NSF FY2022 Request: Strong Vision for NSF’s Future Backed Up with a Robust Funding Increase

At the end of last week, the Biden Administration released its long anticipated full Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Budget Request. As we have done in years past, we’ll be writing a series of posts on the assorted agency budgets that are important to the computing research community. First up: the National Science Foundation.

NSF fares quite well in the President’s request, a stark change from previous years budget request. It’s worth noting that this fuller budget request is in line with the “skinny” blueprint that was released in April. Under the Administration’s plan, the agency would see a nearly 20 percent increase compared to FY21, in overall funding. NSF would go from $8.49 billion in FY21 to $10.2 billion in FY22, an increase of $1.7 billion.

A large part of that increase would go into Research and Related Activities (R&RA), the subaccount that contains the funding for research grants. R&RA would increase from $6.91 billion in FY21 to $8.14 billion in FY22, a plus up of $1.2 billion (or 17.8 percent). Education and Human Resources (EHR), the subaccount that contains the agency’s education programs, would also see an increase of $319 million, going from $968 million in FY21 to $1.29 billion under the President’s plan; that’s an increase of 33 percent.

FY20 FY21 FY22 PBR $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.28B $8.49B $10.2B +$1.7B +19.8%
R&RA $6.74B $6.91B $8.14B +$1.2B +17.8%
EHR $940M $968M $1.29B +$319M +33%
CISE $996M $1.01B $1.12B +$29M +11%

The Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE), the home for most computing research support at NSF, would receive an 11 percent increase under the President’s plan, growing by more than $110 million over FY21. That increase would be roughly evenly divided across the directorate, with the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, Computing and Communication Foundations (CCF), Computer and Network Systems (CNS), and Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) all receiving about 9 percent more in FY22 (or about $20 million), and the Information Technology Research (ITR) program receiving $29 million (or about 24.5 percent more than FY22). That ITR funding is requested to “support convergent activities that transcend the traditional disciplinary boundaries of individual NSF units.”

In addition to CISE support for the broad scope of the computing research fields – indeed, in FY21 the directorate estimates it is responsible for funding 87 percent of the federal funding for fundamental computer science research at U.S. academic institutions – the request notes major investments in Advanced Manufacturing, Advanced Wireless Research, Artificial Intelligence, and Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, with significant increases in funding in FY22 for Climate: Clean Energy Technology, Microelectronics and Semiconductors, and Quantum Information Science. CISE support would continue for the AI Research Institutes program, which would grow from $25.5 million in FY21 to $30.5 million in FY22. Including support from other directorates, the AI Research Institutes program would grow to $69 million in FY22 (from $51 million).

Overall, the newly requested funding would allow CISE to fund an additional 440 research grants compared to FY21 (2,010 in FY21 vs. 2450 FY22 estimate), raising the overall funding rate from 24 percent to 27 percent.

In a briefing with CRA staff, CISE AD Margaret Martonosi noted the goals guiding development of this request were a desire to enhance fundamental research overall, strengthen U.S. leadership, advance equity, advance climate science, and advance the continuation of facilities construction. Included in the request is $100 million targeted around racial equity-related programs. Martonosi also highlighted directorate priorities around AI, increasing engagement with Minority Serving Institutions, Climate Change, Advanced Wireless Research and the Resilient and Intelligent Next-Generation Systems (RINGS) program, and working with the new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate.

The new directorate is perhaps the biggest change in this year’s NSF request. Under the President’s plan, it would be established within R&RA and be similar to the Directorate of Technology & Innovation, proposed in the Senate’s Endless Frontier Act, and the Directorate for Science & Engineering Solutions, which is in the House Science Committee’s NSF for the Future bill. TIP’s mission would be to:

“closely collaborate with all of NSF’s other directorates and offices, as well as with other stakeholders in the Nation’s research, innovation, and education enterprise, to advance science and engineering research and innovation leading to breakthrough technologies as well as solutions to national and societal challenges, sustaining and enhancing U.S. competitiveness on a global stage; accelerate the translation of fundamental discoveries from lab to market, advancing the U.S. economy; and create education pathways for every American to pursue new, high-wage jobs, supporting a diverse workforce of researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs.”

The Biden Administration is recommending that TIP be established with an initial budget of $865 million, though the President’s American Jobs Plan calls for a total of $50 billion to be invested in the new directorate over the next 8 years. In addition to directorate funding of NSF-wide investments in the major investment areas noted above, the directorate request includes $200 million for new Regional Innovation Accelerators (RIAs). These centers are intended to, “build and expand the capacities for innovation at the level of individual communities and/or regions,” by tackling use-inspired, solutions-oriented research and innovation. The goal is to help areas without the research infrastructure of a Silicon Valley become the next Silicon Valley by partnering NSF, academia, industry, non-profits, state and local governments and venture capital. The RIAs would be funded at $10 million per year for 10 years.

How the new directorate would integrate with the existing directorates is still somewhat of an open question. What it will look like after Congress has its say in the matter is another. But with its inclusion in the budget request, and its prominent role in both major NSF reauthorization proposals in Congress, it’s clear that some directorate-like entity tasked with a technology development mission will be stood up at the Foundation, probably in FY22.

These large new investments in NSF may seem like too-good-to-be-true news for NSF, so what’s the catch? The catch is Congress has to agree with this plan and then appropriate the funds. Given the bipartisan praise and attention that NSF is currently receiving from Congress, with the aforementioned Endless Frontier Act and the NSF for the Future Act, a budget increase for the agency is likely. However, during one of the Senate hearings for the EFA, Senator Moran (R-KS), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee, which is in charge of NSF’s budget, mentioned that he thought it would be difficult to appropriate funding levels this high given the subcommittee’s other obligations. Is that a fiscal conservative’s pessimistic view or an important perspective to keep expectations for NSF in check? It’s hard to say right now, but keeping hopes reasonable is always a good idea.

Still, this request shows great confidence in NSF and it is an excellent place for the budget process to begin. Next stop is the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, both of which have already begun hearings on the agency’s budget and should start drafting their bills soon. We can expect to get the first indications sometime in July. We’ll be keeping track, so please check back for more updates.

NSF FY2022 Request: Strong Vision for NSF’s Future Backed Up with a Robust Funding Increase