Thanks in large part to the February budget deal that raised the discretionary spending caps, NSF was given a moderate overall increase for FY 2018. This marks NSF’s first real increase in the past several years, following relatively stagnant appropriations. The turnaround, to quote the omnibus legislation, "reflects the Congress' growing concern that China and other competitors are outpacing the United States in terms of research spending, as noted in the 2018 Science and Engineering Indicators report of the National Science Board.” Overall NSF funding in the omnibus is a full $1.5 billion above the President’s request level. This is certainly welcome news for NSF, as the agency looks to ramp up investments in its 10 Big Ideas in future budget cycles.
Bottom Line: Core research directorate funding was granted a sizeable boost, while NSF’s Education Directorate received targeted increases for select STEM programs. The omnibus legislation also includes funding for construction of three research vessels, as requested by the Senate.
- NSF’s Research & Related Activities (R&RA) account, which funds the agency’s six core research directorates, was increased by a substantial $301 million or 5 percent. Funding for individual R&RA directorates is not specified in the omnibus, as appropriators do not allocate by directorate.
- The Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which seeks to seeks to broaden the geographic distribution of NSF research dollars, would receive $10.7 million or 6.7 percent above FY 2017 enacted.
- The Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) would see a moderate 2.5 percent increase overall. Funding increases would be directed to select STEM programs, including Hispanic Serving Institutions, which doubles in funding to $30 million in FY 2018. Funding amounts for the Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP) is not indicated in the omnibus legislation, however, Senate appropriators had provided no less than the FY 2017 funding level for the GRFP program.
- The omnibus includes funding to support the construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels (RCRVs), as requested by the Senate. The House and Administration have sought to limit funding to only two RCRVs.
What’s Flat/Decreasing: The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) would remain flat as the project approaches its final year of funding in FY 2019. Meanwhile, funding for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) would decrease in line with its eventual FY 2022 completion. NSF’s agency operations account is essentially flat-funded following the recent construction of, and relocation to, NSF’s new headquarters building in Alexandria, VA.
In Historical Context: Despite this year’s funding boost, NSF has still not quite returned to its recent FY 2010 peak, which totaled $7.8 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars (see graph above).
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Photo Credit: Karen Pearce, National Science Foundation