FY 2008 Omnibus: Damage Assessment

Update: (1/30/08) — Cameron Wilson of USACM has some additional (depressing) details of the impact of the omnibus on the third ACI-related agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. For the impact on the other two — NSF and DOE’s Office of Science — see the original post just below!
Original Post: We’re beginning to get a sense of how the shortfall in the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill will impact specific programs in some of the federal science agencies. While we won’t get the full story until after the FY 09 Budget comes out on February 4th, the bits and pieces that are leaking around town are fairly dispiriting.
First the good news. It appears that though NSF’s research accounts only received $57 million in new money for FY 08 (an increase over FY 07 that fails to keep pace with inflation), the $52 million Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation program will likely move forward, though it’s not clear whether it will be “fully-funded.” Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. The rest of the stats are pretty gruesome:

  • NSF will likely fund 1,000 fewer research grants in FY 08 than planned and the average award size will be smaller.
  • NSF Graduate Fellowships will drop by 230.
  • The number of Faculty Early Career Awards will likely drop by five percent.
  • The Science of Science and Innovation Policy program will likely be delayed.
  • The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, slated to grow to $40 million in FY 08 will instead be flat-funded at $10 million.
  • The National Ecological Observatory Network will likely be delayed.
  • The Ocean Observatories Initiative will likely be delayed.
  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates may be reduced by five percent.
  • Science of Learning Centers will likely face a delay and possible reduction.

Things aren’t any better at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. While the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program will see an pretty healthy increase in FY 08 (about 25 percent) and the start of a new “Institute for Advanced Architectures and Algorithms” with Centers of Excellence at Sandia National Labs and Oak Ridge National Labs, researchers across the board (including computing researchers) will see cuts or layoffs as a result of the overall agency budget. Here’s what we know so far:

  • Cuts to the Fusion Energy Sciences budget will result in layoffs of up to 40 at ORNL, PPPL, SRL, and LANL.
  • Cuts to the Basic Energy Sciences budget mean that no funding for any new research initiatives in use-inspired energy research and the layoff of approximately 50 permanent PhDs, 30 postdocs, and 20 students from on-going research programs. (As a comparison, the new research initiatives called for in the FY 08 budget would have supported about 400 permanent PhDs, 120 postdocs and 240 students).
  • Cuts to High Energy Physics will result in some facility closures and the loss of support for 450 employees (250 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator and 200 at Fermi Lab).
  • Cuts to Nuclear Physics will result in reductions of up to 8 permanent PhDs, 10 postdocs and 10 students.

It’s not clear whether anything can be done to mitigate any of these cuts. Congress has, in theory, closed the book on FY 2008. There are a couple of legislative vehicles that could provide opportunities to supplement these poor funding levels, but the likelihood that they will be used that way is pretty slim.
The first is in the economic stimulus package that will be passed shortly by the Congress in an effort to provide some relief for U.S. taxpayers and get them spending money in this slowing economy. While the House is not likely to include any funding for science as part of a stimulus, there’s a teeny-tiny chance that the Senate might give it a run. But even though the amount of the shortfall for science represents a very small portion of the proposed stimulus package — $900 million versus $150 billion — there are not likely to be too many in the House or the Administration who would be willing to support any additions beyond their original proposal. So, the odds for this route are, well, beyond slim.
The second is in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill that will have to be considered in the next few months to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Emergency supplemental bills have frequently been looked to in the past as a good place to stash a bit of extra funding for favored projects, provided you can make the case (however tenuous) that the funding is going for some sort of “emergency” use. Given the number of jobs lost at federal research facilities, and the fact that U.S. participation in some international research efforts (particularly the ITER fusion reactor project) is in jeopardy as a result of the FY 08 omnibus, Congress and the Administration might agree that supplemental funding is actually appropriate and include it in the supplemental appropriations bill. So, while this is unlikely to mitigate the whole of the shortfall, it’s not inconceivable that Congress could include $100-300 million, particularly for DOE Office of Science, to help mitigate the damage.
Beyond that, we’re looking at trying to make up as much of the difference in the FY 2009 appropriations process. The science community and the high-tech industry are already gearing up for that fight — with lessons learned from our failures in FY 08. Expect to read much more about how that effort moves forwards in the coming weeks….

FY 2008 Omnibus: Damage Assessment