This article is published in the January 2006 issue.

Congress Provides Symbolic Increase for NSF

But Retroactive Across-the-Board Cut Wipes Out Most R&D Gains

After a year’s worth of warning that the final funding levels for American science agencies would likely be austere, congressional appropriators surprised many in the science community by passing a slate of funding bills that would have increased funding slightly for federal research at several agencies, including a 3 percent increase at the National Science Foundation.

However, the increases proved to be symbolic as Congress, under pressure to reduce federal discretionary spending in the wake of unanticipated payouts to areas hard-hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, passed an across-the-board 1.0 percent reduction in all FY 2006 appropriations, including those already enacted, eliminating much—and in some cases all—of the approved spending increases for science.

Still, advocates for federal science funding claimed a small victory, arguing that the funding level for NSF approved by Congress (before the across-the-board cut) exceeded the levels originally approved by both the House and Senate for the agency in their respective bills earlier this year—demonstrating that the community’s arguments for the importance of federal support for fundamental research were well received.

NSF received $5.65 billion in the final FY 06 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (H.R. 2682), an increase of 3.3 percent above the agency’s FY 2005 level and more than either the $5.60 billion approved by the House or the $5.53 billion approved by the Senate in their respective versions of the bill. The increase is contained in the conference version of H.R. 2682—the negotiated compromise between the differing House and Senate versions of the bill. It is somewhat unusual, though not unheard of, for a conference appropriation to exceed the funding level approved by either chamber.

Science advocates point to this unusual circumstance as evidence that the concerns of the science community and their industrial partners—concerns that long-term underinvestment in fundamental research is endangering U.S. innovation and future competitiveness—carried some weight in Congress. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) referenced the concerns after the bill’s passage, noting that the bill would “bolster America’s science and technology enterprise, foster innovation, and boost U.S. competitiveness. This is a good bill for science.”

Included in the 3 percent increase approved for NSF is a nearly 4 percent increase to the agency’s Research and Related Activities account, which would grow to $4.39 billion in FY 2006—an increase of 1.2 percent above the level the President requested for the agency in his budget released last February. The bill would also fund NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate at $807 million in FY 2006, exceeding the President’s request by 9.5 percent, including $4 million above the request for the Math and Science Partnership program.

The appropriators chose not to indicate funding levels for specific directorates within the R&RA account—which includes the Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate—opting instead to allow NSF Director Arden Bement to provide his funding plan for the directorates to the appropriations committees for approval within 60 days of the bill’s passage.

Also included in the bill is funding for three other science agencies of interest to the computing research community. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s “Science, Aeronautics and Exploration” account would see a 2.9 percent increase over FY 2005 funding levels, an increase of $273 million to $9.7 billion in FY 2006. In the conference report accompanying the bill, the House and Senate negotiators took issue with the extent to which the Administration hoped to reprogram money in the agency towards the President’s proposed Moon/Mars initiative. The conferees partially restored funding to the agency’s aeronautics and science programs impacted by the President’s requested cut, noting that the programs are necessary to “maintain the nation’s leadership in science and technology.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) received $762 million for FY 2006, an increase of nearly 9 percent over FY 2005. Included in that amount is $399.9 million for NIST’s core research programs (the Scientific and Technical Research and Services account)—an increase of 5.6 percent over FY 2005. NIST’s Computer Science and Applied Mathematics program within STRS received $64.5 million. The conferees agreed to fund the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at $106 million, a cut of 1.4 percent below FY 2005. The controversial Advanced Technology Program, for which the Senate approved $140 million and the House zeroed, received a compromise $80 million.

The conferees also reached agreement on funding levels for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for which the Senate had approved more than $1 billion more than the House. The conferees split the difference, approving $3.95 billion for the agency, an increase of $30 million over FY 2005 and $520 million more than the House number. Included in that increase is $2.83 billion for the agency’s Operations, Research and Facilities account, an increase of 1.4 percent over FY 2006.

The science community also saw small gains in the FY 06 Energy and Water Appropriations bill (H.R. 2419), which includes funding for science programs at the Department of Energy. DOE’s Office of Science saw a slight increase in funding over FY 2005 in the bill, growing 0.9 percent to $3.63 billion, an increase of $33 million. The Advanced Scientific Computing Research program within the Office of Science also fared well, garnering a $5 million increase over FY 2005 to $237.1 million, $30 million more than the President’s budget. The $30 million above the request is to be used to “accelerate the efforts to develop a leadership-class supercomputer to meet scientific computation needs,” with the further instruction that $25 million should be dedicated to hardware and $5 million to competitive research grants.

One other bill of particular interest to the computing research community— the FY 06 Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 2863)—was not yet complete at press time, but is a source of concern due a proposed cut to IT research. Senate appropriators approved a $55 million cut to the Defense Department’s $114 million Learning, Reasoning, and Integrated Cognitive Systems account at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), largely due to concerns that the program lacked sufficient military application. Because the House funded the program at the President’s requested level of $114 million, it is not clear at press time whether the cut will survive the conference process (check the CRA Computing Research Policy Blog at for the latest details).

CRA, in arguing against the cut, noted that:

Research in learning, reasoning, and cognitive systems is focused on intelligent interpretations of signals and data, on controlling unmanned vehicles, and on amplifying human effectiveness. Its aim is to reduce U.S. casualties by providing improved command and control, and tactical planning against adversaries, as well as improved training systems. Work in this area includes research responsible for the Command Post of the Future—a software system currently deployed and very widely used in Iraq to coordinate battle plans and integrate multiple intelligence reports, a capability Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cited as the major contributor to victory in the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is also critical to the research and development of autonomous, unmanned vehicles that amplify the nation’s warfighting capability while reducing the number of U.S. forces in harm’s way.

More fundamentally, the community pointed out that the proposed cut runs completely counter to recent concerns of Congress, the President’s IT Advisory Committee, and the DOD’s own Defense Science Board about the shift of DARPA resources away from fundamental research at universities, especially in information technology. The Cognitive Computing program is one area where DARPA has responded positively to these concerns.

While the increases for science agencies approved in H.R. 2682 and H.R. 2419 are relatively small—NSF’s 3 percent increase would only just keep it ahead of the rate of inflation—in the context of a budget year in which Congress was growing increasingly concerned about ballooning deficit spending in the wake of spiraling costs for Iraq and Afghanistan and a Presidential budget request that had left appropriators almost no “wiggle room” to increase budgets, the slight increases appear to the science advocacy community as a vote of support.

However, even those small increases will not be realized in FY 2006. Unanticipated emergency spending directed to the areas impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita helped galvanize conservative members of Congress already concerned by what they perceived to be out-of-control federal spending. They put increasing pressure on the congressional leadership and the Administration to find areas of the federal budget to cut to pay for the more than $100 billion that was expected to be spent on Hurricane relief. The Republican Study Committee—which numbers about 100 GOP Members of Congress—even proposed a plan (called “Operation Offset”) that identified $300 billion in “savings” that could be used to offset the predicted spending. Included in the proposed cuts were programs like NSF’s Math and Science Program, the NASA Moon/Mars Initiative, and NIST’s ATP and MEP programs. While the RSC did not ultimately get the total scope of cuts they were looking for, they helped create momentum for a more politically palatable 1 percent “across-the-board” cut to all federal agencies, saving just over $50 billion in FY 2006. Across-the-board cuts have the advantage of being politically neutral—they affect all agencies and programs equally in FY 2006.

CRA has the final breakdown on all the relevant science agency numbers on the Computing Research Policy Blog ( Check the blog for all the latest updates on computing research and the federal budget process.

Congress Provides Symbolic Increase for NSF