House Passes Reconciliation Legislation; NSF Big Winner Among Research Agencies; Legislation’s Prospects in Senate Uncertain

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, also known as the budget reconciliation bill. Regular readers will recall that in September the House Science Committee advanced its $45 billion section of the then $3.5 trillion overall legislation; the committee’s bill featured investments in research and scientific infrastructure at NSF, DOE Office of Science, NASA, and NIST. Unfortunately, that was the high-water mark in terms of funding; the legislative package ran into heavy resistance in the Senate and was revised downward multiple times over the past several months.

The version that was passed by the House last week totaled roughly $2 trillion overall. NSF was a big winner among the research accounts, receiving almost $3.5 billion dollars. Other research agencies of note received varying amounts; here are some highlights:

NSF – $3.5 billion total; to be spent by 2028, unless otherwise noted.
– $668 million till 2026 for research and other activities;
– $1.52 billion till 2026 to establish the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, & Partnerships (TIP);
– $25 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts;
– $500 million for climate research;
– $25 million for research security activities;
– $200 million for research capacity building at HBCUs, HSIs, Tribal colleges & universities, and other MSIs;
– $55 million for cyber security research;
– $200 million till 2026 for research facilities;
– $200 million till 2026 for mid-scale and major research facilities;
– $100 million for academic research facilities moderation at HBCUs, Tribal colleges and universities, HSIs, and other MSIs.

DOE – there is no general research or infrastructure money available for the Office of Science; all money for DOE SC is allocated to demonstration programs focused exclusively on low dose radiation and fusion research.

NASA – to be spent by 2028
– $748 million for infrastructure;
– $85 million for climate R&D;
– $30 million for investments in data management and processing to support climate research;
– $225 million for sustainable aviation.

NIST – $650 million to spent by 2028 for upgrade, replacement, maintenance, or renovation of facilities and equipment.

Depending on how one looks at this legislation, it’s either disappointing or good. It is disappointing that the research community didn’t receive what was proposed in the Science Committee’s original September bill. However, this legislation is good in that these research agencies did get something, as there was real worry among the community that the research accounts would be left out of the process entirely. Also, looking at NSF, providing money to TIP is good, as that could take pressure off the other directorates to fund the new one.

This is, unfortunately, far from the end of the process. The reconciliation bill will now head to the Senate for consideration and likely more changes. In fact, the likelihood of passage in the Senate is slim; the only difference in the political calculus from September to now is that there is no longer the carrot of the infrastructure bill to pull in skeptical Senators. We’ll have to see how things play out before we have any definitive answers; the Senate has until the end of the calendar year to act on this legislation. Please check back for more updates.

House Passes Reconciliation Legislation; NSF Big Winner Among Research Agencies; Legislation’s Prospects in Senate Uncertain