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FYI Number 129: November 25, 2002

Provisions of New NSF Authorization Bill

H.R. 4664, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002, will probably always be known as the NSF doubling bill. There is much more to the bill than that: only five pages of the 92-page bill set forth the authorization levels for FY 2003 through 2007. The remainder of the bill consists of important changes in the foundation's program management, education programs, the conduct of the National Science Board, and other matters.

First, a brief reminder about the functions of an authorization bill and an appropriations bill. An authorization bill, like H.R. 4664, describes what a government department or agency can do, and places a ceiling on the amount of money it can be given each year. An appropriations bill, such as the VA/HUD/Independent Agencies bill, provides the actual money. In addition to setting the parameters and conduct of an agency's programs, an authorization bill is a good roadmap guiding future spending. H.R. 4664 fulfills both of these functions.

The first section of most authorization bill lays out the "findings" of Congress, including, in this case, language stating that NSF must be "more proactive" in sustaining the U.S. competitive advantage. The bill also has a section on "policy objectives," including "balancing the Nation's research portfolio (among which are cited the physical sciences, geoscience, and engineering), "establishing and maintaining cooperative international relationships," and increasing overall workforce skills.

Increases in authorization levels for each of the next five fiscal years are specified, ranging from 13.1 to 15.5%. For FY 2003, specific allocations are made for research, broken down for information technology research ($704 million), nanoscale science and engineering ($301 million), education and human resources ($1,006 million), major research equipment ($172 million) and the National Science Board ($3.5 million). These specific allocations increase in FY 2004. In FY 2005, only the general research, education, and equipment allocations are detailed; all increase.

The authorization levels for FY 2006 and FY 2007 are only given as totals. In order to win administration approval of this bill, a provision was inserted that these levels are "contingent on a determination by Congress that the Foundation has made successful progress toward meeting management goals," five of which are listed (competitive sourcing, etc.) As part of this determination, the Office of Management and Budget must certify that NSF "has, overall, made successful progress toward meeting these goals." (It should be noted that only the National Science Foundation was awarded a "green light" by OMB following its first government-wide performance management review earlier this year.)

Under this legislation, the NSF Director must submit an annual plan about the allocation of funding for Research and Related Activities. This report should include information on grant size and duration, trends in research support for major fields, and how the allocation of funding "is designed to achieve an appropriate balance among major fields and subfields of science, mathematics, and engineering."

H.R. 4664 combined the provisions of several S&T education bills that were working their way through Congress. A forthcoming FYI will detail these changes.

There are more than eight pages of bill language regarding Major Research Instrumentation. Another report is required that will review estimates of the needs for instrumentation by field, a description of the awards made by field, and the impact that these awards will have on documented needs. A prioritization process is to be developed, and a written list submitted to the National Science Board "for approval." A facilities' plan, including full life cycle costs, is also to be included in the foundation's annual budget request to Congress. Explicit approval of the Board will be required for any project funded out of this account.

The bill also makes the National Science Board financially independent of the NSF, authorizes it to hire its own staff, and requires the Board to conduct open meetings.

Also included is bill language requiring a National Science Board report on how the foundation's increased funding should be utilized, and the impact that this is having on the nation's workforce, programs at institutions of higher education, the nation's scientific infrastructure, and on grant size and duration. An Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee is also to be established.

The full text of H.R. 4664 can be accessed at http://thomas.loc.gov/; under Bill Text, Version #1.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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