FY 09 Budget Close-Up: National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (along with all other federal agencies) released its FY 09 Budget Request to Congress on Monday. We’ve already had some preliminary coverage of it, noting that, on the whole, computing research does pretty well. Late Monday afternoon NSF hosted a briefing on its budget to provide a little finer resolution look at what they hope to get from Congress in this appropriations season — and we’ve got those details below (spoiler: they’re pretty good).
But maybe just as importantly, NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate also provided some detail about how it plans to deal with the austere appropriation it received from Congress for FY 2008. Before we get to the relatively good news from the request, it’s probably appropriate to close the book on the FY 2008 numbers. You’ll recall that CISE had some big plans for FY 2008. We’ve listed some of the potential impacts on NSF overall from the omnibus funding levels in a previous post, but here’s what we know specifically about CISE:

  • NSF had requested a 9.0 percent increase for CISE in FY 2008, an increase of $47 million. Instead, CISE will see just a 1.5 percent increase — $39 million less than requested.
  • The Cyber-enabled Discovery Initiative (CDI), a new initiative when it was proposed for FY 08, will see all of its requested funding. For FY 08, that’s $20 million. Foundation-wide, CDI will be funded at $48 million in FY 08, down a bit from the overall request of $52 million, but still a strong commitment to a program that has attracted considerable attention within the computing community (with more to come in FY 09).
  • The biggest impact on CISE, therefore, is the growth that won’t occur across the rest of the core in FY 08. Because NSF has targeted an average award size of $120,000 for FY 08, that’s approximately 325 grants they had planned to award that they will not now as a result of the omnibus. On average, those 325 awards would have supported more than 400 graduate students this year.

Now, the good news.
For FY 2009, NSF hopes to make up the ground lost in the omnibus by requesting significant increases for its research directorates. Overall, NSF would see its budget increase by 14 percent over FY 08, to $6.06 billion in FY 09. Within that increase, computing research is featured prominently in the request. The Foundation-wide, but CISE led, 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 agency 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 core research 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.

We’ll have some additional charts spelling out exactly how CISE plans to spend its money in FY 09 very soon.
For now, it’s enough to say that the budget appears to once again represent a good start for NSF and computing in the appropriations cycle. But it’s just the start of a long, unpredictable process.
Next up, a focus on DOD IT R&D….

FY 09 Budget Close-Up: National Science Foundation