This article is published in the September 2009 issue.

Science Funding Faring Well in Budget Process But Appropriations Still a Long Way from Complete


As Members of Congress returned to their districts for the month-long August Congressional Recess, they left an appropriations process on pace to deliver federal science agencies significant budget increases in FY 2010. While the process is far from complete—and much could potentially happen to derail it—the milestones reached so far suggest that Congress intends to hold true to their oft-stated pledge of doubling the budgets for some key federal science agencies over the next several years.

At the August recess, both the House and Senate had made progress on two key funding measures that include appropriations for federal science agencies: the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the Energy and Water appropriations bill, which includes funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. In addition, the House had acted on Defense appropriations, which includes funding for Department of Defense science efforts.

While the proposals differ somewhat in the details, both the House and Senate would provide significant increases for NSF, NIST and DOE’s Office of Science in the coming fiscal year. In addition, the House has approved somewhat smaller increases for the DOD efforts in basic and applied research.

The House version of the CJS bill (approved by the House by a 259-157 margin) would fund NSF at $6.93 billion in FY 2010, an increase of 6.9 percent (or $446 million) over the agency’s FY 2009 appropriation, but slightly less than the $554 million (or 8.5 percent) increase requested by the Administration. Though the full Senate had not yet acted on their version of the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee did approve an increase of $426 million for the
agency, an increase of 6.6 percent.

The bulk of the increase provided to NSF by both chambers would be directed to NSF’s Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account, which is the home of the research directorates, including the Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate responsible for most of the agency’s investment in computing research. The House bill would boost the R&RA account by $459 million or 8.9 percent over FY 2009. The Senate version would provide an increase of $435 million, or 8.4 percent. Both levels fall somewhat short of the Administration’s requested increase of $550 million, or 10.6 percent.

Slated for a smaller percentage increase is NSF’s Education and Human Resources account (EHR). In their bill, the House approved a 2.1 percent increase, or $17.6 million over FY 2009, while the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an increase of 1.5 percent (or $12.5 million), the same as requested by the Administration.

Also included in the CJS bills—and of note to the computing community—are the increases provided to NIST’s research activities. Both the House and Senate approved increases to NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research and Services account (STRS), though at varying levels. The House approved an increase of 8.1 percent, or $38 million to STRS for FY 2010. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a slightly more generous increase of 10.2 percent, or $48.3 million. However, both levels fell short of the Administration’s requested increase of 13.3 percent, or $62.6 million.

Both the House and Senate have approved versions of the FY 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations Act that would provide small increases to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science next year. Though not as generous as the increase of nearly 19 percent the agency received in FY 2009, they should continue to keep the agency on a path to double its budget over the next six years (using FY 2008 as a baseline). In the FY 2010 bill, the House approved an increase of 3.9 percent for DOE’s Office of Science, or $186 million over FY 2009—about equal to the increase requested by the Administration. The Senate was again slightly less generous, approving an increase of just 3.0 percent, or $141 million.

Included is an increase for the DOE’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program (ASCR). The House approved the Administration’s requested increase of 10.9 percent for ASCR, or 40.2 million over FY 2009. The Senate approved an 8.2 percent increase, or $30 million.

A third key bill for federal science funding is the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill. As Congress recessed for August, only the House had completed deliberations on the bill, approving an increase for defense basic research, but a slight decline for applied research accounts. For aggregate 6.1 basic research (that is, basic research accounts across the defense research agencies), the House approved a 4.8 percent increase, or $89 million over FY 2009.

However, aggregate 6.2 applied research would shrink 3.6 percent, or $186 million, in FY 2009 in the House plan. Overall, defense-wide science and technology (that is, basic, applied and advanced technology development research at all defense research labs and agencies, including DARPA) would grow 2.4 percent, or $141 million, under the House plan. The Administration requested a slight decline of 1.3 percent, or $75 million, for the same account.

Congress will reconvene in September and high on the agenda will be the completion of the appropriations process. Nominally, the goal of the congressional leadership is to see each of the 13 annual appropriations bills enacted before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. However, this goal is rarely realized—last year’s appropriations process, for example, was completed this February, and the FY 2008 process was wrapped up the day after Christmas 2007. But for the first time since the early years of the Clinton Administration, the leadership of both chambers of Congress and the President are all of the same party, which should, in theory, make passage of these appropriations bills progress more smoothly. Indeed, with Al Franken (D-MN) now seated as Minnesota’s junior senator, Democrats in the Senate have a filibuster-proof majority in that chamber, making progress theoretically even easier. Still, even with strong majorities, the appropriations process is in no sense a done deal. Much can happen between now and October 1 to thwart the seemingly smooth path to passage these bills appear to have. Congress could get mired in the debate over the controversial plan to reform U.S. health care, or developments in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—or an attack on the U.S.—could alter congressional plans considerably. But for now, it appears the consensus prognosis within the advocacy community for the appropriations process—and how U.S. science agencies will fare—remains reasonably positive. Congress may not wrap up its appropriations business by October 1, but it seems likely that when it does finish, it will include healthy increases for some of the agencies the computing community cares most about.

For all the latest details on the FY 2009 appropriations process and science advocacy efforts, check the Computing Research Policy Blog at https://turing.cra.org/blog.

Science Funding Faring Well in Budget Process But Appropriations Still a Long Way from Complete