R&D in the FY 2014 Omnibus: National Science Foundation

The NSF budget would recover somewhat from sequester levels, but fall well short of either the President's request or the Senate's recommendation.

Some agencies and programs received surprisingly large funding boosts in the FY 2014 omnibus, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) is not one of them. While the agency will see some budget growth from FY 2013 post-sequester levels, that growth will be somewhat limited, especially when one factors in inflation. Per AAAS estimates, NSF R&D could end up at roughly $5.8 billion in FY 2014, representing a 6.1 percent boost above FY 2013 post-sequester estimates and 2.4 percent above FY 2012, though short of the request. In terms of overall budget, NSF would experience 4.2 percent growth above post-sequester levels and 0.9 percent growth above FY 2012, though inflation will result in a real-dollar decline of three percent below FY 2012. The overall figure ended up somewhat closer to the House than the Senate recommendation.

One note about the directorate figures in the above table: only included are figures for FY 2012, FY 2013, and the President's request for FY 2014. Congress does not provide appropriations by directorate, but only via the overarching Research & Related Activities (R&RA) budget account. This means we don't know for sure how the FY 2014 appropriation for R&RA will be allocated. It is worth noting, however, that the Administration sought a fairly broad-based increase in all directorates this fiscal year, with the largest increases proposed for Engineering (ENG), Social, Behavorial and Economic Sciences (SBE), and Biological Sciences (BIO). It is also worth noting that since FY 2000, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and ENG directorates have received the largest relative increases in funding (see chart, below right).

Some additional notes:

  • Appropriators had little detail to share in the conference report. In the R&RA appropriation, they did provide the requested amount for the International Ocean Discovery Program, after committees in both chambers highlighted the program for support last summer. Appropriators also warned that cross-agency initiatives, like those falling under the OneNSF umbrella, "should not come at the expense of adequate support for infrastructure and core research programs in each of NSF's individual scientific disciplines." The Senate Appropriations Committee had gone even farther than this warning last summer and cut the OneNSF activities budget. Per NSF, the OneNSF Framework seeks to "enable seamless operations across organizational and disciplinary boundaries."

  • Appropriators also did not continue the restrictions previously placed on social sciences research funding in FY 2013.

  • The Senate Committee had previously voiced support for cybersecurity research and funding for the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, while its House counterpart provided support for the agency's advanced manufacturing and neuroscience initiatives, among other items.

  • NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account ended up slightly closer to the request. Appropriators provided funding for construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and while it fell short of the request, the report indicated additional funds for the project could be transferred with Congressional permission, if necessary.

  • As has been previously reported, Congress has not embraced the Administration's plans to make NSF a primary hub for STEM education or to shift such programs into NSF from other agencies.

In constant dollars, the NSF budget will remain somewhat short of its all-time peak in FY 2010.