This article is published in the March 2008 issue.

Science Increases Abandoned in Final 08 Spending Bill

But Administration Seeks to Make Up Difference in 09 Budget Request

Despite a year of positive milestones for the advocates of increased funding for three key science agencies, the final FY 2008 numbers for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Energy’s Office of Science left many in the scientific community bitterly disappointed as lawmakers reneged on commitments to continue the effort to double basic research funding in favor of other programs and congressional earmarks.

In a year in which it seemed both the Administration and Congress stood strongly behind the goal of doubling funding for the physical sciences, computing, mathematics and engineering over the next seven years, a veto threat from the President over what he considered excessive spending proposals by congressional Democrats derailed an appropriations process that appeared promising. Instead, congressional Democrats, lacking the votes to override a presidential veto, had to scramble in a late December deal to cut $23 billion in planned discretionary spending to get beneath the President’s self-imposed spending “cap.” Lost in the $23 billion budget trimming were an approved 11 percent increase for NSF’s research accounts, a 15 percent increase for NIST’s research core, and more than half of a planned 18 percent increase for DOE Science.

The final deal, assembled and passed as the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161), packaged the 11 unfinished appropriations bills, out of 12 total that Congress must pass every year to keep the federal government operating, into a massive omnibus measure. Included in that omnibus were the Commerce, Science, Justice appropriation, which includes funding for NSF and NIST, and the Energy and Water appropriation, which includes funding for DOE’s Office of Science—both of which had marched through their various committees of jurisdiction in Congress with significant increases for the science agencies approved. But when forced to trim, congressional appropriators sacrificed the planned big gains for science agencies to pay for other “higher priority” programs elsewhere in the bills.

The impact of the reduced omnibus funding levels on the science agency budgets in FY 2008 will likely be severe—though computing researchers fare marginally better than others in some cases. At the National Science Foundation, the lower-than-planned FY 08 budget levels will fund 1,000 fewer research grants foundation-wide and the average award size will be smaller, according to the agency. Additionally, the number of NSF Graduate Fellowships will drop by 230, and the number of Faculty Early Career Awards will drop by five percent.

NSF does plan to move forward with the new $48 million Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation initiative (CDI) in FY 08, headed by its Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate, but the majority of other programs in CISE will see their growth slow (though not decline compared to FY 07). However, CISE will not be able to expand the number of grants it awards in FY 08 as it had planned. In fact, CISE personnel estimate that the directorate will award about 325 fewer grants than they anticipated they would for FY 08. On average, those grants would have supported over 400 graduate students, said NSF Assistant Director for CISE, Jeannette Wing.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science was also impacted especially hard by the funding levels contained in the omnibus—though some computing programs in the agency were singled out for increases. Cuts to the budgets for programs in Fusion Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics and Nuclear Physics will result in job losses for researchers— computing researchers among them—at nearly every major Energy laboratory, including Oak Ridge National Lab, Sandia, Los Alamos, FermiLab, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator.

At the same time, appropriators included a sizable increase in the funding for the department’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program. Included in the 25 percent increase over FY 07 is $19.5 million to continue the department’s participation in the DARPA High Productivity Computing Systems partnership, an increase of $7.7 million for the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, and the creation of a new “Institute for Advanced Architectures and Algorithms” with Centers of Excellence at Sandia National Labs and ORNL.

The bill also reprograms much of NIST’s planned increases to its core research efforts to construction—including a new “research facilities construction” program—and flat-funds the National Institutes of Health.1

Though the final spending bill essentially reneged on nearly all of the proposed spending for science urged by the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative, the Democratic Innovation Agenda, and the funding recommendations embraced by Congress as a whole when it passed the America COMPETES Act (see CRN, November 2007, Vol. 19, No. 5), the President nevertheless signed the bill into law in late December. In early February, he introduced a FY 2009 Budget Request that would make up the ground lost by NSF, NIST and DOE Science in the omnibus and put those agencies back on track to doubled budgets by 2014.

In addition to putting those agencies back on a doubling track, the President’s budget request would provide the largest increase for computing research across the federal government in several years. For FY 09, the President is requesting a 6 percent increase in funding for the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program (NITRD)—the $3-billion-plus, thirteen-agency program that constitutes the total federal investment in information technology research and development.

Slated to grow the most in terms of IT R&D spending are NSF—which would see its NITRD share grow 17 percent to $1.1 billion in FY 09, the first time NSF’s share has crossed the billion-dollar mark—and DOE’s Office of Science, which would grow 13 percent to $494 million in FY 09.

At press time, it appeared that the Department of Defense’s share of NITRD would actually decrease 2 percent compared to FY 08, to $1.2 billion in FY 09. However, because the Defense Department budget is heavily earmarked by Congress, and because the Administration strips out those earmarks in subsequent budget requests, it was not clear whether the FY 09 request represents an actual decrease compared to a non-earmarked FY 08 budget. For the latest analysis of how computing research fared in the Defense Department budget request, be sure to check the Computing Research Policy Blog at

Computing research is featured prominently in the National Science Foundation request for FY 09. The Foundation-wide Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation program would expand considerably under the agency’s plan, growing from $48 million in FY 08 to $100 million in FY 09, including $33 million in CISE. Additionally, the Foundation has proposed two new foundation-wide initiatives that have strong computing foci. The first is a $20 million investment in “Science and Engineering Beyond Moore’s Law,” which “aims to position the U.S. at the forefront of communications and computation capability beyond the physical and conceptional limitations of current systems.” That program would be led by the Mathematics and Physical Sciences directorate, but CISE would control $6 million in awards. The second is a $15 million investment ($3.5 million in CISE) in “Adaptive Systems Technology” that focuses on “generating pathways and interfaces between human and physical systems that will revolutionize the development of novel adaptive systems.”

Additionally, CISE would see its budget increase by 19.5 percent, or $104 million, in FY 09 under the President’s plan—essentially making up all the ground lost with the omnibus. Programs of note within the directorate include:

  • $78 million for Computing Fundamentals—set-aside for basic, potentially transformative research answering fundamental questions in computing that have the potential for “significant, enduring impact.” Foci include cyber-physical systems, data-intensive computing, software for complex systems, cybersecurity, network science and engineering, and understanding “what is computable?” when humans and machines work together to solve problems neither can solve alone.
  • $33.6 million for CDI: CISE would contribute over a third of the total NSF investment in the initiative and would be the “lead” directorate.

The request for DOE’s Office of Science includes a 5 percent increase for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program compared to FY 08, increasing that program to $369 million in FY 09. Included is $93.2 million for applied mathematics and computer science research, $58.1 million for the Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program, and $217.5 million for high-performance computing and network facilities and testbeds.

Once again, for the complete breakdown and the latest analysis of all the noteworthy computing research accounts, visit the Computing Research Policy Blog at


1 For more on what is funded and isn’t funded in the FY 08 omnibus, see “FY 2008 Omnibus: Damage Assessment” on the Computing Research Policy Blog at:

Peter Harsha can be contacted at harsha [at]

Science Increases Abandoned in Final 08 Spending Bill