On September 13, the Senate Appropriations Committee
drafted an FY 2001 VA-HUD appropriations bill that would provide a large
budget increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Senate
would provide NSF with $4.3 billion in FY 2001, $400 million or 10.3
percent more than FY 2001. Although this would be less than the Clinton
Administration's $675 million or 17.3 percent requested increase to
$4.6 billion, it would far exceed the House's proposed $4.0 billion
budget it approved in June. In the Senate plan, NSF's R&D
funding would rise less than the 19.8 percent requested increase, but
would still increase substantially by 9.5 percent to reach $3.1 billion.
The House would provide only a 3.9 percent increase (see Table).
Most of the research directorates, especially computer sciences, would
receive large increases though smaller ones than requested.
The Senate FY 2001 VA-HUD bill would provide $80 billion for discretionary programs, an increase over the $72 billion FY 2000 total and over the $76 billion House bill total. The bill funds science agencies including NSF, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and non-R&D programs for veterans and housing. The President requested a far higher $85 billion for the bill's programs, including substantial increases for NSF and a smaller one for NASA, but because Congress chose to allocate only $605 billion for total discretionary spending compared to the President's $622 billion, Congress has far less money than the President to allocate for domestic programs such as the ones in the VA-HUD bill. As a result, most science programs fall short of the requested funding levels in the Senate and especially the House. The Senate VA-HUD bill has more money than the House version because the Senate was able to divert $4 billion from its Transportation bill to edge its total closer to the request.
When introducing his budget request in February, President Clinton made NSF the centerpiece of his budget for R&D, which placed a strong emphasis on achieving a better balance among science and engineering disciplines. Although a series of large increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has resulted in an emphasis on biomedical and life sciences research in recent years within the federal research portfolio, the FY 2001 budget proposed large increases for R&D programs in non-life sciences disciplines. Because NSF is the only R&D funding agency responsible for the entire range of science and engineering disciplines, with a particular emphasis on fundamental research and non-life sciences disciplines, the budget request singled out NSF for an unprecedented $675 million or 17.3 percent increase in its total budget to $4.6 billion. The requested increase was spread across the breadth of NSF's research portfolio, with special attention to the agency's leading role in several multi-agency initiatives.
The Senate VA-HUD bill would award $4.3 billion to NSF, an
increase of $400 million or 10.3 percent that would have been considered
extremely generous in other years. But the proposed appropriation falls
short of the request. NSF's R&D funding, which excludes NSF's
education and training activities and overhead costs, would total $3.1
billion in the Senate plan, an increase of 9.5 percent or $271 million
The Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which funds most of NSF's R&D, would receive $3.2 billion, 9.7 percent or $287 million more than FY 2000. Although the appropriation would be $295 million less than the request, the Senate bill would generally follow NSF's stated priorities on how to distribute the funds among the research directorates. The big winner would be the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate, which would receive $520 million for an increase of 34.0 percent. This would be only slightly less than the requested 36.2 percent increase to $529 million. The Senate appropriation should allow CISE to more than double its Information Technology Research program from $90 million to $215 million, even higher than the $190 million request. This program funds basic, long-term IT research and is the heart of NSF's lead role in the multi-agency Information Technology R&D initiative, currently funded at $1.7 billion across several agencies. Other CISE programs and other R&RA directorates are also involved in this effort.
Other research directorates would receive substantial increases, though less than requested. The Biological Sciences (BIO) directorate would receive $424 million, an increase of 2.3 percent, a relatively small increase because the Senate would provide far less than requested for NSF's Biocomplexity initiative. Although NSF proposed to increase Biocomplexity research from $50 million to $136 million in FY 2001, the Senate would provide $75 million. BIO would, however, receive $65 million (up from $60 million) for the Plant Genome Research Program funding research on structural and functional genomics in plants and for plant research infrastructure.
The Senate also trimmed the request for the new Nanotechnology Initiative, for which NSF is the lead agency. NSF's portion of the multi-agency initiative would go from $97 million in FY 2000 to a requested $217 million, but the Senate would provide only $125 million out of concerns that the program may be growing too fast given NSF's administrative constraints, and that this emerging field may not offer sufficient opportunities yet for a larger investment. Last month, Congress gave final approval to $110 million for DOD's role in this initiative, an amount equal to the request and up from $70 million in FY 2000. Other agencies' contributions to the proposed $495 million initiative have not been finalized yet.
Integrative Activities within R&RA would rise 6.1 percent to $137 million, in contrast to a requested cut. The Senate would add $25 million to the request and the current budget for Major Research Instrumentation to bring the program's budget up to $75 million. This program provides funds to address research equipment needs of research institutions, mostly universities.
The Major Research Equipment account, which funds construction of large-scale scientific facilities, would receive $109 million, less than the $139 million request but more than the $77 million House appropriation. The Senate would provide the requested $45 million for the Terascale Computing Systems project, part of the Information Technology R&D initiative. The FY 2000 budget of $36 million provides funds to build an initial terascale (trillions of operations per second) computing site. The Senate would support the FY 2001 request to build a second site, while the House would prefer to wait until the first site is operational. The House and Senate would trim the total request by providing no funds for the requested new starts of the EarthScope and the National Ecological Observatory Network.
NSF's Education and Human Resources programs would receive $765 million, well above both FY 2000 and the $729 million request. The Senate takes NSF to task for not providing sufficient support for smaller research institutions and minorities, and would add funding for NSF programs in these areas. The Senate would boost funding for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) from $60 million to $65 million and add another $10 million to fund the Office of Innovative Partnerships. Both programs assist research institutions and states that have traditionally been underrepresented in federal R&D funding. The Senate would also boost funding for NSF programs for minorities, and would raise funding for the Graduate Research Fellowships program from $52 million to $55 million. This increase should allow NSF to raise the annual stipend from $16,200 to $18,000 while allowing 900 awards in the next competition instead of a planned decrease to 850.
The House VA-HUD bill was approved by the full House on June 21 after long, contentious debates between Democrats and Republicans. Most proposed Democratic amendments to boost funding levels failed. A few amendments to shift funding between programs were approved, including one to reduce NSF polar research by $18 million in order to boost funding for housing programs. The bill's sharp cuts to the President's request has drawn a veto threat. The Senate version was not drafted until September because appropriators had hoped that more money would become available if they waited. In September, an extra $4 billion was diverted from the Transportation bill, and the bill was quickly drafted. The bill has not reached the Senate floor yet, but could see quick action this week. If the bill passes the Senate, the bill will quickly go to conference, and Congress will rush to produce a final version before the October 1 start of FY 2001. Even the Senate version of the bill faces trouble, however, because its funding levels still fall short of the President's request. Because of the unusually strong leverage the President has in this election year, it is likely that final funding levels for VA-HUD bill programs will be far higher than both the House and Senate-proposed levels before the appropriations process is over, which may not happen until well into October. It is likely that additional funds will be found for NSF programs before the budget process is done, and there is even a chance that the final NSF budget will match the full requested increase.
- September 20, 2000
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