approved a final appropriations bill for the 2005 fiscal year that included a boost in funding for the President’s Space Exploration initiative, but a reduction in funding at the National Science Foundation.

Under the final spending package, NSF saw its budget for FY 2005 decrease by 1.9 percent to $5.47 billion, down from $5.58 billion in FY 2004. This represents a cut of $105 million and is well below the 15 percent annual increases authorized by Congress and approved by the President in 2002. At the same time, the budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grew 4.6 percent to $16.1 billion for FY 2005, thanks to $800 million in new funding targeted for the President’s planned Moon and Mars missions.

Both agencies were included as part of a mammoth, 3,000-page “Omnibus Appropriations” made necessary when Congress was unable to pass, in a timely fashion, 9 of the 13 annual appropriations bills required to fund the operations of government. With time running out on the legislative session, congressional leaders decided to bundle the outstanding appropriations bills together and pass them en masse in a lame-duck (post-election) session of Congress. Included in the Omnibus bill was funding for the nation’s non-defense science agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Funding for NASA’s moon mission was a source of controversy in the run-up to the Omnibus bill. The original VA-HUD-Independent agencies appropriation bill, which includes funding for NASA and NSF, was approved by the House appropriations committee in July 2004 but failed to include funding for the program in order to stay beneath the spending cap. The omission angered influential House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-TX), who counts many employees of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston among his constituents, and the President, who issued a veto threat against the measure unless funding for the program was restored. House and Senate negotiators agreed to add $800 million for the program to the final bill, as well as $400 million in additional spending on other congressional priorities, to ensure its passage. The increases were offset by an across-the-board 0.8 percent cut to planned FY 2005 funding levels for all non-defense-related agencies.

Here’s how a few agencies fared:

National Science Foundation

NSF will lose $105 million for FY 2005 (compared to FY 04), a cut of 1.9 percent. The largest cut will land in the Education and Human Resources Directorate—a cut of $98 million, or a 10 percent reduction compared to FY 2004—with most of the cut falling on the “Graduate Education” and “Research, Evaluation & Communication” accounts. The Major Research Equipment account will see an increase of about $19 million over FY 2004. Research and Related Activities (home of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate) was to be held essentially flat for FY 2005, but will lose $30 million (0.7%) as the result of the across-the-board cut. The final funding level for CISE for FY 2005 is likely to be $600 million, 0.8 percent lower than the FY 2004 level of $605 million.

A breakdown of the major budget accounts at NSF is provided in Table 1.

Department of Energy, Office of Science

The Office of Science received a 2.8 percent increase for FY 2005, to $3.6 billion. Included in the increase was $30 million in the Advanced Scientific Computing Research account for the development of a “Leadership Class” supercomputer at DOE—$25 million for hardware, $5 million for software development. The increase brings ASCR’s funding level to $232 million for FY 2005.

The funding makes good on an authorization approved as part of the “High End Computing Revitalization Act” (PL 108-423), passed by Congress in November 2004 and signed by the President. That bill, aimed at reestablishing the nation’s leadership role in supercomputing, was based on the recommendations of the High-End Computing Revitalization Task Force Workshop hosted by CRA in June 2003.


The NIST Labs faced a dire funding situation as a result of last year’s Omnibus Appropriations bill. That bill cut $22 million in the labs’ funding for FY 2004, halting work in cybersecurity and requiring the layoffs of a number of lab employees. For FY 2005, the NIST Labs will see that money return as part of a $38 million increase (12.6 percent) to $379 million. The final number still falls well beneath the President’s requested level of $417 million for FY 2005.

The NIST Advanced Technology Program (ATP) suffered the biggest cut, decreasing by 17 percent or $28 million to $140 million for FY 2005. Though this level is considerably higher than the President requested in his budget—the Administration had provided no funding for the program in the request—the level approved will not provide funding for any new ATP activities in FY 2005.


NASA’s budget will increase by $800 million for FY 2005 to $16.1 billion, an increase of 4.6 percent. NASA’s Science, Aeronautics and Exploration account will see a decrease of 1.9 percent, to $7.7 billion, while the Exploration Capabilities account—home of the President’s Space Exploration Initiative—will see an $835 million increase to $7.5 billion.

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget will increase to $28.6 billion, just 2 percent above last year’s funding level, well off the 15 percent annual increases the agency received between 1998 and 2003. Most NIH institutes will receive increases between 1.6 and 2.5 percent.

Congressional champions of science were quick to criticize the Omnibus Bill for its lack of support for science. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) was among the first to issue a press release condemning the decrease in funding for the National Science Foundation in the Omnibus Bill. “While I understand the need to make hard choices in the face of fiscal constraint, I do not see the wisdom in putting science funding far behind other priorities,” Ehlers said on the House floor. “This decision shows dangerous disregard for our nation’s future, and I am both concerned and astonished that we would make this decision at a time when other nations continue to surpass our students in math and science and consistently increase their funding of basic research.”

Rep. David Obey (D-WI), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, called the cut to NSF in the bill “the most Luddite provision” in the entire bill.

Unfortunately for supporters of science, the spending constraints in the FY 2006 budget are not likely to slacken. Congressional and Administration sources say to expect flat or relatively flat budgets for at least the next 3-5 years, owing to increasing pressure to address the federal deficit and continuing increases in the cost of fighting the war on terror.

For the latest on the end of the FY 2005 budget process—and all the details of the FY 2006 process as they happen—be sure to check CRA’s Computing Research Policy Blog [].

NSF Budget Takes Hit in Final Appropriations Bill